Linda Perlman Gordon and Susan Morris Shaffer, authors of Too Close for Comfort? Questioning the Intimacy of Today’s New Mother-Daughter Relationship, explain why mothers and daughters can have a close bond but should never take it to the level of being best friends. Plus, find out how to get your mother-daughter relationship back on track if you feel you’ve become more friends than family.
Q: Can you define some traits of a good best friend? A good mother? Why can’t mothers and adult daughters be best friends as well as family?
Susan Morris Shaffer: A best friend is different than a mother-daughter relationship. It requires having common experiences: You raised your kids together, you went to the same college and you’re in the workplace together. Mothers and daughters are never in the same stage of life at the same time, so the relationship is never equal.
The other thing that’s important is that unconditional love exists only in the parent-child relationship. You’d put your body in front of a truck for your daughter; you’d probably call 911 for your best friend.
Q: How do mothers and daughters find a balance between being too attached and being individuals?
Linda Perlman Gordon: Boundaries are such an important thing. The way mothers and daughters can [create boundaries] is that mothers, for instance, can let their daughters fail and not fix everything for them. They can make sure that if their daughters are upset about something, they can do active listening, rather than feel their daughters’ pain. They give their daughters the opportunity to step back and try to fix the problem themselves.
The problem when mothers fix things for their daughters is that it erodes daughters’ self-esteem or it doesn’t allow it to develop. It makes daughters feel like they can’t do things by themselves. Or, if their mothers overemphasize and feel the pain too much, daughters have to start making their mothers feel better about it and they start to worry about their mothers and parent their mothers.
A mother’s job is to manage her own feelings so that a daughter doesn’t feel that she’s taking care of her mother, but that she can deal with whatever her own issues are.