The trouble with treating your daughter as your best friend

Kate Middleton's mother is often seen by her side
Keeping it in the family: The Middletons step out together Credit: Frank May

<br> This morning saw some serious mollycoddling going on in our house: my alarm went off at six so I could soften the blow of a particularly early start for the 17-year-old with her favourite dippy egg and soldiers; then the nine-year-old got coaxed from her slumber with a cup of tea in bed.

Jenny Brown, the head teacher of St Albans High School for Girls would surely despair at my cosseting of these girls. She’s just spoken out in no uncertain times at the ruinous behavior of mothers who are so desperate to be their daughters’ ‘best friend forever’ (or BFF) that they are creating a whole generation of dependent and spoilt young women ill equipped to cope with the adult world.

Actually, Brown needn’t worry too much about me. I admit I still put my 20-year-old’s gloves on the radiator before she heads out on chilly mornings, but my doting amounts to nothing more insidious than the small acts of love typical of most mothers. Crucially, it is also where the coddling ends.

Like Brown, I find it difficult to understand or relate to the ‘I am my daughter’s best friend’ mother’s brigade. That’s not because I’m some Victorian throwback. It’s because I know damn well that all three of my girls have plenty of friends already, and I’m the very last person they need to join those ranks.

From me they get something that no friend, no matter how loyal, can ever hope to offer them; tough and boundary setting love that only a mother dare provide.

Kate Middleton with her mother Credit: Rex Features

I say ‘dare’ because telling a feisty 15-year-old that they can’t go to a party where you know damn well the parents have provided copious amounts of booze and zero adult supervision is no mean feat.

Nor is questioning their sense of injustice after being taken to task for shoddy work by a teacher who you think was quite right to hand out an after-school detention. See too telling your daughter that she looks bloody awful in a pair of hot-pants that leaves nothing to the imagination.

But these are just some of the difficult things you instinctively know you must do for your daughter when she is your child rather than your friend. What’s more, I pity the girls growing up with mothers who so cheerfully deprive them of such a relationship.

Pearl Lowe poses for the camera with Daisy Lowe Credit: Copyright (c) 2015 Rex Features. No use without permission./Richard Young/REX Shutterstock

We all know mothers so afraid of rocking the domestic boat that the word ‘no’ doesn’t enter their vernacular. Some years ago I listened, only just straight-faced, while one mother (wearing, funnily enough, hot-pants at the time) explained to me that she’d made a conscious decision to swear like a trooper when her then 13-year-old daughter had her mates round ‘so they can relate to me.’

That way, she explained, she could hang out with them and offer nuggets of wisdom they’d be more likely to listen to because she ‘speaks their language’. Of course, no-one takes life lessons off a sweary 40-year-old in a pair of too tight shorts  – young girls least of all. Instead, she became someone they used for lifts while laughing at her embarrassing lack of dress sense behind her back.

Another admitted on a mums’ night out that she’d started smoking again so that she could bond with her 16-year-old over a pack of Marlborough’s, when the sensible thing would have been to flush them down the toilet. 

Madonna stepping out with her daughter Credit: Steve Parsons

Yet another would speak in boastful terms of how her lovely home had become the crash pad and comfortable dope smoking den of the various teenage friends of her two daughters over many years. She wore her liberalism as a badge (while sweeping up their nubs from her patio like some second rate skivvy).

‘Don’t you feel used?” I once asked, to which she looked genuinely aghast. The idea of something so glaringly obvious hadn’t ever crossed her mind.

Somewhat crassly, these women don’t just try and be best friends to their own daughters – they shamelessly try and muscle in on yours too. I recently learned that over the years both my older girls have been offered shelter from my parenting wickedness by BFF mothers of their friends. If only these women had asked me, they’d have learned that the worst I ever did to my daughters was ban them from the odd party and ground them because nothing else seemed to motivate them to clean up their rooms.

Having a BFF relationship with your daughter isn’t modern, it’s toxic– and it goes way beyond being a nodding dog to your girl’s outstretched hand. Because, how on earth are these girls ever going to cope in the adult workplace where authority figures call the shots and righteous indignation gets you absolutely no-where?

Far more insidious is how being her best friend erodes your ability to be able to tell her when you think she’s getting it wrong; worse still, it renders your suggestions as to how she might instead get it right as utterly ineffectual. And when you congratulate her on getting it spot on without you, why should she care?

"Another admitted on a mums’ night out that she’d started smoking again so that she could bond with her 16-year-old over a pack of Marlborough’s"

Brown goes further and suggests that girls brought up by BFF mothers may be more at risk of dropping out of university, failing to hold down a job, being anxious, developing eating disorders “and finding the whole business of growing up very hard”.

Tellingly, neither of my daughter’s ever did take up any of these kind offers from the BFF mothers to take them in when we had had a barney. And now, as young women, I'm very glad to hear them say that my determination to be their mother first has only strengthened the bonds we share now as they enter adulthood.

I’m not sure a mother suffering from BFF syndrome will get that – it requires an ability to grasp that the mother/daughter relationship is the most complex of all. What they don’t seem to get is that teenage girls can smell fear at fifty paces; if being the cool, laid back mum is an act you put on only because you’re scared of your daughter not liking you otherwise, then the only person you’re kidding is yourself.

Judith Woods: Why I don't treat my daughter like my BFF

When my elder daughter was four, I rejected her friendship, which scarred her for life. I know this because now she's 13 she never stops telling me so.

The terrible denouement went something like this.

Me, mildly: "Pick up your pyjamas and brush your teeth, please."

Her, equally mildly: "No."

Me, less mildly: "Pick up your pyjamas and brush your teeth, this is an order not a request."

Her, truculently: "No. I hate you."

Me, irritated: "Right young lady-"

Her, furious from behind a slammed bedroom door: "You're not my friend anymore."

Me, in passive-aggressive leisurely pursuit: "I'm not your friend. I will never be your friend. I'm your mother."

A moment passes.  

"Don't you want to be my friend?" she asked in the sort of tiny wheedling voice that would have felled a lesser parent (ie her father).

"No. Your friend doesn't wash your school socks, your friend doesn't go to two different supermarkets to find those overpriced yogurts you like or make sure you that your slippers still fit," I said, firmly although quietly admitting to myself that there would always be some potential for crossover because I’m partial to a Barbie foam party at bath-time and jumping on the bed always holds a certain appeal.

Her eyes widened:  "But do you love me?"

Like most stupid questions, this turned out to be by far the most important one in the known universe.

"Yes," I said, solemnly. "Yes, I do.  And you have no real idea how fiercely I love you, nor will you have until you have a four- year-old of your own.’

Of course, some years later to a casual eye it might look suspiciously as though my teenager and I are friends.

We go shopping and to exhibitions together, she borrows my clothes; when I'm in extremis she buys me chocolate.

But there is at least one crucial difference. When the going gets tough in her social circle and she needs a fall guy or an exit strategy, she has my official blessing to blame me for everything.

And I gladly take the rap when she texts her friends to say I'm spoiling everyone's fun or cancelling the sleepover or just ruining her life.

After all, I'm her mother. It's the least I can do.