The challenge of forming a friendship with your adult daughter

There’s nothing like getting drunk for knocking yourself off the Mother pedestal.

It was two raw weeks after the death of my own beloved mother and, for reasons that remain entirely obscure to me, I decided to go ahead with my annual Cup Day Party. Perhaps in a primeval sense, I thought being awash with loved ones would bathe me and my daughters in comfort. Or I wanted life to go on, for traditions to hold us firm into the future. What happened was I didn’t eat but accepted every glass offered me as I raced around being hostess.

It was a terrible fall from grace- my daughters were scared, angry and revolted.

Gael and one of her daughters, Grace. Image via @gracie_je.

I was deeply ashamed, but their lack of understanding rocked me. Not just that the uniqueness and extremity of my circumstances might have afforded me some dispensation, but that, had I been a friend, I would not have been judged at all.

And there’s the rub. Despite our closeness, confidences, fun and love, I am not their best friend, but their mother.

When we give birth, we fall in love, hard. For some it’s at the moment of bloody arrival, for others it’s when we hold their dear small bodies and look into their eyes, this human being whose flesh we have made and who has lived within our body. The rest of our journey with them will be wrestling this overwhelming flood of love ( their tiny hands! their soft warm skin! their hair all mussed at the back! their big wondrous eyes! ) into a manageable tide that allows us to say no, to guide and corral them into civilised, empathetic human beings instead of indulged tyrants, and later, to see them as com-pletely separate beings with whom we happen to share kinship, and with whom we have to broker a respectful, appropriate, loving relationship.


But it’s easy to get hijacked along the way. All those years of intense intima-cy, the books read, forests walked, seas swum, Easters eaten, the family din-ners, the shared jubilation and grief, the sheer physicality of their bodies, so very familiar and beloved- such closeness! Science explains the bonding of mothers and daughters in chemical terms; we both literally release ‘feel-good’ chemicals when we are in physical contact. When we feed our babies, our eyes lock into theirs in what is called ‘the maternal gaze’, and oxytocin floods their bodies and ours (interestingly, the same release marks falling in love in adults who lock eyes). Touching, patting, stroking, embracing between moth-er and child all bring the oxytocin rush and keep us close to each other for their safety and our continued unconditional love.

Dakota Johnson and her mother, Melanie Griffith. Image via Getty.

When - miracles!!- your baby daughters finally turn into young women, and you like them, and they like you, it’s really seductive to slide into the cama-raderie of girlfriends- being taken into their confidence, being included in all things, holidaying together, giving comfort, laughing, touching base, debating ideas and sharing memes and Facebook - where is the dividing line between me as person and me as mother?

Well, apparently, it’s alcohol. Or sex. Or ‘that bridge too far’ into which one can conversationally wander when the daughters are in full verbal flight (usu-ally pertaining to A or B above). I am not one of them; I am their mother.

And so it should be. Good for them for whacking up the wall when I looked like steaming over it. For the role of mother in evolution and by definition is that of the parent; the one in charge, the adult, the giver of life and provider of physical and emotional security. Little children perceive the world as that moment in which they live; every day is the only norm they know, they have no wisdom of past and future.


So our role as mother is powerful- we provide their norm, their lifelong experience of what is normal, by our daily behav-iour, our rituals and our values. This is a role not of an equal, but of a leader. We are there to be separate from them; to be the pillar against which they can lean, whilst pushing back on it to form their own identities. By being their friend, we remove that safe place.

Goldie Hawn and her daughter, Kate Hudson. Image via Getty.

Of course, the downside of all this is that we will always love them more than they love us. My own small mother would answer my call with far more joy than that with which I made it. “Darling!” she would say, her voice lifting in pleasure, her focus entirely on my wellbeing, her love flowing down the re-ceiver to me, whilst I was focussed on the world, my mother an adjunct. And so it is with my daughters- although I live a life more coincident with theirs and am therefore less adjunct than mum was to me, they are still more my focus than I am theirs.

Science explains this need for separateness from family with genetics. Young adults seek partners whose DNA is very similar to their own, but not too simi-lar - they seek out their tribe but not their family when it comes to building their own lives. Presumably this is a remnant from evolution that boosted di-verse genetic stock by preventing in-breeding, but perhaps it underwrites the same requirement for mothers to let their daughters loose. We can’t be their best friends and still give them the space they need from family to be func-tional adults.

All I can say is that I’m glad my daughters did recoil that fateful Cup Day. Not only has it kept me Nice, but it means I can’t have been too bad a mother. And I’m more comfortable with a pillar than a pedestal.

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