Monday, October 4, 2010


"Every time I hear the fatal lines  'I'm my daughter's best friend',  I think  'Oh, grow up you silly woman...'  . . . .
You're out shopping and see two blondes from behind, long hair swinging, both in high heels, toting enormous SWAG bags, then they turn. One is 18, the other in her 40's. . . .
Now don't get me wrong. I can understand the heady attraction from the mum's point of view.
Not long ago, admittedly a very dark car park, the attendant thought I was my daughter's sister. I was over the moon. Until I caught sight of my daughter's face.
Much as she loves me I could see the look of horror mixed with pity that I wanted to be taken for my 19 year old's sister. Did I need that kind of pathetic reassurance?
It made me remember how one of my friends at primary school had a glam mother who dressed incredibly well and flirted with all the fathers. The rest of us were consumed with jealousy.
Except that when you looked closely, it was clearly aweful for my friend to have a mother who cared more about being desirable than for her daughter's happiness.
In fact, I remember being deeply grateful that my own mother looked like a mum, slightly overweight, rather dowdy dressed . . . and who was obviously a mum. And yet, no way did my mother lack authority. She had bags of it. . . . she knew that it was important for the psyche that parents lay boundaries that must be respected by the child.
And this is the rub, . . . best friends don't lay down limits. They join in with you, egg you on, even. And yet of all the parent's jobs, laying down limits is the most vital.
Parents have to teach their children nasty, uncomfortable truths - such as you can't always have what you want, that you have to think of others occasionally, and that life can be annoying and dull at times.
A friend who tried to tell you that would be dumped at once.
But any psychologist will tell you that getting stuck into extreme and self-destructive behaviour. . . is often due to children never having learned to say 'No'  to themselves with the help and advice of a loving parent.
But what if the parent wants to come along and share these experiences? The supreme irony is that while most of us would never hit or abuse our child, we are still doing them an immense wrong by trying just to be their friend. . . .
Our parents may have been tough and it was uncomfortable, so confusing authority with authoritarianism - we tell ourselves we want to practice a different way of parenting.
Unfortunately, it often turns out to be no parenting at all.
According to Dr Poulter, 'When mothers become best friends, it leaves their children motherless.'
The upshot is that girls can sometimes have to push themselves to dangerous levels of aberrant behaviour until someone intervenes and says enough is enough.
But being a strong parent can be uncomfortable. . . .
No one wants a return to the idea of Victorian parenting, with its overtones of children being seen and not heard, but we do need to re-establish a sense of parental authority.
Of course, it's healthy for parents to get on with their children, to chat and laugh together, though not to become one of those ghastly mothers who claim their daughters  'tell them everything'.
Daughters who have been brought up with a clear sense that they have a mother instead of an aging best friend won't need or want their mum to go on the pull with them, like Fergie boasts of doing.
They will have friends and boyfriends of their own. And if mothers who want to be their daughter's best friend don't see that, they will remain sad figures trying to prevent their children from growing up - just so they can go along for the party."
"Why Your Daughter Needs You to be Her Mother, Not Her Best Friend" : Maeve Haran. Daily Mail Online UK. April 2008.


I believe the night out lifestyle of the Duchess of Windsor - Sarah Ferguson (Fergie) with her daughters, like other royal and celebrity mums, is a normal part of life - indulging together in over partying.

As you look at the photograph of them above, out on the town for the night, what do you see? How do you feel?

You may quickly rule yourself out as being a practitioner of this type of relationship with your daughters, as you don't dress like this, or party with your daughters. . . Maeve Haran's description of mum-daughter dress alikes, partying together, is not the only version of  "my daughter's my best friend". There are others, not so clearly identified, but definately resulting in the same too close for the healthy independent development of daughters.

Haran gives some points to check ourselves by ~ does your daughter have friends of her own who she regularly spends time with/ shares her life with?
                                                                                               ~ do you encourage her to make independent friendships of her own? 
                                                                                               ~ do you wrap your own life tightly into your daughter's?

The mobile phone is used as a stranglehold on some daughters today. Mums who play with this version of  "my daughter's my best friend" , speak of it as a loving way to stay in contact! Mum may not be physically there at the party, at school or wherever the daughter is, but she is fully up with the play with what's happening - hourly dispensing thoughts into her daughter's mind. Advice? Suggestions? Checking she's OK? See that she's having a good time? Wanting to know what's going on, now? . . .  She may also suffer from being a 'Controlling Mum' (SEE my post WEEK 15 QUOTE 15).

Another version of  "my daughter's my best friend"  is seen when the daughter has left home, possibly has children of her own, and should be seen by her mother as being independent. Mum however, figures regularly in her daughter's life.    ~  she has daily contact on the phone to swap the goss.
            ~  she has several meet ups for coffee each week, or drop-ins to home to be fully involved with her daughter's life and decision making.
            ~  she is her daughter's shopping partner whether it be groceries, choosing objects for the house or clothes for her daughter or her children - often  mother ends up paying for more than she should on such outings. Again it may help reading the post on 'Controlling Mums'.

