It happens when we’re in the car, belting out Blondie’s “Call Me” or crooning to Chance the Rapper’s “Blessings.” It happens when we model outfits for each other before going out or when she comes to me for advice about a guy or a girlfriend or a teacher. It happens when we sit at the kitchen counter, after her younger sisters are asleep, stuffing our faces with Ben & Jerry’s straight from the container, clanking spoons and giggling while we dig around for the chocolate fudge chunks.
That’s when I think: Oh, wow. I’m becoming friends with my teenager. It’s a subtle shift and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.
It’s a strange feeling when you realize you’ve slipped out of the Hazmat suit of parenting and into the flannel pajamas of friendship with your teen. It’s not an all-or-nothing state — I’m still her mom and all that entails — but the parent-child line between us blurs more and more often these days as she inches ever closer to adulthood. I mean, I can barely type that word while thinking of my little girl who can’t possibly be 15 already.
Wasn’t she just twirling around in her red cape, cat ears and tattered yellow tutu, like, a minute ago? What seems like yesterday to me is more like a lifetime ago for her.
My oldest is undeniably leaving her childhood behind. On the weekends she’d rather hang out with her friends instead of her family. She has fierce opinions about Trump, feminism and poverty. There’s a hint of cheekbone peeking through her once round face. The grown up dress styles she so desperately wanted to wear when she was a tween now fit her filled out body. And she knows stuff — how black holes work, the ins and outs of curating Instagram and Snapchat stories, how to advocate for herself at school, how to laugh at herself when she goofs.
My daughter is fun to hang out with, like a favorite friend. I love sharing these moments with her.
Not everyone agrees it’s a good idea to be friends with your child, and until recently I would have dismissed the possibility myself. I never thought I’d get to a point where I’d be friends with my daughter. Not because she isn’t friend material, but because in those fresh years of mothering my girl, I couldn’t imagine friendship being part of parenting. My role was to nurture and love her, keep her safe and healthy, teach her right from wrong, kindness from cruelty, encourage her when she failed and cheer her on when she succeeded.
The idea of friendship in the realm of motherhood felt threatening, as if being friends with my daughter would diminish my role as a parent, as if the values I taught her and the guidance I gave would matter less to her if she thought of me as a friend.
Even though teenagers seem to spurn their parents in favor of their peers, studies show that our words and actions still influence their decision making. If she thought of me more as a friend, would my input as her mom carry less weight?
I also strongly believe that my role as a parent is to provide structure and boundaries for my daughter, for at least as long as she’s living under my roof. Those boundaries have expanded significantly in the last few years as she learns to make more decisions for herself and I learn to trust her when she does. Still, she has a curfew, limits on screen time and a ballpark bedtime. She complains about our “rules” but I believe deep down she appreciates them. They let her know we care where she is, who she’s with and what she’s doing. I worry that being friends with my daughter might make her think those boundaries are no longer important to me, and they most definitely are.
Becoming friends with my daughter isn’t a relationship I expected or engineered, and I don’t think it happens between every child and parent. It’s also certainly not the same sort of friendship I have with my grown-up girlfriends. We are not peers or equals. I’m never going to be the kind of mom who parties with her, buys her beer, or tries to act like “one of the girls.” Some of my friends’ moms were like that when I was in high school and it was unsettling.
I’m not a teenager and my daughter is not an adult. It’s not her responsibility to help me with the grown up challenges I face. As she grows up, though, there’s no question that we have more and more in common. For now, I’m still figuring out what being friends with my teenager looks like within the realm of motherhood.
Here’s what I do know: Being a friend isn’t just about car dancing or sharing celebrity crushes. It’s not only about eating ice cream for dinner and texting past midnight. It’s also about laughing hysterically together when life is hilarious and holding each other close when it all goes south. It’s about loving the other person unconditionally, supporting them always and being honest with them when they’re heading into dangerous territory. It’s about giving someone you love the space, safety and strength to be themselves.
When I think about it that way, being a friend and being a mom have a lot in common. Maybe it isn’t all that hard for me to be both to my teenager.