Valley Girl With a Brain

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I Am My Mom's Best Friend

Can you be best friends with Mom?

Every daughter has a unique relationship with her mom--one that can never really be replicated with anyone else. Even siblings share different relationships with the same parents. For instance, my sister and my mother share a completely different dynamic from that of my mom and me.

In a nutshell, I am my mom's best friend.

It's strange because my mom is certainly not my best friend. First, that position belongs to Peggy, who has served over two decades in that office. Second, I have surprisingly high patience, yet my mom may be the most annoying creature to ever grace my existence. Still, I love her a lot, but just as a... mom.

My mom and I have always been close and while I do confide in her occasionally, (when the material is PG enough), I notice that her dependency and interest in my life seems to grow proportionally with time. Not only are our phone calls becoming more frequent (she calls me 3x a week!), but our conversations are of the adult or "serious" variety. Topics once considered highly verboten--confessions of marital problems, fear of getting old, death, and where babies come from--have suddenly become open for dialogue. Much of this information is TMI for my taste.

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It's weird. It's uncomfortable. It's... friendship?

I never believed it possible nor wanted my mom to be my best friend. Friends? Sure. Good friends? Maybe, okay. But best friends? No. In fact, at the risk of sounding like terrible offspring, it bothers me.

My mom is supposed to be my mom--take care of me when I need it, deposit cash in my account without ever thinking that I'll pay her back, make chicken soup from scratch when I'm sick, you know--the mothering basics.

So what is this recent friendship business all about?

A recent study at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) suggests that the majority of parents and adult children are experiencing greater tensions and aggravation with one another.

Researcher Kira Birditt explains in a press release that the parent and adult child bond can be highly positive and supportive, "but it also commonly includes feelings of irritation, tension, and ambivalence."

The study analyzed data on parents and adult children who were at least 22 years old and lived within 50 miles of their parents. Researchers posed questions about tensions regarding personality, relationship issues, children's finances, housekeeping, lifestyle choice, and frequency of communication.

The results indicated that parents generally felt more tension than their kids, especially regarding children's lifestyle and behavior. This might explain why my mom, the friend, has developed an insane case of the worries regarding my "new life" in New York.

Additionally, researchers found that both adult sons and daughters felt more tension with their mothers than with their fathers, particularly regarding personality differences and unwanted advice. If you know my mom, you are familiar with her endless list of Korean proverbs and sage metaphors from antiquity. Birditt suggests, "It may be that children feel their mothers make more demands for closeness, or that they are generally more intrusive than fathers."

The most surprising revelation in the study was that parental perceptions of tension actually increased with the adult children's age. This is most likely due to the fact that as parents age, they come to want or need more from their relationship with their kids (in my case: a friendship), but children have a tendency to pull away, creating greater tensions. Adult children become less invested as they get older because they are most likely forming their own families or engaging in new independent experiences outside of the familial womb.

This is starting to make sense. What I feel for mom is kind of normal, and I have to recognize that her desire to be bffs is kind of normal too.

Now, how about some help?

In further unpublished research, Birditt also analyzed coping strategies for these kinds of tensions. While both mom and child are more likely to try to solve problems constructively by accommodating each other's wishes, working together to find solutions, and trying to accept or understand the other's opinion, the higher the tensions get, the more likely the constructive approach goes out the window and destructive strategies charge in. Favorites like avoidance and yelling or arguing seem to be big hits during the holidays and also exacerbate the relationship.

Thankfully, my mom and I haven't fought like that since she forgot to tape an episode of Felicity when I was in high school, but there is undoubtedly, avoidance of the issues, which is, well, getting harder and harder to avoid. How do you tell your mom that you just want to be "parent and child"?

I think I'm going to go call Peggy now.

 

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Source: University of Michigan News Service (2009, May 10). Still Irritating After All These Years: Study Of Adult Children and Parents

 

Jen Kim is a former Psychology Today intern and a graduate of Northwestern University.

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