I am prancing through an open field of goldenrod wildflowers when, from a distance, my daughter comes running to me -- glowing, beautiful, bright like the sun that shines overhead. We embrace and spin, giggling and floating with mother-daughter enchantment.
Ummm, not so much. The bubble bursts, the dream is over, and I’m standing, hand on hip, lecture on deck, asking why she didn't turn in a science project that was due two weeks ago.
Life with a 12-year-old daughter is not a fairytale. And sometimes, it’s not even cordial.
In a recent post, Dr. Joanne Stern, a psychotherapist and contributor to Psychology Today, suggested that moms can be both their child’s parent and their friend. In fact, it’s an important element of the maternal relationship, she says. I’m not sure if she’s a mother herself, whether she’s talking from experience or from the education she got from some books and a series of weekly lectures at the university, but I have to be honest: I don’t always feel friendly toward my tween mini-me, let alone much like an actual friend. Sometimes I just flat-out don’t like her. Yep, I said it. Don’t like.
Call me unfit. Call me trifling. Call me a bad mom. Honestly, I love the stuffing out of my daughter. Unconditionally, passionately, sincerely, deeply. But loving your babies doesn't mean they can’t grate your ever-lovin’ last nerve at times. At this age, Skylar can test my patience and make me frazzled in a way that she didn't even get close to doing when she was 2 or 5 or even 10.
It’s not that she’s a bad kid. I actually do enjoy being with her, and as the good doctor suggests, we spend plenty of time talking, playing, laughing, shopping, wrestling, and romping. Dr. Stern differentiates between friend and parent, saying friends are confidantes and easy to talk to. It seems, however, that our mutual appreciation of one another just makes my daughter open up to me. Still, I don’t make a special effort to be her "friend."
Actually, I spend so much time parenting — guiding her decisions with boys, figuring out why she’s not doing her homework or why in the world she’s talking so darn much in English class, punishing her for forgetting to take the trash out for the seven hundredth time — that building and coddling a friendship with her seems so secondary on my list of priorities right now.
Some of the things I’m trying to instill in her are life tools that she absolutely needs, things that I have to teach her to keep her from self-destructing before she even gets to adulthood. So sorry, doc. The friendship is idealistic; the parenting is realistic. In fact, I suspect if I were to toggle between Parent Mommy and BFF Mommy, my daughter would end up feeling betrayed if my hand of judgment had to fall down in an authoritative karate chop because she thought we were "friends."
It’s a fine line to walk, that balance between being purposefully laid back and cool and being the quintessential nag who snaps over having to remind her to do the dishes every single, solitary night or the stealth ninja investigator who wants to open a can of whoop tail when I find out she hid her sub-par progress report under her mattress instead of giving it to me to sign. It’s called being a parent, though, and I don’t see any reason to muddle friendship into it at this point in life.
At the end of the day and the beginning of the morning when I get up to do it all over again, my job is to raise this child and make her a productive, successful, happy, healthy, high-functioning fabulous-girl-turned-successful-woman. I’m not worried about her always liking me like a friend would. Parenting is so not a popularity contest. And I fully expect when she gets older that I can make the differentiation between friend and parent, even though I’ll never stop mothering her.
Do you try to be your child's parent, friend, or both?