The Hard Facts: Is Your Mom Your Best Friend?

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Friendship became a kind of parenting strategy: By treating Child as Adult, parents hoped that the kid would actually become an adult, and a good one. The happy outcome for some: mothers and daughters who didn’t have to wait until middle or old age to actually enjoy each other’s company. To maintain peer-ness, there came a coinciding pressure to stay young, technologically supported by the capacity to stay young. Moms have never had at their disposal so many resources—so much paraphernalia—allowing them to shrink the generation gap. If they want, they can practically turn themselves back into teenagers.” (“My Mom is My BFF” ; New York Magazine 4/30/2012)

There must be something in the air, because there has been an influx of interesting BFF-related articles out there lately. And this one is fascinating. Really. Read it.

The gist of it is that while the mother-daughter relationship used to be one of guidance—leader and follower, for better or worse (“There was a time in the not-too-­distant past when mothers saw themselves as separate, as the standard-bearers of tradition and etiquette, and daughters saw their mothers as the people they dreaded becoming”), now it’s about being pals. Writes journalist Paige Williams, “Now mother-daughter BFFdom is a thing, having morphed its way onto the radar of sociologists, psychologists, ­authors, designers, marketers, and reality-show creators. The willingness to ­exploit one’s pubescent daughter for adult dating and fashion advice must be a Real ­Housewives casting prerequisite, and there’s no telling what the upcoming VH1 reality show Mama Drama will bring as it focuses on the turbo version of bestie mothers: ‘the partying parent who shares drinks, wardrobe, and social life with her daughter, and occasionally needs to be reminded that she’s the parent.'”

The story features the bestfriendship of one mother-daughter pair, Julie (mother) and Samantha (daughter). A relationship that, the daughter says, is not “that superficial stuff like it is with my friends. It’s more of a deep friendship.” Which is great. Until the lines get blurred.

“The tricky thing about being a legitimate BFF mother isn’t that the boundaries between mothers and daughters have shifted, it’s that they’re shifting all the time. Working in both friend and mother modes can get confusing on both sides. Samantha and Julie still bicker, sometimes over the fact that Julie keeps in touch via text with Samantha’s ex-boyfriends. ‘There are times when she wants to be a part of my life a little too much,’ Samantha says. And when her mother reprimands her, ‘sometimes I don’t know how to handle that, because I’m used to her treating me more like an equal.'”

My mother and I are extremely close. We talk on the phone pretty much every day, sometimes more than once. But I don’t consider her my best friend. I consider her my mother. Just as I think a husband is different from a bestie, so too is family. Moms are moms, husbands are husbands, BFFs are BFFs. That doesn’t mean I don’t confide in my mother, I do. But I also get frustrated with her, for things I probably wouldn’t mind in a friend. I expect unconditional love from her, something that can’t be taken for granted from a BFF. While  it’s wonderful to have a close, friend-like relationship between mother and daughter, I’d argue it’s vital to not consider your mother your bestie, because you don’t want to think that’s enough. That since you have mom, you don’t need friends.

You do need friends. I promise. You do.

Is your mom/daughter your best friend? Do you think it’s possible, or healthy, for mothers and daughters to be BFFs? Or is it just plain crazy?


Filed under The Search

20 responses to “The Hard Facts: Is Your Mom Your Best Friend?

  1. My mom, who passed away 12 years ago, was always my mom. In our family, we are closer to our grandmothers than our mothers. Wonder what this will mean for my daughter?

  2. Janelle

    My mom is my mom, but she’s one of my closest friends. I don’t have any BBF’s per say, just a few really close friends. I enjoy hanging out with my mom as much as my other really close friends but I confide in her more, especially about my marriage. Most of my really close friends are co-workers of my husband so I don’t feel comfortable dishing that info out to them. The two people I confide in about almost everything is my mom and my co-worker but I wouldn’t consider either my BFF.

    There is an age when a mother should stop parenting the daughter and my mom and I are way past that point. BFF? No. One of the dearest, closest confidants and sweetest friend? Yes.

    If a mom never lets go of the mom-mentality, I don’t think there could be a BFF-ship. If a daughter never grows up and always depends on her mom financially, mentally and what not, no BFF-ship.

    I value the way our relationship has turned out. I consider myself extremely blessed and lucky to call my mom, not only “mom”, but my dear friend!

  3. friendship is the solely ground of a love relationship…without friendship, almost nothing does exist in fact

  4. I love that you’re writing about this, Rachel! I watch enough reality TV to hear people say “My mom is my best friend” ALL THE TIME, and it makes me insane. No, your best friend is the one you complain about your mom TO, and your mom is the one who calls you out for being a dick to your best friend when you’re in a fight.

    On the other hand, I read something recently that said that having children is like getting into an unrequited love relationship for life — because your children will never love you (or at least, rarely need you) as much as you do them. Interesting.

