My mom and I are best friends. As the mother-daughter duo in the popular TV series Gilmore Girls put it, “We are best friends first, and mother and daughter second.” Even through my tween and now teen years, we’ve grown extremely close and created many great memories. We found a way to strike a balance between nurturing friendship and maintaining a healthy mother-daughter dynamic. I’d like to offer parents some guidelines on how to be your daughter’s best friend and parent.
- Invest in your daughter’s life. Daughters often see natural parental concern as an urge to control. Being invested in her life translates to showing a positive interest in her everyday life as well as major events. Try to remember minor details of upcoming events. Your genuine interest will boost her self-esteem and encourage her to share more personal aspects of her life. She may begin to see you as her friend, someone whom she respects and whose opinion she values.
- Be available to her, but don’t try to push your way into her life. She’ll let you know when she’s ready to let you in. Don’t abuse her willingness to share by probing her for information. And when she asks for your opinion, don’t try to overly influence her—she might feel she needs to distance herself.
- Be your daughter’s booster. Support her in her unsure moments and always encourage her good decisions, especially when she doesn’t follow the crowd. Your pride in her strength will give her the confidence and strong sense of values to make healthy decisions.
- Relate her struggles and conflicts to your own. Keep the focus on her situation and imagine yourself in her unique position. But also find ways to share your experiences of similar situations. They may not be exactly the same, but sharing common interactions and strategies will reinforce her trust in you.
- When she’s in a slump, point out the silver lining. Although she may not appreciate it at the time, this will help her become more optimistic and enhance her problem-solving skills. Let her know you’re there for her while giving her space.
- Remember that you are a safe harbor for her. Like any member of a group of friends or associates, your daughter will often feel she has to consider the “politics” of the group. But at home, she can feel safe to say what’s truly on her mind. Her deep sense that she is loved by you and loves you will encourage openness. Be sure to solicit her opinions—whether it’s about global issues or fashion—and make clear that her thoughts hold value for you.
- When you try to educate your daughter on important issues, present them in an interesting way (i.e., no boring statistics) specific to her. Start with a simple conversational approach and give her information that exposes various viewpoints and opinions. Mention how you think the issue relates to her life and allow her to develop her own opinion. Try doing the same with inspiring and fun issues as well as the problematic ones.
- Make sure to set aside regular times to have fun. This can include watching a TV show together, making and eating a meal together, volunteering for a good cause together, or even going on a road trip together.
- My mom and I have found that reading Daughters can be a great way to connect. Just reading one issue together can help create bridges in your relationship. It does not signify weakness to share parts of your life, such as your worries over your parenting abilities and fears about the challenges and dangers your daughter may face. Instead, sharing your vulnerability can strengthen your relationship. It’s not important that you agree with every article you read; what’s important is that you find ways to discuss perspectives about issues important to both girls and parents.
Like every other daughter and parent, we’ve had some bumps on our relationship road. But as I make my way through high school and prepare for my life away from home, I know that my journey has been so much smoother because the two people who put the roof over my head and food on my table also put a smile on my face every day.
Lauren Szmak, 15, lives in New Jersey, where she is starting goalkeeper for the girl’s varsity soccer team and an active member of her community.