Why Being Best Friends With Your Mom Is A Bad Idea Dr.Peggy Drexler

Be honest: Who among us hasn’t watched Pretty Little Liars or reruns of Gilmore Girls and wished—at least a little bit—that we, too, could be just like Lorelai and Rory? Exchanging witty banter, enjoying each other’s company for days on end, sharing clothes? Calling our moms our best friends and knowing they felt the same? Or maybe you do have that sort of relationship. These days—much more than when I was growing up—so many moms and daughters do. They dress alike, talk alike, chatter about boys and clothes and pop culture as if they were old college roommates. A friend once told me she read her 20-something daughter’s Teen Vogue more than her daughter did. “I like the fashion,” she told me. Okay. But I think there was more to it.

The mother-daughter BFF trap is an easy one to fall into. And yes—I do mean trap. Moms like to feel connected to their daughters; it keeps them young and feeling appreciated. Daughters, in turn, like the comfort of knowing their mom understands them better than anyone else (and can still take care of them if need be). That’s nice, of course. Until it isn’t. Because being best friends with your mom can come with some unintended consequences.

Take 23-year-old Alexis. She’s always been very close to her mom, Mimi. Sure, sometimes Mimi is a little… intense. When she was a teenager, for example, Alexis couldn’t buy anything without Mimi’s approval—and it wasn’t about money. “She loves fashion, and just wants me to know her opinion,” says Alexis. This need for Mimi’s approval has been tough to shake—for both of them. Sometimes, when Alexis comes home to her parents’ house for the weekend, Mimi will question something her daughter is wearing, or her haircut or her color eye shadow. “In one sense, I guess she’s looking out for me, but now I’m nervous to pick things out for myself,” says Alexis. “Like I think, should I be wearing this to work? Sometimes I can’t tell. I don’t think things look that bad. But, I don’t know, maybe she’s seeing something I’m not.”

Mothers and daughters have more in common than ever before, so it’s natural to solicit, or at least welcome, her opinion. But when the best friend role trumps the mother role, a competitive dynamic can emerge. Maybe she wants to live vicariously through you. Maybe she likes the control. In any case, what can happen is that she’s always fixing you—your hair, your taste in men. Like when you were little, and she’d lick her finger to rub ice cream off your mouth. Things you do are never up to snuff until she steps in. Without her, you have the sense that you’re just not good enough.

30-year-old Julie tells her mom, Kat, everything—mostly. As a teenager, Julie would bring her friends home to get advice from Kat on “just about anything: boys, makeup, whatever,” says Julie. “She was the ‘cool mom.’” Since she got married, though, Julie’s moved towards more of a “need to know” basis, especially when it comes to her husband. “I used to tell my mom everything about Billy, like when we first started dating,” she says. “But at one point, he was like, ‘You don’t tell your mom about our sex life, do you?’ And I did—I had. He was furious, and mortified, and I saw his point. Obviously I wouldn’t have wanted him to talk about me with his dad! It was a violation of his trust, even though I didn’t mean it that way.” Julie’s closeness with Kat had caused trouble in other ways. Whenever she and Billy got into a fight, she’d turn to Kat for advice, like she always had—until she began unable to react unless she’d run something by her mom first. “I’d have to call her up and be like, ‘This happened. Should I be mad?’ It was almost like there were three of us in the relationship.” That’s because there were.

As adults, we want to be independent, but that can be tough to do with an overinvolved mom, even if you actually like telling her all your deepest and darkest secrets. At some point, you lose confidence in yourself. You question your ability to make your own decisions. One day you wake up and you’re 45, and Mom’s still helping you negotiate a raise, argue with your husband, or raise your children. You remain a child yourself, indefinitely. Like in the case of Julie and Billy, being “married to Mom” can interfere in your ability to form close relationships with anyone else but her—including your husband or your kids. Because if your mom is present every single day as you manage your own family—telling you what to do and how to parent, for example—you risk never developing those skills on your own. Mom’s still in charge, and you’re still the child.

Later on, it becomes very difficult to break away, for both of you. Like Lena Dunham, writer and creator of HBO’s Girls, has said of her relationship with her parents, “I feel like I’m constantly asking them to please stay out of my work life but also to please bring me soup.” She’s being funny, of course, but the underlying issue she’s talking about is clear: Mom can be a hard habit to break.

Unlike a best friend, a mother and daughter relationship is permanent, which makes it naturally more intimate. And more intense. There’s a hierarchy that exists—or should—between moms and daughters that doesn’t exist—or at least shouldn’t—between friends. You’re not equals and you’re not supposed to be. Which, of course, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be friends with your mom, or even very close. Just remember to honor the boundaries between mother and daughter. That relationship is special enough in its natural form. Let your mom be a mom. And let yourself be the daughter. Really: That’s the only way you’ll grow.

Main image via FanPop.

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  1. I do not entirely agree with this article. Danielle Stevenson is correct in saying that this happens when your mother tries to be entirely controlling. For the most part, moms understand when their daughters are growing up and that they have to take a step back. I went away to college for four years about 300 miles away and although my mom still has her motherly ways (brushing my teeth, washing the dishes, etc.), she respects my independence – she doesn’t question where I go, and she trusts that I make the right decisions. It’s almost like the article is suggesting to push away our mothers. It’s always a good idea to talk things over with your mother about basic ground rules, for lack of a better term. Moms know their little girl will be all grown up, but that shouldn’t stop them from making that relationship stronger. If anything, moms and their daughters will be closer now because of the maturity and wisdom that the daughters have attained.

