My Mother, My … Friend?
I used to absolutely hate being like my mother. We look alike. We sound alike. Much as I'm loathe to admit it, we often act alike. For years I put all my efforts into establishing an identity apart from my mom. Yet sometimes, circumstances conspired against me.
I remember one winter break when I was home from college. Mom's employment agency sent her to work at the company where I'd begun my business management internship. We ended up working side-by-side in the same department. Everyone thought it was cute, but I was not amused. And horror of horrors: Proud of my success, my mother wanted to have lunch with me.
My biggest fear was that I'd become a carbon copy of my mother. My mom's a born organizer; she's worked as an efficiency expert who walks into an office and suggests improvements to maximize output and minimize effort. But I wasn't interested in any efficiency tips from Mom, eager as she was to try to make my life easier. I wanted my own style, my own identity—in my own way.
It wasn't until several years later, after I felt secure in my career, had built friendships with my peers, and had succeeded in maintaining my own household, that I realized how much I missed Mom's friendship. It was this sense of "missing out" that drove me to take a fresh look at Mom—not as a superior adult who could dictate right and wrong to me, but as someone on equal footing who could prove to be a caring, loving friend. It was then I began forging a promising new relationship.
Taking baby steps
I started in nonthreatening ways: inviting Mom to share a pretzel with me at the mall, joining the church choir together, or walking through a furniture store and enjoying our differing tastes (I'm into modern decor; Mom's partial to American colonial). While we did things together, our interaction was limited in areas in which we experienced disagreements. For example, I didn't ask Mom for career suggestions, and Mom learned to avoid giving her opinion unless asked. As we spent recreational time together, I began to tell my mom about the idiosyncrasies of my particular industry. Once I felt she understood my field, I was gradually able to ask for (and gratefully receive) suggestions. I realize now that while I'd always respected my mother's opinions, I had to feel secure enough in myself in order to accept those that applied and discard the rest.
Since then, I've learned those early baby steps with Mom are the right way for anyone to begin establishing a family friendship. According to counselor Jan Silvious, author of Foolproofing Your Life , "Keep expectations low and maintenance at a minimum. Too high an expectation and too much maintenance will do the same thing to a mother/daughter friendship that will happen to a non-familial friendship. The stress will be too great."