    Still, not exactly bestie material!

  5. Janelle

    I agree that parents will always feel more love towards their child, in fact, it’s a nightly routine for my 7yo daughter to say, “I love you most” and I tell her, “that will never be true, I loved you first so I love you most”. BUT, I don’t agree that my relationship with my mom is an unrequited love relationship. My mom and I are equals in so many ways in our love for each other. My mom let go of me as “just” her daughter long ago but I have never let her go. I need her in my life as my friend like I need air to breathe.

  6. I’m loving your blog!!!

    While I’m close with my mom (I wasn’t always) and often confide in her (I haven’t always), the mother-daughter dynamic is definitely there and always will be. I consider her a friend and close confidante, but not a BFF.

    I think mother-daughter best friendships can be unhealthy when one or both women are dependent on the other to fill all her social and emotional needs. My mom has told me several times within the past few months that I’m her best friend and that she sometimes feels like I’m the only person she can talk to. I love her and care about her, and it makes me sad to know she feels lonely, but I just can’t be everything for her.

  7. My mother is honestly one of the sweetest people I have ever known. She has had two stokes, and is basically a bed-ridden invalid, because of the brain damage. I was in my early 30’s when she had the first one, and she was in her mid-50’s. She had a second one about 5 years later that left her in the condition she is in now. I would give anything that I have for my mother to be back to her old self, and nothing would make me happier than to be best friends with her. To be able to talk to her about my life as mother and daughter–that would be a miracle and a true joy for me. I would love to go shopping with her, to hold her hand, to see a movie, to share my sorrows… I wish that she could be my best friend. It would take away the biggest heart-ache that I have ever known.

  8. Erin mills

    I have never believed in the notion that mothers and daughters should be best friends. It would be way to confusing when the mother has to step up to the plate when the daughter needs a serious talk about things teenagers should do etc….I think it’s so odd when I see mothers and daughters dressed a like in inappropriate clothes for anyone. However, I don’t think the mom is regulated into wearing ‘mom jeans’ either. As a teen, my mother actually said, ” I am not one of your friends. I am your mother.” as an almost 45 year old woman I can now say that my mom and I are close friends and it’s something I never really thought would happen. There is no subject that is taboo. But she is still my mother who loves me no matter what. I don’t think you can say that about best friends. My mom will always be there for me in any situation and I feel so fortunate to this unconditional love-but don’t get me wrong, there are still times when the ‘ mother ‘ side of her comes out. I’m so happy I had a mom who was concerned aboubout my safety and went to great lengths to make sure I stayed on the right track. That’s part of what mom’s do. I don’t think it is very unhealthy and potentially harmful to be BFF’s with your mother-at any age, really. I want a mom and I want a separate BFF.

  9. When I was diagnosed with a neurological disease, I found that it was impossible to see my mom as my BFF. As my mother, it was her job to worry about me, and she excelled at her job. I needed friends to just help me relax and enjoy the days of my life. Even before I was diagnosed with a disease, it was hard to have FUN with my mom. Like all mothers, she worried about my safety. I had to look to unrelated friends if I wanted to drive across town, or go rock climbing, or do anything else that would have worried my mom. Mothers tend to take their daughters’ well-being entirely on their own shoulders, which makes them wonderful mothers but difficult friends.

  10. Frume Sarah

    As a rabbi, I’ve always worried when I hear someone say “my mom/daughter is my best friend.” The role of a parent is a sacred one. We need our mothers to parent us. That in no way means that mothers and daughters cannot have friendship-like aspects to their relationship. It does mean, however, that the roles need to be maintained in order for mother and daughter to each get what she needs. Friends, there are plenty of options. But we’ve (usually) only got one mother.

  11. Jen Q

    When I was first married, my husband’s best friend’s wife said she had a mother and 2 sisters so she didn’t need anymore friends. Boy, that made me feel akward! (Their friendship since faded away as a result.) I got the impression women lucky enough to have female relatives they enjoyed having around didn’t have many or any unrelated friends. I do see people who have friend time take second place to their mother time. Does this mean that their mother is their bestie? My mother became ill before I was out of high school, and has since passed away, so being the friends that go out to eat and shopping or to parties was not an option. We did talk a lot on the phone. I do not begrudge anyone from spending time with their mothers while they still can! My mother was one who’d say, “I’m not your friend, I’m your mother,” when I was still a kid. My daughters are 6 and 3 and I would love to think someday we’ll do lunch and share clothes and phone often and value each other’s advice and even be best friends, but when it comes to love and sex and trends I suspect they will be more comfortable and open talking to their peers. Meanwhile, I am definately in the role of mother and not a friend to them, and will continue being a mother-not-a-friend to them till they safely make it to adulthood. I am very interested in what others will comment. From my perspective, women young enough to have mom’s to be active with are doing that, and the older women (or ones who’ve lost thier mom’s already) seem to have more time for friends and maybe more interest in having besties. So, as looking from the outside, I think it occupies a similar place in a woman’s life but is not exactly the same kind of friendship.

