My mother was 19 when she brought me into the world. A Southern girl from a one stoplight town, she barely put a year’s time between her high school graduation and my birth. Before she had her first legal sip of alcohol she welcomed my younger sister, making her 21 and a mother of two.
With less than two decades difference between us, my mom has always felt more like a friend than a parent. Growing up we openly discussed topics that many parents shy away from such as boys, sex, and her personal experience with drugs and alcohol. My parents divorced when I was eight years old and, as I grew older, my mother made no mystery of the alienation of affection between she and my father and the eventual affair she entered into that ended their marriage. The lessons I learned from talking so openly about her failed relationship with my father, in my opinion, positively impacted my own approach to relationships and marriage.
We were open with one another. It is a dynamic to which I credit much of what I deem my success as an adult. I have learned from my mother’s mistakes as much as my own through her willingness to share them and I have saved myself the heartache of many a mis-step because I have always felt comfortable enough to talk them through with her without the fear of judgement or disappointment.
I recognize that my mother’s peer parenting is unconventional. It is something I first became aware of as I entered my teenage years and my girlfriends expressed their shock that I so openly relayed the details of a date night within earshot of my mother. But as an adult and now a mother myself, it is the form of parenting I plan to employ with my own daughter.
I recently read an article in NY Mag dissecting the evolution of the best friend approach to parenting. In it Paige Williams discusses the transition from mothers who consider the generation gap between themselves and their children appropriate and perhaps too wide to traverse, to the equitable relationship chosen by many of today’s mothers.
“Moms have never had at their disposal so many resources—so much paraphernalia—allowing them to shrink the generation gap. If they want, they can practically turn themselves back into teenagers,” writes Williams. The essay explores the relationship between Julia and Samantha Bilinkas, a mother-daughter pair who consider themselves best friends. They discuss the bond they share and how it differs from a friendship with a true peer, a bond that according to daughter, Samantha, is less superficial and more deep than those she holds with the girls her age.
Williams also interviews Camilla Mager, a psychologist that specializes in women, who had this to say:
The question you have to ask on some level is what’s going on in the relationship that two people of such different generations consider themselves best friends? As close as you may be to your mother, ideally on some level she’s always a guiding force, someone who’s been there before you; therefore you’re never peers. Not that mothers and daughters wouldn’t share things or that moms can’t speak to relationship issues, but you’re never actually on the same level. If you are, that suggests to me that the daughter is way too grown up or the mother is missing something in her life.
Though I disagree with Mager’s assessment that in order to be friends something must be amiss with the maturity level of the daughter or the personal fulfillment of her mother, I think it is important to note the greatest problem with being best friends with your mother — boundaries. Where do they lie?
Discipline is not generally a necessity between two pals and it can be tricky to switch from the role of friend to that of an authority figure. I think that remains to be fleshed out as more women reject the accepted parenting practices of generations past and begin to explore the unconventional.
The role of women in society has changed dramatically over the last century. It is only fitting that our approach to motherhood would also evolve.
How do you feel about mothers as best friends to their daughters? Is it a parenting strategy you have adopted with your daughter?