The XX Factor

I Am Friends With My Mom

Will this mother-daughter pair grow to be friends?

Photograph by Peter Parks/AFP/GettyImages.

It’s my favorite compliment, a simple phrase that makes me stand a little taller all day long: “You look like your mom.” My mother, in my eyes, is one of the most genetically blessed women I’ve ever seen, but I don’t flatter myself by thinking that I am a carbon-copy of my mother (I’ve certainly inherited enough traits from my father to even the scorecard). Still, the mention of resemblance makes me proud, as if it’s proof that, no matter our differences or how complicated our relationship, I am my mother’s daughter.

On the Huffington Post, Dr. Peggy Drexler explores the complexities of the evolving mother-daughter relationship, arguing that the trend toward mom-and-daughter friendships is a threat to the traditional hierarchy of mother as an authority figure. The mother-daughter relationship, she argues, is singular, and adding friendship to the mix complicates an already exceedingly fraught dynamic. But the thing is: I tell my mom (almost) everything and receive (almost) no judgment in return. If I can’t call her a friend, then what is friendship?

Drexler argues that friendship causes a dangerous blur between the traditional roles of parent and child. “The fact is that the mother-daughter best friendship doesn’t leave much room for the traditional role of being a mom. Or, for that matter, being a daughter,” she writes, noting that when mothers and daughters become friends, a competitive dynamic can emerge. If the “mother friend” rejects your outfit, does her rejection carry more weight because of her role as an authority figure? In this world, Drexler worries that friendly banter can become more dangerous when coupled with a mother’s power. On the other end of the spectrum, Drexler also worries that friendship can subvert the respect due to a parent as an authority figure, noting that “you’re not equals and you’re not supposed to be.”

But if the traditional mother-daughter hierarchy is established and respected by both parties, can’t friendship complement, not subvert, the model?  I’m open with my mom about most everything because if I can’t tell her, who can I tell? And she tells me about her past adventures and misadventures. By sharing with one another, we gained each other’s trust in a way we wouldn’t have been able to had we maintained the distance that Drexler argues for. Being able to talk to my mom about topics that Drexler would consider taboo-my sex life, for example-showed me that if, down the line, I ever needed her with a larger problem, a real problem, she would be there with advice, love, and no judgment. The fact that I am open about my sex life with my mom horrifies some of my peers, but the truth is, she’s an invaluable resource-she knows more than my college-age friends and cares about me more than a stranger or psychiatrist ever could. She’s the perfect confidant.

Of course there are boundaries. There is much that I don’t know about my mom (as my dad likes to remind me, sharply, when I’m being less than the world’s most understanding daughter). Whether or not she shares these things with me is her choice as my mother; where a friend might share without concern, a mother-daughter friendship does need to consider how sharing will ultimately affect the relationship. Drexler worries that over sharing between mothers and daughter can lead to codependence. I talk to my mom about problems-boys, school, work, clothes-and, just like a friend, she listens, lets me complain, and gives advice. We both know, however, that I’m an individual, and it is ultimately my choice to follow her advice or not.

Drexler is right about one thing: We aren’t equals. So, yes, my mom’s advice comes with the added weight of her authority as my mother. But no advice in life comes without baggage, and no real friendship comes without one person wanting the approval of the other, or even the occasional power struggle.

So what’s the difference between a mother-daughter relationship and a mother-daughter friendship? The borders are fuzzy for me, sometimes nearly indistinguishable. My mother gave birth to me, nursed me, made me clean my room, and taught me how to do laundry. My friend held me through heartbreak, told me that the yellow coat I wanted wasn’t as cute as I thought, and cried with me during Nicholas Sparks movies. To me, mother-daughter friendship begins when you’re candid with your mother, when you show her that you are more than just her daughter, but a young woman with a full life, and allow yourself to see her as more than just the woman who bathed you, but as someone who has lived a lot of life, and made a lot of mistakes.