While writing my book on the trials and tribulations of female friendship that came out last fall, several women spoke of the importance of setting an example for their daughters when it came to female bonds. For instance, if you, as the mother, are a jealous friend, a misery-lover, or a user, then you are setting a poor example for your daughter. If you are a sharer, a mirroring friend, or the authentic friend, then there is solace and safety in your friendships, and your daughter does well to consider you as her model. Either way, few of us can deny that female friendships are complicated for women of all ages. Certainly mothers and daughters alike strive to have healthy friendships among their peers, despite the obstacles. But what about another scenario, one in which mothers and daughters prefer to be in a friendship rather than a parent-child relationship?
Not that we haven't heard of it before, but this lack of hierarchy between mother and daughter is both a growing trend and a dicey proposition. Beyond that, there are mothers who consider this a successful way to go; in fact, a survey by Kelton research shows that 71 percent of women between the ages of 21 and 54 counted their mothers among their best friends. And while this might seem suitable for the mothers and daughters who subscribe to this concept, a pecking order between mother and daughter is actually a wiser and better balanced method of mothering than being enmeshed with our daughters. Still, mothers who choose the "BFF" route justify their actions. One mother, 35, with six-year-old twin girls, is an advocate. She told me that her daughters were her best friends and that she never wanted the mother-daughter relationship she'd had with her own mother. "My mother was in charge. She had all this power, and basically I did what she wanted. I vowed that one day I'd be a better mother if I had daughters. I'd be easier, lighter ... I'd do things with them."
Ironically in our culture, as our daughters need to feel safe now more than ever before, mothers consider the friendship role as an option, and to this end, they blur the boundaries and confuse the relationship. If you are busy being your daughter's friend, you certainly aren't protecting her, whether she is 10, 20 or 30 years old. It takes guts to stand one's ground on this topic; it takes courage to be a mother, to be harsher, stricter, tougher. One mother, 48, with a 17-year-old daughter, said that her decision to be a "drill sergeant" at times was "horrible but worth it." She says:
My daughter can't stand when I lay down the law or when I tell her what she has to do. She says the other mothers are nicer and act like friends to their daughters. They probably are nicer. But in the end, I think she respects me more for what I've done. Secretly, I would have preferred to be her pal. Why not? It's more fun. But I knew I had to be in charge, for her sake and mine.
Another advantage of mothers and daughters having a hierarchical relationship is that it also allows the mother and daughter to have age-appropriate friendships with their peers. Sure, there are times when it's enticing to be with your daughter the way you would be with a friend. Say you're a single mother and you have no plans on Saturday night and your daughter, 20, is home for the weekend from college and will spend time with you until about 10 p.m., when her night really begins and she goes out. It's tempting to fill your loneliness with her company, but deep down you know that it isn't in either of your best interests. If you can anticipate this scenario and can be honest with yourself, you'll avoid it. Instead, you'll call one of your friends and make a plan, just as your daughter has done, and in this way you won't jeopardize the mother-daughter bond or allow your daughter to feel guilty. The truth is, someone has to be the adult, and because you're the mother, it's you. That means that you respect your daughter's independence and she respects yours, and you have lives of your own, each with the friends you choose.