  2. the above only happens if you have a controlling and manipulative mother. My mum is my best friend, but we have never run into any of the above issues. because A) she doesn’t want to control me and B) She raised me to be strong and independent.
    If your mother is controlling or treats you as if you are not good enough she’s probably a narcissist, and in that case, yes it would be wise to put a little healthy distance in your relationship. But putting all mother daughter best friend relationships in this boat is stupid. And calling it a “trap” is even more so.

  3. I honestly think you don’t understand what it is to have a mom as a best friend. Sure, there are some mom’s who force their views upon you, but that isn’t a real friend or even a mother in fact. Being a mother and a best friend is difficult at times, because they are two distinct jobs, but if you know how to balance them, then I don’t see the reason you shouldn’t be friends with your daughter.
    Me and my mother are very close, and she has gotten me through the worst of times of my life, and I use to be dependent on her and her opinion. But that is just me because I’ve always been a very indecisive person, but she has always said this to me, “I can tell you what I think and want for you, but it’s you who has to live with the consequences. So think it closely and decide for yourself.” Therefore she teaches me how to live without her and she doesn’t force anything upon me, instead she gives me advice and let’s me choose what I want. And if I do choose what she wants for me, it’s only because she is the only person who knows me inside and out; i even dare say she knows me better then myself. You can only be so lucky to have that relationship with your mother.
    If you don’t know what that feeling is or lived this type of relationship, then I suggest that you shouldn’t write something that you have no idea about and tell people that it’s a fairy tale that only happens on a show called Gilmore Girls, because it does exists and it’s sad if you’ve never had it.

  4. I think this article is more about an over involved best friend, and not necessarily a mom best friend. If I couldn’t pick out an outfit or know how to feel, something more is wrong then being friends with my mom!

  5. I understand this completely. I grew up watching Gilmore Girls, and my mom always tried to shape our relationship based on Lorelai and Rory’s. The problem was, she was too focused on being friends and not at all focused on being my mom. It was all fine and great, for a while. We would talk about our problems together, go shopping together. When I got into high school, she even shared every little detail of her dating woes with me (she was a single mother), and expected me to do the same with her. I relied on her to shape my opinions, to give me direction in handling my life. I now realized that she had me pretty much trained to do absolutely nothing until she directed me first.

    But then I started to grow up and develop opinions of my own, many of which were different from hers. If I openly disagreed with her on something, no matter how big or small, she would fight with me like two catty fifteen year old girls might fight. A big problem began to develop, where I was just a part of her “posse” who had to do every little thing she said because she was the one who brought me into this world. It was like having the “queen bee” of a particularly catty clique (Think Mean Girls!) holding a knife to your throat and saying you can never talk to any of your other friends again just because she doesn’t like them, and you now wear ONLY pink. Oh, and you don’t eat meat, and you will skip school today because she needs someone to talk to. You will do it, because she said so. Because that bitchy queen bee is also your mom, and can put you out on the street if you don’t. It was a freaking nightmare.

    I’m 22 now, and it’s still the same way. Whenever I disagree with her, she gets mad that I’m not following her blindly and calls me a “bad friend”. THEN she plays the mom card and says I should do what she says just because she’s my mom. When that doesn’t work, I’m a bad friend again and she hates me, kicking me out of her “group” that is my own family. Then she comes back to me when she needs help or advice, and it happens all over again.

    We don’t talk much at all anymore, simply because I grew out of that stage where my mom is all I need in the world, and I now have a mind and a life of my own. She can’t accept that.

    It’s because of this that I think mothers and daughters being best friends cannot work. I realize it’s not this way for everyone, but I will always be an advocate for mothers actually acting like mothers. Daughters should have best friends who are their own age, and the same goes for mothers.

  6. The person who wrote this article shouldn’t assume that all moms and daughters who are best friends are like the ones in this article.

  7. This is the worst.

  8. My mom is my best friend and we don’t have any of the issues mentioned. She has raised me with the mentality that my relationships with men or friends must have private moments that not even she should know. If I’m fighting with my fiancé for example, I’ve been taught to handle things with him because once outside parties become involved it is more damaging to the relationship. A good mother teaches her child important lessons and can still be her daughters best friend without being domineering and over critical as you’ve potrayed a “friend mom” to be. I think you should also watch Gilmore Girls again and take note. Lorelei is not Rory’s equal in many ways and there are many times where the appropriate disciplinary types of mom actions take place. They are just close and it seems like possibly you’re just not familiar with this type of relationship with your mom.

  9. bull

  10. i think my mom os my best friend and yes its not allways perfect but im proud to have a mom like this. And hierachy is stupid . I allways respect as my mom and she is afriend too. And it sound you dont have a good relationsship with your mom and thats sad. And yes i listen to her when she has something to say , but she let me be as a wanna be. She raised me alone and we get very close . But we respect each others spaces. And you will allways be the child of our mother. And she will care forever and maybe its hard from time to time: then tell her. I did this and it works.

  11. I wish my ex-wife had read this

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