    • I think you may be on to something. I lost my mom a few years ago, and I feel more deeply the need for female friendships. However, all through my childhood, my mom always showed me how much women need friends-so I’ve always been very careful to invest myself in many friendships. In the years following my mom’s death, my older sister has taken on a mothering role in my life, but I still have many cherished friendships. If you are interested, I have written several posts on my blog about my mother’s involvement with her friends and how her legacy has affected me and my view of friendship.

  12. This all adds to the notion that mother/daughter relationships, no matter how beautiful, are complicated. I am very close to my 18 year old daughter and I’m glad I can be her confidant. But, I’m also glad we each know where to draw the line. She tells me “almost” everything and I’m glad she is able to keep to herself the stuff I shouldn’t or don’t need to know about. I would not be able to mother her if I was her bff. I am so very lucky to have a bff (not my husband, but my long-time college friend and neighbor) and I am grateful that my daughter gets to see a truly model relationship.
    My mom and I were also very close–that’s why, even though she passed away 18 years ago, she is a part of my life, every day. But, we were never bffs. I looked up to her as a role model, advisor, mentor, even “nagger.” We spoke every day yet there are many things I did not tell her! The line between mother/daughter/bff has blurred as have so many traditional things in our modern culture. And, I find your post helps us remember that traditional relationships make sense!

  13. Thank you ,RACHEL, for your blog. I signed up for your blog when I first came into blogging in mid March. I enjoyed your writing but have decided that your writing is geared more to the opposite sex. I want to say i’ve enjoyed it.
    Thank You

  14. lawyerchik1

    I would say that my mom is my best friend, and I am her best friend, but I don’t know whether that is a good thing or not. There are days when, as much as I love her, I wish that she had BFFs her own age, and that I did, too, because I need her to be my mom instead of my feeling like I’m her mom and I have to watch out for her. Then, there are days when I am so grateful that we are finally friends, because we had … issues when I was growing up, and I just love her to pieces.

    Mostly, though, I’m just glad we are friends while we are both young enough to enjoy it. There will come a time when she’s not on the other end of that phone, and my heart will break.

  15. Erin

    My moms is my mom and always has been. Can I confide in her and talk to her about anything? Yes. She gives me wonderful advice about life, marriage, friends, etc. now that I am in my early-mid twenties, but I think there is a line for BFFs that will never be crossed. And I am so thankful that line is there. There are just certain things I keep from my parents because they are my parents.

    This brought back a memory from when I was in 5th grade (yes, 5th grade, as in probably age 10 or 11?) and I had a friend who was VERY close with her mother. To the point that her mom would reveal details about her marriage that her daughter, let alone 10 year old daughter, would never understand. There is definitely a line I don’t think should be crossed, but everyone is different and I can only be thankful for my own relationships.

    Interesting topic! I’m glad you brought this up.

  16. This post just blew me away. Since childhood I’ve had a very tumultous relationship with my mother, so even considering that she could be a bff is baffling. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to be more open so that I could share things with her. It hasn’t worked, because she’ll use everything I tell her against me and just believes that my life is wrong because I’m not doing it her way. The control issue never got resolved. It makes me so sad at times, but I’m happy to know that girls out there actually can count on their mothers, maybe that’s why i got a sister.

  17. “There was a time in the not-too-­distant past when mothers saw themselves as separate, as the standard-bearers of tradition and etiquette, and daughters saw their mothers as the people they dreaded becoming”

    Well, that time is still on for me as that describe exactly my relationship with my mother.

  18. My daughter is 6 1/2 and we are very close. I don’t treat her like an adult, but I do listen to her and give her the same respect that I give others. The difficult time for me will probably come when she pulls away from me and attaches more to her friends for emotional connection. Right now, her 6-year-old friends aren’t exactly good listeners, and they can’t help her talk through her feelings when they get complicated. In the future, she’ll find more and more of her girlfriends can be what I am for her now – without the mothering that goes with, well, being her mother.
    I would love to see something about how to manage the sense of loss that comes when your daughter transfers her BFF status from you to someone else. I know it needs to happen to some extent, but it will be heartbreaking when it does…

  19. tm

    Wow, this post was a hot topic for many. My mom and I are certainly not best friends, and she has told me and made it very clear that she never intents to be my BF–I always idealized the idea of mother and daughter being best friends. I recently moved in with my mom after she got ill. She has since recovered and forget BFs we’re just trying to be friends, and that’s taking a lot of time and work. Dito was Silvia said. I wonder if that’s a cultural thing.

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