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1. YOU mag
Chummy mummy syndrome: Why being your
daughter's 'best friend' can end in tears
By Anne Garvey
Monday, May 26 2008
Last updated at 1:18 PM on 21st May 2008
Daily Mail UK
The Duchess of York with Daughter Beatrice
Earlier this month Jade Jagger was snapped partying the night away at a hip London party – as
her dates the 39-year-old Jade chose her two teenage daughters, Amber, 15, and Assisi, 12. All
three ladies arrived in stylish minidresses and designer heels for their girls’ night out.
2. In the past year or two, the Duchess of York has also frequently been seen out on the town
(indeed out ‘on the pull’, in her own words) with her two daughters, Beatrice, 20, and Eugenie, 18.
‘I admire her so much,’ enthused Beatrice. ‘She is my role model, we are such good friends.’
Theirs is not an isolated case. ‘Children as friends’ are a growing phenomenon – particularly
among teenage and 20-something daughters with divorced mothers. In an age when daughters
wear their mothers’ shoes, mothers appear alongside daughters in Identikit jeans, and everyone
has the Stones on their iPod, the generational barriers of old seem to be crashing down.
The idea of being best friends with your daughter can be hugely appealing, even if you are in a
happy, fulfilling marriage. You can go shopping together (you have the money, she knows the
latest labels). You can go travelling together (you won’t be worrying endlessly about where she is
and what she is doing abroad).
You can even go clubbing with her, as long as the club is sophisticated (Carole Middleton joined
daughter Kate for an evening out at the young royals’ favourite nightspot, Boujis in South
But if you are newly divorced and looking for fun, there is a risk that, in identifying too closely with
her life, you may lose sight of the boundary that should exist between mother and child.
These days, middle-aged women who find themselves suddenly alone after years of marriage
very often adopt a lifestyle eerily similar to that of a single 21-year-old, with fresh interests,
adventurous clothes and – most significant – a new chance at the dating scene. But you can’t
expect to swap parental responsibility for fun and friendship, and you certainly shouldn’t start
dumping your own emotional or psychological worries on your children.
‘After divorce,’ explains Dr Terri Apter, senior psychologist at Newnham College, Cambridge,
‘even quite young daughters can end up as confidantes, having to comfort a mother who is lonely
or angry about the split. They are playing a role that is far beyond their own emotional capacity
and that can damage their psychological development.
Some sharing of emotional experience is inevitable, but the sooner the situation reverts to normal
– back to parent caring for child – the better. Friendship can be an element of the relationship
between mother and daughter, but it should not be set up as the model.’
Family psychologist Dr. Stephan Poulter, who has researched this problem
in the US for his book The Mother Factor, suggests that many of today’s
‘best-friend parents’ have been reacting against over-strict parents of their
own. He says: ‘They don’t want to be so hard on their own children. At the
end of a long working day, they don’t want conflict.’
Writer and broadcaster Michael Bywater, author of Big Babies, Or Why Can’t We Just Grow Up?,
thinks things have gone too far. ‘Of course parents should talk to their children and do things
together. But when they announce they are “just like sisters” or “lads together”, parents are
placing a huge burden on their children. Where does it put the children’s real friends, for a start?
And what happens when your child wants to say, “I hate you”, in the style of Kevin the Teenager?’
Dr Apter agrees. ‘Children need to show a certain amount of aggression to test out their identity;
the screaming and shouting is a vital part of growing up. They are saying, “You think you know
me but I want you to see me as I am. Look at me – I am not you.” If you make them bottle that up
and instead announce that you are “good friends”, you are effectively saying, “I only want you if
you are making a special effort.” Parents must show that they are not frightened of their child’s
annoyance, or hurt by it. Without this resilience on your part, a child cannot separate from you.’
3. Friendship works in a different way to family dynamics. We choose our friends, overlook their
failings, negotiate around their disaster areas and respect differences between us. But ultimately
friendship is a relationship that can be ended by either party at any time. A mother cares far more
deeply about her children’s welfare than their friends will ever do – and goes on caring and
interfering because their happiness is top of her agenda, which of course can lead to the kind of
conflict you never get in your social life.
‘Parents as friends is a delusion,’ declares Michael Bywater. ‘Friends are essentially always on
approval, and friends don’t tell you what to do. Which is why you are in trouble if you give up your
leadership role and try to be a pal. Families are not democracies. Someone is in charge and –
face up to it – if you are a parent, it’s you.’
