Are You Really Supposed to Be Best Friends With Your Mom?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Relationships between mothers and daughters come in many a form, as varied as the array of human personalities that exist within those moms and their beloved, if sometimes frustrating, kids. In fact, the mother-daughter relationship may be one of the most complex that exists in all of human relations, both more intimate but also at times more fraught with difficulty than one with a husband or wife. Those who know you best can let you down the most, and who knows you better—sometimes most annoyingly so—than your own mom? Paige Williams' New York magazine article on the extremely harmonious mom-kid duo of Julie and Samantha Bilinkas sheds light on one such relationship, which appears at different points as something we should feel jealous of and something we should be concerned about. The title of the article speaks for itself: "My Mom Is my BFF."

How are Julie (mom) and Samantha (daughter) BFFs, exactly?

  • They drink together, or, rather, if Samantha is offered a cocktail, she gives it to her mom.
  • People think they're sisters, or possibly, when they travel in Italy, lovers. 
  • They sit at the bar together, which makes Samantha, 19, feel grown-up (which she likes) and, presumably, Julie, 50, feel young, which she probably likes as well. 
  • They wear matching T-shirts (but not on the same day). 
  • They talk about who's hotter. 
  • They tweet at each other.
  • They act like "pals," not mom-and-daughter: "Samantha refrained from the typical teenage indicators of mother-induced misery. No mortified slumping, no glassy stare, no snapping, no sighing, no episodic glaring, no thumbing out one cell-phone SOS after another," writes Williams. "And Julie? When Samantha spoke, Julie listened until her daughter had completed her thought. Which I assumed happened only in dreams and completely unrealistic movies."

Recommended Reading

Even though Julie and Samantha assure Williams that they do fight, over typical teen/mom things like room-cleaning, Williams is amazed witnessing that rarest of things, a unicorn of familial relationships—"a fantasy come to life." She shares her own mom experience, in which certain things (discussions of sex, for example) are taboo, in which clothes belong purely to one person or the other, in which older generations are hopeless about the technologies of the new. Parenting was different then, Williams hypothesizes: Now, with shows like the new VH1 reality show Mama Drama, the parenting norm is BFF-dom. Is this good? Bad? True? What does it even mean? 

Like a mother-daughter relationship, it is complicated

I am not BFFs with my mom. I love my mom, yes; we have what anyone would call a good relationship. But we don't share clothes (when I wanted to borrow her stuff in high school, she quashed that quickly; instead, I borrowed my dad's giant sweaters). We don't talk daily, or hourly, as do some adult women and their moms. We grew up very differently, and to some extent, perhaps we don't always see eye to eye about where the other has come from. We each have others who we do consider "best friends." But that doesn't mean that we would fail to be supportive, even to put each other above nearly anyone else. It also doesn't mean that we don't speak our minds. Like "best friends," the people who love you even in your worst times and continue to love you after you've gotten through them, we don't worry that we have to please or pander to each other. Like best friends, we are generally honest, but we also know some discussions aren't worth getting into. And some are, even if it means you fight. My mom is not my best friend. She's something more rare, something you typically only get one of: My mom.

I'm a bit older than Samantha, though, and this "new wave" of parenting may have started after my formative years. The friendship, and I'd call it that, if not "best friendship," between my mom and me is one between two grown-ups, even if we do happen to be mom and daughter. What's different about Samantha and Julie is that they're doing these "friend" things at a younger age—and they live in the same city, the same home, even. When I was 19 I probably wouldn't have talked about boys or drank willingly in bars with only my mom;  we were more protective of our individual space. When I am home now, my mom and I don't go out on the town; we sit and talk at the dinner table over wine. My mom doesn't text, much less tweet. (She does, however, read blogs, even if she despises Facebook. I appreciate that.) Williams posits that the moms who came of age in the sexual revolution, during Vietnam, during the women's rights movement, experienced a norm that diverged from domestic and societal norms. They were different, could be different, as women, and so they could be different as parents. Instead of continuing in the hallowed tradition of setting an example for daughters to rebel against, maybe moms could just be friends with their daughters. Maybe? According to Williams:

Friendship became a kind of parenting strategy: By treating Child as Adult, parents hoped that the kid would actually become an adult, and a good one. The happy outcome for some: mothers and daughters who didn’t have to wait until middle or old age to actually enjoy each other’s company. To maintain peer-ness, there came a coinciding pressure to stay young, technologically supported by the capacity to stay young. Moms have never had at their disposal so many resources—so much paraphernalia—allowing them to shrink the generation gap. If they want, they can practically turn themselves back into teenagers.

Friendship as a method for adults to seem young and kids to seem grown-up; it's positively innovative. Williams points out that this "perfect relationship" is still not exactly common, a reality highlighted by the fact that Samantha and Julie's relationship still appears, if not entirely too good to be true, something so unusual as to be gawked at in an article.

Think of the other "friend-moms" we see in the outside world: The "trying-too-hard" mom depicted by Amy Poehler in Mean Girls, the mom who wants to be one of the girls so bad it's just cringeworthy (and inappropriate). Or Gilmore Girls' Lorelai-and-Rory-Gilmore pairing of mom and daughter who seem to exist in a generally symbiotic über-reality. There's the mom, someone has one, someone likely to work in your very own office, whom that daughter speaks to daily, gets advice from, shops with, with whom she confides in every matter, things you can't imagine talking about with your own mom. Did these moms really fail to exist before now, or have they always been there, if not talked about in this way? Maybe some moms and daughters, like some family members, just get along better than others.

Williams argues that the mom-daughter BFF phenomenon couldn't have happened without an overall societal and marketing focus on youth—even as older moms are infinitely more common and acceptable, moms don't want to seem old. (A corollary for thought: Is it possible that moms having children a bit older has led to the phenomenon as well? Maybe with older parenting comes both maturity and appreciation, and a loosening of a certain kind of traditional expectations.) Maybe it's not weird to be best friends with your mom (even though some are dubious and see this as a reflection of family dysfunction or even "spawning to socialize"—ew). Certainly, it's different to be friends with your grown-up daughter than it is to say that your toddler is your BFF, and worry about what will happen when she finds pals her own age, as one woman Williams quotes wrote on 

Then there are people like Julie and Samantha, who seem to be friends because they have similar interests, because they spent time together and in doing so realized they have fun together. Maybe they're friends because, goodness gracious, they just like each other, barring the occasional dispute that comes from hanging out a lot. But that's kind of what friendship is about, no matter who the players are, no? As Williams writes, "By rejecting the traditional traps, she and Julie have sort of beat the system by waging a new form of rebellion, one that’s not between parent and child but rather forged between them, against some standardized definition of family life. They’ve created their own dynamic, whether others understand it or not."

As with any friendship, they understand it, which is what actually matters.

Image via Shutterstock by Monkey Business Images.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.