Mothers and Daughters Without Borders

Issue: 
May 2012

I love my mother, but she drives me crazy.

 – Every living creature

 

The mother-daughter three-act drama:

Act 1. Little girls want to be just like mommy;

Act 2. Teenaged girls regard moms as archaic, clueless eunuchs; and

Act 3. Young adult females regain their prepubescent vision, seeing moms as goddesses with answers … and BFFs.  

Joined at the Hip-Huggers

Their relationship historically complex, modern moms and daughters tread brand-new territory. Never has one generation shared so much with the next - green living, staying fit, working, watching the same TV shows and movies, ogling Ryan Gosling and more. Desite significant age disparity, the mother-daughter line has blurred, reshuffling the duo's dynamics.

Nowadays, young women postpone marriage, pursuing college and careers, prolonging bonding time and creating another mother-daughter shift: Most women, aged 21 to 54, consider mom a best friend. Yet, without clear parent-child parameters, daughters' self-images may suffer. "If there are poor boundaries - we are one and the same - that's set up for expecting the impossible," for both mom and daughter, says Amy Powell, a licensed psychological examiner in Nashville. In other words, "We aren't separate and shouldn't be separate." Amy suggests that this creates a very unstable foundation for building healthy self-esteem. 

Cheryl Markin, a Franklin mom of three, says though she's close with both daughters, Jessica, 27, and Ruthie, 26, she's not their best friend. "I don't ask many questions about their personal relationships or what they do when going out. It's more important to be their mother and all that affords me. I believe I get more respect from a daughter than a best friend." 

Jessica, currently living at home, agrees. "We have very similar tastes in TV shows and books, and we share lots of clothes, especially accessories." But she adds, "I don't think your mother should be one of your gal pals. I talk to my friends differently, and some things would be inappropriate to talk about with her. And, I think my mom needs her girlfriends as much as I need mine." 

Border Control

"Healthy boundaries are the foundation of all relationships," Amy explains, emphasizing that boundaries are organic and should evolve at every development stage of all involved parties. "When we're younger, we need clearer boundaries that are somewhat more black and white and involve such hierarchy - this is mom's role, and that's daughter's role," Amy says. Moms should determine what's appropriate when daughters are young.

Balance boundaries (worth the uncomfortable conversations) with closeness and individuality. Good psychological boundaries encourage individualism. Conversely, unhealthy boundaries - competing for men, delaying the normal "separation-individuation" stage crucial for both moms and daughters - prohibit healthy development.

So, perhaps sharing both genes and jeans or bonding over push-up bras may be pushing not only mother-daughter boundaries, but also the concept itself. "I think bonding really happens through the small, day-in-day-out moments - drinking coffee together, sharing memories, coming to each others' aid, anticipating a need and so on," Amy says. 

Buying Trouble

Although girls look to mothers for behavior clues, they scrutinize celebrities for fashion guidance. Jessica confirms that her style is influenced by celebrities and friends who exchange clothes and tips with her. Cheryl, though, is inspired by her daughters and TV, which Temple University research finds isn't unusual. The mom majority takes clothing and cosmetic clues from their teens, then imitate their buying habits. Presumably, this "consumer doppelganger effect" stems from young-feeling Gen X parents, but moms claim it's more about saving time. They're too busy to monitor the media for latest trends. 

Nevertheless, it can be challenging for daughters to attain distinct identities with copycat moms. Younger generation representatives don't mind moms looking young and hip, they just don't want them to look like them. According to Amy, when mom emulates her daughter, she's demonstrating that the two aren't - and shouldn't be - separate. "This creates a very unstable foundation for building a healthy self-image." 

When choosing their wardrobe, moms should think about the message they're sending. "Keep in mind that kids learn first through non-verbal communication, and two-thirds communication is non-verbal," Amy says. And we've seen examples of imitation gone wildly wrong (see: Dina and Lindsay Lohan dressed identically, clubbing together).

Up to Her Young Tricks

Looking young and hot may be today's beauty standard, and women of all ages aspire to that. And we're bombarded with images of seasoned celebrities who'd sooner change genders than let themselves go. Instead of mellowing, they're fighting nature with everything they're got ($$$) and leaving everyone else feeling sloth-like...and old. 

“I think there’s more pressure today on body image and looking perfect than when I was a young woman. (There are) many more options to attain flawless beauty,” Cheryl, an undeniable hottie at 53, admits. “Perfection seems to be attainable now. Back then, expectations were, don’t get too fat.” Still, she’s cognizant of the importance she places on looking your best. Cheryl admits to coloring her hair since 15, maintaining her college weight and “almost always” wearing makeup. “They [her daughters] know I’m fighting aging tooth and nail. I’ve exercised my entire life, through pregnancies, vacations and extreme weather. I’ve tried lots of creams, serums, exfoiliants, but never had Botox, Juvéderm, laser or surgery. I‘m trying to keep a middle-age/youthful look on the cheap, and it’s not working out very well during my post menopausal years!” 

Jessica disagrees and thinks mom looks great. “She definitely doesn’t have noticeable sagging or varicose veins, which I heard can be genetic. I really hope I get that from her.” And, she adds, “I think my mom has been a good example that if you eat well and stay healthy you don’t have to age poorly. I know it’s because she’s always worked out and doesn’t eat junk food, fast food or anything fried. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit my mother’s willpower and have succumbed to French fries and pizza too many times.”

You’re wearing that?

 

Ironically, commonalities that produce mother-daughter BFFs also produce frenemies. Some moms go overboard, ingratiating themselves with children’s friends, revealing too much information and cleavage. “If mom is attempting to copy daughter’s style or bond with her friends, then this boundary violation started years before this came along,” says Amy. She advises, “Widen your feedback loop."

But, dressing younger doesn’t necessarily mean provocatively, suggests Amy. “I think a mom can look young — and even dress younger — and still be healthy, with good boundaries.” With good boundaries, she says, both moms and daughters see themselves as healthy individuals, and not merely reflections of the other.

Cheryl assesses her contribution to her daughters’ body images. “I don’t think I’ve encouraged them and placed enough emphasis on developing hobbies and individual interests, and placed too much on trying to look good.”

Thankful her mother’s style is age appropriate, Jessica has only one fashion critique. “She’s super proud that she still fits into her brown and white polka dotted dress from Pretty Woman, but unfortunately, it’s just not cool anymore,” she jokes.

Boundaries, Crows Feet & other Fine Lines

 

The hazy borderline between mom and daughter makes it’s crystal clear what message future middle-aged women are receiving: Aging should be feared and/or railed against, and their moms aren’t happy with themselves. The proof is in the polling: A More Magazine poll found that 72 percent of women in their 20s want plastic surgery.

My son’s buddy endured ribbing because his mom, a grandmother of four, got an infamous “tramp stamp” (lower back tattoo) on her 50th birthday. It’s her prerogative, but also telling about a single woman in this day and her age.

Children wearing clothes that are too grown up, or moms wearing teenagers’ clothes may sound like the start of an incestuous porno plot, but add cosmetic “procedures” to the mix, and mother and child look like twins … in a twilight zone kind of way. Jessica may’ve summed it up best. “Nobody needs to see a woman in her 50s wearing leggings and belly shirt regardless of what’s in.”

On opposite ends of the beauty aisle, my daughter has time on her side, while gravity’s having its cruel way with (hormone-leaking) me. Personally, I agree with both Cheryl and Jessica. You won’t catch me throwing in the workout towel OR wearing pants with ANYTHING written across the ass! That’s a boundary … and a solemn vow!

 

 

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