The moment I realized my daughter was my friend was her first college drop-off. Her tears displayed her love and gratitude to both me and my husband while her honesty and openness revealed a true strength of our friendship. I left her peering out her open dorm door, knowing the bond of mother and daughter was strong but so was that of friend.
In the early years of motherhood, I knew about that fine line between mother and friend. But I found the concept even more present with my daughter. She was the last of three and the only girl.
Laying the foundation as parent is paramount for children for discipline and safety, but when doing so, you anticipate that the relationship will gradually change to a closeness or friendship as they mature. I found this to be true with my boys but different with my daughter. Girls and women are social creatures. Their needs are emotionally demanding. Mothers and daughters have the shared experience of being women—nurturing, caring, working, leading, passing on family traditions.
According to adolescent expert James Lehman, much of the parenting role for both boys and girls is functional. A parent can be all loving and emotionally engaged, but if not functional, that child is at risk of not maturing into a responsible adult. Functional roles such as setting limits and giving instructions is how they learn to live without you. They need a solid consistent source otherwise they will take the role of parent and won’t know how to relate appropriately to other adults. Succeeding at functional tasks is what sets the stage for future friendship.
Adolescence requires a firm parenting style (authoritarian but loving.) As my little girl grew and began revealing herself as a responsible and conscientious student, I knew bonding in various ways could establish a closeness. Our relationship began with complete openness. She was free to come to me with anything. I spoke openly to her with just about everything. We talked at home and especially in the car.
Shopping jaunts included talking and music—her music. We sang at the top of our lungs to songs we both loved. I was excited to hear about her day and evenings out as well as any drama or gossip. And yes, on nights in, we watched Gilmore Girls. We saw adorable Harry together and another band or two, and she got me hooked on thrifting. We bonded as friends, however, not best friends.
All mothers want their daughters to adore them, but that can’t happen when you forgo parenting duties for friendship as a hierarchy of responsibility precludes moms and daughters from being best friends. Best friends have equal reciprocity, love, respect, and companionship. Mothers and young daughters can never be equal friends because a mother will always be a mother first wanting to protect her daughter and always be invested in her happiness.
Here is where that fine line comes in. A mother’s desire to be close and to confide in her daughter is harmful. The young girl is not mature enough to take that role. They need guidance and authority from their mother when they are maturing. This gives them security which they need for healthy development. “Daughters should never feel responsible for the emotional well-being of their mothers,” states Irene Levine in an article in Psychology Today. According to Levine, “Mother trumps friend.” Many experts believe that in a healthy relationship, the daughter feels loved, understood, respected, and supported by her mother while feeling free to be her own self with her own life and interests.
While the concept exists and the love as a mother will always come first, I’m happy to be able to cross the line at times and enjoy what I consider an incredible friendship. I’ll never reveal too much in confidence because I know not to step over the line, but acceptance and companionship are always there. Parents weekend is coming up, and I can’t wait for her to open her door and for me to open my arms and hug her tightly, as mother and friend.