By Amanda Cleary Eastep
I never set out to be friends with my daughters. I was happy and grateful enough to be their mother.
God forbid I would be the mom looking like I was trying to look like my daughters…
I was never interested in being BFFs with their BFFs or putting their liking me before my responsibility to teach, discipline, and yank them up ‘in the way they should go.’
But friendship kind of happened anyway. Maybe it was an easier transition back to a healthy relationship in the aftermath of a traumatic split in our nuclear family (nuclear, as in small atom bomb).
Wondering if this was just my perspective, I asked them recently as we chatted on the patio, “So, would you guys say we’re friends?”
It sounded like a dumb question.
This was evidenced by the way Meg, my youngest, who is in her early 20s, pushed her lips out, tilted her head, and looked at me as if to say, “That is a dumb question.”
I mostly was curious how and when they thought this shift in our relationship occurred. I already had some answers in mind that involved the three of us moving into our condo two years after that aforementioned “nuclear event.”
Again, as much as I have loved being mother to my son (my eldest child) and my two daughters, I have always enjoyed the people my children are.
“You always treated us like people,” Meg says. “It felt like you gave us the freedom to speak. You had the authority, but we respected you, because you respected us.”
I’ll stop here to say that during that trying time in our lives, I failed my children, miserably. These are not moments you record in baby books. “Oh, look at that picture of me from Christmas 2003 with the swollen eyes, because I’ve been crying for four months. Those were the days, huh, kids? Hey, check out that overly-detailed deposition from the custody proceedings. I printed it out on paper with the colorful stick people border for the Christmas newsletter.”
My relationship with my elder daughter/middle child, Mac, who is now in her mid-20s, began to heal s.l.o.w.l.y. when she was in junior high and I sat quietly beside her watching her favorite TV series Inuyasha. The animated Japanese fairy tale tells the story of a boy with fuzzy ears and a tail who, along with his human female friend, must go on a quest to retrieve the shards of a crystal and thereby defeat the powerful demon. Mac was 13 at the time and hated me. OK, hate is a strong word–rebelled against anything warm and fuzzy that wasn’t a Japanese dog-boy.
In answer to my question, Mac confirms this pivotal moment. “It was when we started to watch anime together.”
I found it interesting that she associated the beginning of a healing period with the beginning of a friendship. Perhaps it was easier for her to see me as a friend first before she was ready to move back to mother-daughter. That hour in front of the old TV in my parents’ basement was truce time. Over the months and even years, Japanese anime became a shared interest. I had always made an effort to understand my kids’ interests and passions. But I truly started to enjoy the show, because of the cultural folklore, because of story, and because of the ever-present message of the importance of family and friends.
“You let us paint our room,” Meg adds.
In 2007, the three of us moved into a condo after living at my parents’ home for two years (my son was still with his father).
I tend to consider letting your kids paint their own room as more of a “fun parent” move, rather than the makings of friendship. (It was an easy decision anyway, since they chose a perfectly acceptable color called Delicious Sky or something).
But that event, though seemingly insignificant, also marked the beginning of the formation of what I defined as Our Community. As in: Empty the dishwasher, this is a community. It’s your turn to make dinner, this is a community. I’m not making a to-do list of chores, look around you and see what needs to be done and do it. This is a community. (I may have ended that last one with a mild curse word.)
And that’s what happened. As I accepted a new and more secure full-time job, we three learned to depend on each other…and the girls learned to depend on me again as their mother.
We pitched in and painted our dingy new home with bright colors.
We spent part of our Saturdays cleaning what I affectionately began to call “the clubhouse.”
We played music and danced as we cooked dinner.
In fact, one moment that sticks out in my memory is when Mac, in a surprising outward expression of joy, jumped up from her computer desk, turned up the volume on “It’s Raining Men,” and began to dance spastically (our normal dance style). In the midst of her performance, which Meg and I were thoroughly enjoying from the couch, Mac pointed dramatically at us and yelled, “Back up singers!!” As if on cue, Meg and I leapt up and took our places behind her, just in time to raise our voices together:
“God bless Mother Nature, she’s a single woman too
She took off to heaven and she did what she had to do!”
I’ve read articles on both sides of the parent-as-friend topic.
Being friends with my children, especially as adults, has never involved what researchers call “emotional parentification” (which I can barely say without spitting, anyway). For me to expect my children to meet the needs that peer friendships provide me would be selfish…and just weird.
Arguing on the “yes” side of the question, “Should Parents Be ‘Friends’ with Their Teenagers? Marcelle Soviero, Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child, writes that she became more of a friend to her daughter by playing less of a parental role. “Yes, she has smoked, and experimented with boys, drugs, and alcohol. But we talked about it and I guided her as best as I could, just as I would a friend.”
Nope. I have never intentionally played less of a parental role, especially when my daughters were teenagers and situations called for the discipline and authority of a mother.
I have enjoyed more of a friend role, primarily as my children have grown older and I’ve remarried. At this point, I’m not talking about teenagers, but adult children in their 20s who have finished college, held jobs, and traveled overseas (but may still be responsible for the ever-present divot in the couch cushion).
I was simply surprised to learn that, in their eyes, this friendship facet started forming earlier than I had realized.
Some might say we simply enjoy a healthy mother-daughter relationship. That may be, but if my daughters look to me as a friend in addition to–or sometimes ahead of–being their mother, that’s fine.
At the end of our conversation that day on the patio, Meg related a story about one of her peers who told her that she didn’t really have the same relationship with her mom…that when she watches the three of us together, it is less like seeing a mom and two daughters interacting and more like three women who love being together.
In the end, no matter how close I am to my daughters or how much we consider each other to be friends, my heavenly Father (and Friend) called me to be their mother first. And that is the role I most enjoy.
That is until “It’s Raining Men” starts playing…
Do you think you can be friends with your grown children? How does it differ from a basic, healthy parent-child relationship? Do you recall a moment when your relationship took on more aspects of a friendship?
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash