There is no other relationship like that of mother and daughter. It can be the most endearing, or the most contentious connection, but is generally something in between. Within its female framework lies the potential for mutual understanding, but also for a tug-of-war dynamic.
Throughout the years since my (only) daughter was old enough to be considered a female friend, I have repeatedly heard women say that their daughter is their “best friend.” This statement has given me great pause every time – something just never sat right when I heard those words.
Now, I want to take a moment to mention that I have an extremely close relationship with my daughter (as I also had with my mom) and I know my daughter agrees, as did my mom. We each have (or had, as my mom is no longer in this life) great love and respect for one another and consider each other very special and extraordinary friends. Also, I am in no way trying to impose my parameters regarding what a “best friend” may be to anyone else. Each of us sets our own criteria for our personal relationships and, honestly, it’s no one else’s business unless we make it so.
For me, however, describing my daughter as my best friend is disquieting because there are unique boundaries that specifically come into play. For over 31 years, I have been her primary role model and mentor, which creates an imbalanced level of influence. She has always looked to me as a sounding board, a confidante, and an advisor, and I cherish our deeply meaningful conversations and the opportunities to gently and positively guide her.
I am grateful that she also has beautiful friends of her own who serve in these same types of roles. Her girlfriends are incredible young women who understand her in ways that I simply cannot (yes, it’s true.) They are of a different generation and are living in a world that I didn’t pass through at the same time or with like experiences. Even though my daughter and I communicate with complete openness and vulnerability, I know there are things she discusses exclusively with her friends which they understand on a level that I never will.
And while I strive to create completely open communication with her, there are things that I would not, or at least should not discuss with my daughter for the sake of healthy boundaries. For example, I try not to share discord between other family members (especially her father) and myself, or issues I may be facing personally that could potentially upset or inflame her. Where I may confide in a girlfriend about something that is troubling me, it isn’t always appropriate or useful to discuss it with my daughter. There are privacy expectations, even within the family unit, and as her mother I also want to protect her from unnecessary angst or rifts with other family members. Triangular relationship dynamics have the potential to cause hurt feelings and harm. As well, it’s very often inappropriate for her to share private details of her relationship with her husband. She may discuss, and sometimes even joke with her friends about their significant others, on matters that are best left unknown to me.
I generally do not seek my daughter’s advice, mainly because I have lived for nearly six decades and know my own mind well enough at this point. I still hold the distinguished and asymmetric role of mentor to her and probably always will. Do my daughter and I do fun “girlfriend” things together? Of course! Do we have intimate conversations? Yes, sometimes for hours. Do we trust each other explicitly? Absolutely. Is there confidential information we share only with one another? Yes. Do we have a precious, irreplaceable relationship? Without a doubt. But I am her mom first, and then her friend. And she is my daughter, not my best friend.