When the television show Gilmore Girls premiered in 2000, my own daughters were five and two years old. At the time, I thought that the fictional relationship between the mom, Lorelei, and her teenage daughter, Rory, seemed idyllic. Lorelei was a cool mom and Rory was a smart, kind, and respectful kid.
Their relationship was more like BFFs than like a traditional mother-daughter dynamic. They shared jokes, secrets, and lots of junk food. I hoped one day I would have that relationship with my own daughter.
I am not alone in thinking that it would be nice to be my daughter’s friend as well as her mother. Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, co-author of Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends explains, “As moms, we love our daughters, so it’s understandable that we’d want to be as close to them as possible. We want to know what’s going on in their lives, and we feel flattered when they trust us enough to confide in us or even ask for our advice. We also want to spend fun time with them.”
But the role of a mother is very different than that of a friend. Kennedy-Moore says, “Friendship implies a relationship between equals—mothers and daughters are not equals.” Part of parenting teens is setting boundaries and enforcing rules so that our children stay safe and healthy and become responsible adults.
As parents, we are caretakers with authority; we are not peers or equals.
Kennedy-Moore explains, “Treating our children as peers can mean giving up on our responsibility as parents to set reasonable expectations and limits. If we treat our children as peers, it’s harder to insist that they do their homework, clean their rooms, don’t stay out all night, and turn in their cell phones at bedtime.”
As much as mothers want to get along with their daughters without being the bad guy, saying no and setting limits goes with the territory. Conflicts and limit-testing between parents and teens is part of the growing up process. I don’t relish when my daughters get upset with me, but I do understand it. I try to be compassionate and to listen, but I also have a different perspective than a teenager.
And as a parent, I may have to make unpopular decisions that make me seem mean.
That’s part of mother-daughter boundaries.
We should also be careful to remember that these are our daughters’ teen years, not ours. As Kennedy-Moore says, “Mothers may want to relive a special period of their life through their daughters. They may also feel lonely or dissatisfied with their own adult relationships. This places a heavy burden on children because it makes kids responsible for an adult’s feelings.”
There’s still plenty of opportunity for mothers and daughters to do friend-like activities together such as going to a movie, taking an exercise class, or going shopping. Having fun together is a great way to bond and create memories. But this does not replace the need for both mothers and daughters to have friends their own age.
Similarly, I hope my daughters have friends they trust and rely on, even though they can always depend on me. Says Kennedy-Moore, “Developmentally, kids need to learn who they are outside the family. It’s healthy for our babies to leave the nest, little by little!”
The mother-daughter bond is different from the BFF bond. As Kennedy-Moore reminds mothers, “Your daughter will have many friends in her life, but she only gets one mom.”