When I was little, my mother had a favourite member of the New Kids on the Block (it was Jordan, in case you really wanted to know). I’m not sure if this was her resistance to getting older or an attempt to bond with me. Regardless, this was an example of what I dealt with as a kid: my mother always wanted to know the latest Seventeen fashion tips, be updated on what was happening at the mall and know which boy bands were considered the best.
I would have loved a mom who was my best friend—someone I shared a bond with and who understood me. Instead, my mother always seemed jealous, clingy and lonely—more interested in bonding over things I thought she had no business knowing anything about. There were many (good) reasons for my mom to be isolated and unhappy back then, but it wasn’t fair that she placed all her happiness on my shoulders.
According to Jenny Brown, the headteacher of a private school in the UK, “mollycoddling” moms who try to act like their daughters’ best friends leads to a “generation of damaged teens inadequately equipped for adult life.” Brown argues that smothering daughters and “always being there” doesn’t prepare them for life outside the home. In response, Joanna Moorhead, who has four daughters of her own, suggests that the real danger is actually when mothers pour their hearts out and over-share with their daughters. She believes young girls should be able to rely on their moms as “their rock,” but mothers shouldn’t expect the same in return. Based on my own experiences, I both agree and disagree with Moorhead’s sentiment.
When I had my own daughter, as a single parent by choice, I retained strong judgments for the way my mother had been with me as a kid. I didn’t want to do the same with my daughter. I didn’t want her to perceive me as lonely and I didn’t want to rely on her for company. I wanted proper distinctions made between friends your own age and a parent-child relationship.
At five, my daughter Anna is still young. We get along well; she comes with me to many adult gatherings and is an easygoing kid who loves to socialize. She’s a good traveller and we go on little adventures together. She eats well and we go to restaurants or cook interesting meals together. It’s just the two of us at home. I’m single and don’t need to share my affections with anyone other than Anna. And here is where the parent-kid versus “BFF” relationship lines get a little blurry.
Anna is the person I make plans with the most. She’s the person I talk to the most. I maintain friendships, but I don’t have other day-to-day relationships. I’m glad our bond is strong and I do think it’s healthy. We both have people in our lives whom we call our best friends.
I don’t believe I should rely on my daughter as an emotional support system, but I don’t think that should prevent me from sharing personal details on occasion. For one thing, she asks many pointed questions and I want to give her honest answers. However, my issues are relevant to our lives together and, while I don’t think she should take on the burden of them, in a household of two it’s inevitable that she’ll be somewhat aware of them. I don’t think upholding a façade of having no problems is realistic. I think having imperfections and experiencing a range of emotions does more for preparing my daughter for the world than hiding those things would. I don’t plan to compete for emotional space when she gets older and has her own problems, but I don’t believe in hiding things from her.
My daughter already has independent qualities. I give her a lot of space to explore her friendships, interests and her environment. I think we spend an unusual amount of time together, but I don’t think of her as smothered. I know this will all get tougher to navigate over time, and that mother-daughter relationships are tricky with teenage girls. I expect that parenting my kid through her teens will be emotional and difficult, and I will likely need the support of my friends. However, I no longer think that mother-daughter BFF relationships are a sign of weakness or unhealthiness—I just think there’s a lot of grey area that needs careful consideration first.
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.