My Daughter, My Friend
There was no way to avoid it. My daughter and I were always going to be friends.
I’ve read the parenting advice: being a friend with your young daughter will end badly. It is best avoided until she is an adult, tut-tut, nuh-huh, wagging-finger. As I’m sure most mums often do, I roll my eyes at the computer.
“The absolute bilge that passes off as parenting commentary,” I think.
I check the writer’s name. Yes, written by me, only two short years ago.
“I knew nothing then,” I groan. Which is still probably more than I know now. (You have been warned.)
The first words I said to my baby, as they brought me out of the anesthesia fuzz of my C-section, were, “Hello, my friend.” This was my little girl. Of course we were going to be friends. My mother and I were friends. Almost all of the well-adjusted, only-slightly-nutty women I know are friends with their mums. If another woman, in her first three funny stories, tells me about her mother, I find we eventually grow incredibly close. Mothers-As-Friends seem to raise amazing grown women. So why the warnings?
Remembering your own childhood dispassionately is tricky. Especially in these frothy, fluffy, ‘everyone has an inner child,’ modern times of treating childhood as some sort of magical, sparkly thing built solely for the purpose of being looked back upon wistfully as a MagicalSparklyThing. Our early years were sometimes tough; being friends with our mums often backfired.
Mums and their girls have different sorts of friendships and so, also have different fallouts. The girl who shared acid-wash denim jeans with her same-sized mum loved it … until mum started wearing neon laces in her trainers as well. The girl whose high-profile-career mum made up for weekday absences with weekend shopping and lunch trips, invariably sulked every Monday.
I remember one toxic friendship between a friend and her mum developed as the parents split up. What began as mutual support for each other descended into one-sided neediness. As our friend grew older, her mum, unwilling to let her go, clung on, resentful of her burgeoning social life, her boyfriends, her career. As a young adult, our friend spent years physically and emotionally distancing herself from her mum while guilt corroded every new accomplishment and milestone.
By the time I was in my teens, my mum had my five younger siblings to care for, including toddler twins. Our relationship was that of co-conspirators—the ‘eldest women’ in the house. I helped with raising my siblings and got extra credit for playing a grown-up. Her own mother and she did not have a friendship, and she was determined to correct that with me.
We shared a common love for food, sarcasm and books, especially those with unusual female protagonists. And I, a child, didn’t realize that she was the one who had inculcated these interests in me. We stayed up late into the night discussing my early writing, her childhood, family friends, religion, homosexuality, and sociology. But one day, I realized some of the confidences I shared with my mother as a friend, found their way back as maternal concerns, discomforts. They came up in one of our mother-daughter disagreements. I felt betrayed. I learned, while we could be friends, never to make the mistake of thinking your mother could be, to use teen-talk, your BFF.
Pop psychology has broadly categorized female friendships. You don’t want to be the Misery-lover, the Doormat or the Sacrificer in your friendship with your daughter. There is no question of being her Frenemy! The generation gap has never been smaller between mother and daughter so the key for me has been to separate peer from friend. Peers can be competitive, manipulative, and needy. But it is possible for a mother to be the authentic friend, with cautious mirroring, selective sharing, and support.
I believe that being able to form a sisterhood among women (and some lucky men) is an important adult social survival skill. And so I want to teach my girl to be supportive of her friends, to recognize and deal with inevitable envy, to be able to confront differences productively. She will take some of her current friendships into her adulthood. Our little future women will need to lean on each other as confidantes; future wives, mothers, career women, artists, social workers, baby-sitters. I would like to be part of her learning what it is, to be a friend.
Friendships are forged from common experiences, similar attitudes, maybe even biology and chemistry. I am aware that these are already built into the mother-child relationship. I have a head start that I’m not going to squander. Of course, I’ll read this piece in a few years’ time, and let you know what I know then. For now, my daughter is my friend—not my BFF. I already have a couple of BFFs. And they’re allowed to drink wine!