MDF follower Kathy shares details about a disagreement she’s had with her 31-year old daughter and asks a key question: Should a mother be a friend or parent with her adult child? Read Kathy’s email and our response in this week’s post.

Kathy’s Email

Dear MDF,

I would love some advice or answers to questions regarding a disagreement with my daughter.

I have always been a hands-on mother. When my children turn 18, I switch roles from complete mother to mother/friend. I am no longer raising my children, so I like being their friend and giving advice when needed (if they ask or I feel something bad will happen if I don’t share my concerns). I take a step back so they can live their lives.

The problem is my 31-year old daughter started dating this guy who is going to get his doctorate in psychology. She is now saying it is not healthy to have a friendship with your mother. This has caused a huge fight between us, and now we are no longer close. She is 31 and we have always been close until now. As a single parent, I raised all 4 of my children on my own. I don’t really understand what is going on.

She is marrying this guy in October. I don’t like him but it is her choice to marry who she wants, and I stand by her side to keep the peace. This is her second marriage. She is acting like it is her first – going all out for the wedding. I know I am wrong, but I just can’t get into it so I have stood back and let his mother handle it all with them. It hurt my feelings the last time they were here with her telling me I wasn’t supposed  to be her friend but her mother.

She also told me at Christmas that I wasn’t raising my 3rd and 4th children correctly. It was a loud fight because she cornered me and told me all the things I was doing wrong. My other 2 children just sat there but my daughter’s fiancé jumped in with his opinions. Of course, I told him he should stay out of it. She is upset because my daughter (3rd child) dropped out of college due to health reasons, and she says I am babying her. My daughter’s specialist agreed that she needed to come home for now. My son just graduated from HS and she is mad because he wants to go to a college close by for a year or so to save money. I told my son it was his choice where he wanted to go and I would stand by him and help as much as I could.

I don’t understand how I went from being a good to a bad mom. I know I wasn’t perfect, but I always put my children first. I worked, put myself through college, and raised 4 kids myself. I feel as though she thinks she is above me now. I am proud of her working and almost finishing her doctorate. I want all my children to be successful and love what they are doing. Why can’t a daughter or son be friends with their mom after they graduate and turn 18?

She came down this past week and of course she jumped in telling my children that they need to move out and do something with their lives. I don’t care if they move out or not; it is their choice and I am not stopping them. I don’t know what to do. I miss the closeness I had with my oldest daughter. I miss her. I have stayed away and I have stepped back from the whole thing. Do you have any suggestions on how to make this better? And, why can’t a mother be friends with their children?

Ellen and Jenna’s Response

Dear Kathy,

Kathy, we are so sorry that your daughter and future son-in-law have caused you to feel criticized and that your arguments have rocked your mother-daughter relationship.

First of all, we are totally aligned with your approach of offering advice to your adult children when they ask for it or when you think “something bad will happen if you don’t share their concerns.” It’s important to allow our children the space to make their own decisions – after all, they are adults and it’s their life! If advising children but respecting their decisions(s) regardless is defined as acting like a “friend” and telling your children what to do is defined as acting like a “parent,” then we are all for friendship in a mother-daughter relationship!

However, there is a fine line between supporting your adult child and enabling them in a way that is not in their best interest. For example (and it doesn’t sound like this is the case in your situation), if a child graduated school and hung out at home without looking for work for an extended period of time, then allowing that situation might not be beneficial and you may consider taking a different, perhaps more “parental” approach to foster independence and responsibility.

But at the end of the day, it’s clear your pain is coming from your direct relationship with your eldest daughter. It sounds like you need some alone time together to talk things through. But don’t forget, it’s a two way street. It’s very important to share how you feel – to tell her how her judgments make you feel and that you are doing what you believe is best for your children. At the same time, try to understand the situation from her perspective and really listen to how she feels about your relationship. Maybe there are other things going on underneath the surface that you haven’t considered.

It also might help to explore how to remain close as she enters marriage. Reading your letter, it seems that things changed for you two when your daughter started dating your future son-in-law. In just a few months, they will be married – and finding a way to make things better will likely require working on your relationship with both of them.

But no matter what happens, tell your daughter how much you love her and that you miss spending time with her. Whether you are a “parent” or a “friend” in her eyes, neither should prohibit you from being close again. Perhaps schedule another time to meet for lunch or do something fun together – maybe even something wedding-related!

We hope these suggestions help.

Ellen and Jenna

MDF Moms and Daughters: Have you experienced a situation similar to Kathy’s? Do you have any additional advice to offer her? (If so, please use the comment box below.)