How mother-daughter relationships evolve

As a high school freshman, I’d sneak out of the house to make out with my 11th grade boyfriend in Manhattan’s Central Park. Now, as a recent college graduate, my boyfriend (a different guy) is a frequent topic of discussion and a regular visitor. I let my mom know when I’m planning to spend the night at his apartment, and find myself confiding in her more than I do in my friends, something my high school self never would have imagined. 

What’s changed in these last eight years to make stealthy getaways and off-limit topics things of the past?

I went straight to the source, my mom, to find out. “I now consider our times together as shared experiences vs. teachable moments, when I could give you perspective and values,” she told me. “At this point, I think you’ve demonstrated that you know them, so I don’t need to sit around ‘teaching’ you now, which is kind of liberating for me. You also have become my go-to person for advice on everything from sample sale shopping to book recommendations and the college application process for your younger brothers.”

Like me, mom revealed she’s been giving our relationship a great deal of thought.

Her friends have told her they’re committed to cultivating ‘best friend’ relationships with their daughters, but, previously, that didn’t feel quite right to her. I decided to find out for myself if other mothers had indeed made the transition from policewoman to pal.

I first went to visit my friend, Amelia, an only child of parents who immigrated to Texas from the Dominican Republic in the 90s. Always close with her mom, Esperanza, Amelia has noticed that she now comes to her for advice more than ever. When Esperanza recently felt slighted by a friend who didn’t invite her to her 50th birthday party, she called Amelia, who was in college in Chicago, to vent. Amelia told her, in a stern voice, to calm down and get some perspective. “Was this really such a big deal?” Amelia asked her mom. Wasn’t she busy that night anyway? And doesn’t she have lots of close friends?  Esperanza felt better after the conversation, she told me, though her daughter’s tough love was startling. Venting to Amelia is often fruitful, she explained, especially since her time away in college, studying and living in a sorority house, has made her a rich source of fresh insights.

Back in the day, many of my peers and I would dread family vacations. It was torture to be away from friends, perhaps even isolated without cell service or Internet connection. Today, my friends gladly take trips with their moms, and even propose the idea themselves. Becky, my high school pal, is about to take a post-grad trip to Israel with her mom, Pamela, who’s always been a “cool mom”— laid back and trusting of her two kids, even when they were young. Pamela and Becky are looking forward to this vacation, and said that spending time together has become more enjoyable over the years. “I don’t think I’ve changed as a parent since my kids went to college”, Pamela said, “but perhaps I’m enjoying my relationships with my children more, now that they’re adults.” While Becky used to invite friends on family vacations, she now treasures her time alone with her mom. Now that we’re older, we seem to have less need for a “buffer,” she said.

Moms are often our first female role models, but for daughters who don’t aspire to be like their moms, tensions can surely mount when they develop minds of their own. As we mature, however, it gets easier to move past our differences.

Rosie, an ambitious friend from Los Angeles, said that she’s developed a newfound respect for her mom Kay’s choice to be a stay-at-home mother. Rosie always looked at school as a means to an end, and pushed herself to take on side jobs throughout college. She also struggled through classes like economics and accounting to increase her chances of getting her dream job, and was one of my first friends to get a full-time offer after graduation. Throughout high school and the beginning of college, she and her mom weren’t especially close, and although she loved Kay, she couldn’t understand why she would choose full-time motherhood over a full-time career. This made it difficult for Rosie to relate to her mom.

Now Rosie said she sees the dignity in motherhood. Her younger brother has been struggling for two years with heartbreak, mental health issues and academics, and Rosie is awed by Kay’s strength and ability to unconditionally support him. As a result, she and Kay have become closer. Kay seeks parenting advice from Rosie, and Rosie has been calling more and more to discuss how to impress her VP and what outfit she should wear to her account meetings. Maturity brought respect for this mother and daughter, which has strengthened their relationship.

Becky and her mom PamelaMutual admiration undoubtedly helps mothers and daughters confidently rely on each truly in truly significant ways.

We enjoy spending time together, not as teacher and student or policewoman and prisoner, but as friends. My days of sneaking out are behind me, and I welcome this new era of easy transparency.

Respect may seem like an obvious platitude. But, as I move out of my parents’ apartment and begin my grown-up job, if that’s all I need to stay close with my mom, then I’d say the future holds nothing I can’t handle. That is, without help from mom.
Sophie Jacob recently earned a BA in History and Creative Writing from Northwestern University. A native New Yorker, she loves to travel, read and spend time with family and friends.

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