The mother of American comedian Chris Rock has just published Mama Rock’s Rules, in which
she describes the parenting techniques she used on her ten children and 17 foster children. ‘At
no time should you let them think they can treat you like a buddy,’ she says. ‘I don’t need to be
their friend, but I do need to be their protector and guide.’
Kate and Carole Middleton
Helen, a divorced mother of three girls, agrees. ‘We have a fabulous time together, shopping,
chatting, debating the issues of the day. And yes, since the divorce they are very close to me. But
that can go too far. It sounds brutal, but it sometimes comes down to my saying, “Do as I say
because I am your mother – and it’s my house you’re living in.” ’
‘This is particularly a problem for divorced mothers,’ says Michael Bywater. ‘Their children may be
the only loving relationship they are left with. But there needs to be a firm line between liking our
children’s company and expecting them to support us in our emotional crises.’
4. Dr Poulter cites the relationship between troubled Hollywood actress
Lindsay Lohan and her mother Dina, now acrimoniously divorced from
Lindsay’s father. Dina, 44, who is also Lindsay’s manager, habitually goes
drinking and clubbing with her daughter (not, perhaps, the best parenting
example to set a young woman who at 21 has already been in and out of
rehab several times) and was even observed making a play for Calum Best
when the three went partying together during his relationship with Lindsay
Jade Jagger with Amber and Assisi
‘Real mutuality is impossible,’ Dr Apter explains. ‘You cannot be totally open and unguarded with
your daughter. She might want to tell you all about her intimate life but she does not want to hear
about yours – even if she is too afraid of offending you to make that clear.’
And there are definitely times when a mother’s presence can cramp a child’s style. Beverley, who
has just finished her degree at University College, London, understands this only too well. ‘Going
to London was such a mistake, because my family live on the outskirts and my mother kept
popping up the whole time. I’d get back from lectures to find her sitting on the end of my bed
asking, “Where are we going tonight?” She came everywhere with me and in the end I couldn’t
breathe. One day I turned up at my Latin American dance class and saw her lambada-ing across
the floor towards me. But even then, I didn’t have the heart to tell her to back off. She was
divorced and lonely.’
Psychotherapist Nicola Glucksmann says, ‘A mother who finds herself alone in her 40s or 50s
can feel very vulnerable. With most of her friends married, often her only chance of experiencing
5. singleness seems to be through her own daughter. Superficially it looks as if their goals are the
same – meeting men and having a good time; but they belong to different peer groups.’
Nicola Glucksmann points out that what daughters need most in order to feel secure when they
are trying to find their feet in the world is a mother’s unconditional encouragement. ‘If the mother
switches roles and wants to be a friend, the daughter can find herself in very confusing territory,
because with friends, there is always an undercurrent of rivalry.
‘The process can begin in small ways – staying up that little bit too late with the daughter’s
friends, wangling an invitation to join in the weekend’s outings – and end up with the mother out-
flirting, out-vamping her daughter, who then feels she cannot compete. Instead the daughter may,
like Saffie, sensible teenager to Jennifer Saunders’s impossibly hip mother in Absolutely
Fabulous, end up feeling so intruded upon that she becomes all frumpy, and becomes the adult
she longs her own mother to be.
‘We see endless examples in psychotherapy,’ continues Nicola Glucksmann, ‘of daughters
unable to get on with their own lives because of aggressive competition from the person who
should be supporting and promoting them.
‘Calling it friendship is misleading when it comes at the expense of the daughter’s interests,’ she
adds. ‘A mother should be delighting in her daughter’s youth and beauty, not trying to claw back
her own lost years.’
Ultimately, believes Michael Bywater, best-friend parents limit a child’s freedom and
development. ‘Parents like these are invading their children’s lives. By going about with young
adults they are trying to say, “I’m not this older person whose days of potential are over.” One of
the things you do as a parent is bit by bit enable your child to go away from you. If you remove
the boundaries you are failing them. And you are doing it deliberately.’
HOW TO BEHAVE LIKE A REAL PARENT
• Don’t expect your son or daughter to be nice all the time — they need to rail at you, and
• Don’t expect to hear details of their lives, and don’t try to prise personal secrets out of
• Don’t be tempted to give them details of your sexual or emotional life. They will hate this.
• Make sure your enjoyment of their company doesn’t lead you to encroach on their scene
or their friends.
• Being a parent means having authority. Don’t give it away in a bid to become their friend.
• You can have ‘friendly’ times with your children but you are not a best friend and you do
not have to please them.
• Remember, the whole object of child-rearing is to let them separate from you
Photographs: Getty Images, Xposurephotos.com, P A Photos