However you see it, daughters in these situations are not given the space to learn to be independent, to respect their own judgements or grow toward maturity. Daughters need peers, their own friends, to be part of and share their lives with, rather than being fully occupied by their mothers. Mums must remember their daughter has her own life to live and a right to the privilege to figure out life privately, herself.

"Above all, adolescent girls need mothers to be consistent adults. The healthiest of relationships will be developed between mums and girls who respect the boundaries of the generations."  says Kyanna Sutton : "How To Survive Your Daughter's Teen Years".  

Daughters are looking for and need their mum to be a support system to them. This necessary role becomes confused for them if mum is taken up with hanging on to her youth - be it spray-on tan, mini skirts, blonde hair extensions or whatever.  

Karyl McBride  "Will I Ever be Good Enough:Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers",  believes that mothers who choose to combat getting older in this manner, hurt their daughters as they seem to be competing with them. 

The support system needed by the daughter is confused, and her self esteem and confidence is damaged, says Erika Thomas "Moms That Dress Like Teenagers".

". . . the mother-daughter relationship has unique characteristics that distinguish it from a best friendship. These characteristics include a mother's role as primary caretaker, a lack of reciprocity, and a hierarchy of responsibility. This hierarchy, combined with unconditional love, precludes mothers and daughters from being best friends."  Linda Gordon and Susan Morris Shaffer  "Too Close for Comfort : Questioning the Intimacy of Today's Mother-Daughter Relationship".

I can hear you saying  "What? What's she mean by that? We've just been reading how mums must step out of their daughter's lives so they will mature independently...."  Yes, that's right!  But that does not mean that a daughter needs her mother to step off the planet and disappear from their life all together.
There is a difference between the mothering described in the previous point and the mothering that provides a daughter with her needed access to close connection with her mum. 

A picture of this is the swimming instructor who teaches very young children to float on their back. Lessons go by where the child is first fully supported and held in a lying position to get the feel of floating and over time the need of support is lessened until, SUCCESS, the child independently floats. But if there's a sudden loss of confidence or a person nearby on the side of the pool dives in giving a splash, the wise instructor assists the beginner by steadying him, supporting him to ensure the progress gained is not all lost in a moment.

I have seen the same process in gymnastics where a coach trains a gymnast with a new move on bar. The preparation takes weeks often months with a lot of talking and encouragement, along with sections of the move being practiced in isolation. Gradually as the coach sees increasing confidence and precision, the parts of the move are put together, speeded up, less support is given, until finally it is executed flawlessly. At this stage a gymnast may loose her confidence or holdback, maybe because of a painful injury. So the wise coach returns to encouraging talk and physical support to re-steady her once again and ensure the progress gained is not lost.

"The Mother-Daughter Project" practices these principles in their groups of mums and daughters across America. They regularly get together for skills and fun development along with making great memories between mums and their daughters. They start when daughters are five - ten years of age and say that by building positive, strong patterns of relationship between mums and daughters over years, gives a close connection to successfully handle any difficult years ahead. Girls want access to close connection with their mums. The Mother-Daughter Project say, "When they go in a new direction, especially one new to US . . . . our daughters want us right there, supporting and cheering them. Girls want to confide in their mothers, and with their mother's interest and support, it's easier for them to make it through the minefields of adolescence."

So how does a mother provide this close connection? What does it look like from mum's end?
                         Erika Thomas calls it a "support system"
                         Kyanna Sutton, being a "consistent adult"
                         Karyl McBride echoes both these points.
                         Gordon and Shaffer, being a "primary caretaker. . . . hierarchy of responsibility. . . . . combined with unconditional love"
                         Maeve Haran, establishing "boundaries", "laying down limits", "...nasty, uncomfortable truths - such as you can't always have what you want, that you have to think of others occasionally and that life can be annoying and dull at times" , saying "No", "parental-authority" not "authoritarianism".

The pictures of the swimming instructor and the gym coach, show too that the close connection equips, in this case, the daughter for the future, to operate successfully and independently.

The need of a daughter for closeness and connection with her mum is one thing, her finding access or choosing to connect is another. The need to build a history of good memories and access between mums and daughters through childhood years as The Mother-Daughter Project does, is the key.

Good memories of connection and strong patterns of relationship, are possible between mums and daughters of any age, even when you start later in life. It may however take a longer time build.

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS, be a MUM to your daughter - make some good memories together.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Cathy for this thoughtful post. I found it encouraging and challenging. It is one of the hardest jobs I have ever faced - being a Mum to a daughter.