Yesterday Forbes ran a piece about "best-friend moms," and how "being an intimate rather than an authority figure" will totally screw up your kid. We're not sure we buy it.
Forbes dresses up the article with the obligatory Lindsay/Dina Lohan pic, and author Jenna Goudreau writes that the best-friend mom "dresses like her daughter, offers TMI about her personal life and tries to befriend her children's teenage friends." But watch out: "Moms who try to be befriend their teenage children end up leaving them motherless—at a time when they really need a mom most." It's pretty much common wisdom at this point that trying to be your kid's BFF isn't good parenting. But is this really such a huge social problem?
According to clinical psychologist Stephan B. Poulter, yes. He tells Goudreau, "This trend has become very popular. Just look at People magazine." Poulter claims 30% to 40% of moms are now best-friend moms, a number we hope he arrived at by some method more scientific than flipping through tabloids. So what's behind this "very popular" trend? Goudreau writes,
One theory as to why comes from Poulter, who suggests that there is a greater number of mothers who don't have the time or energy—due to long hours at work, financial stress or otherwise—to put into being a full-time mom. These women are pragmatists in that it's more emotionally rewarding—"easier" as Poulter puts it—to be a friend rather than a traditional mother figure. All that—plus the adage "40 is the new 20." Is anyone growing up?
The culprit is those selfish working moms who are too lazy to discipline their kids — and too skanky to act like proper 40-year-old women. Don't get me wrong — the pressure on older women to continue looking like high school students is upsetting. But articles like Goudreau's imply that it's their fault, that middle-aged women in America are just so into being sexy and having fun that they don't want to "grow up." This attitude — like many discussions of "age-appropriate" clothing — denies middle-aged women's sexuality and makes it sound like the only sensible thing for them to do is slice oranges for the soccer game. And it promulgates a pretty rigid notion of what it means to grow up.
This rigidity is on display elsewhere in Goudreau's article. She talks to author Susan Morris Shaffer, who expounds on mother-daughter bonds today. Goudreau writes,
Shaffer feels that this era presents a new opportunity for adult daughters and their mothers to become closer. Because young women are increasingly attending college, pursuing careers and getting married later, they have an "extended adolescence" in which the mother-daughter bond may be one of their strongest.
It's true that I and many other young women I know have close relationships with our mothers, relationships that are probably closer than they would be if we were married with children. But does that really mean we're in and "extended adolescence?" Goudreau's language is especially strange here, as it seems to indicate that getting an education and pursuing a career are "adolescent" things, while marriage is what really makes you an adult. "Extended adolescence" is a pretty common term lately, and while it's not always as blatant as this, it usually implies that even if you have a job and a degree, until you get married and have a baby you're some sort of ancient teenager.
I have no doubt that it's unhealthy for parents not to discipline their kids, or to base their self-worth on whether their children perceive them as cool. But I do doubt that moms acting "young" is the biggest problem facing kids today. And I don't believe we should be using the standards of the past — either for marital age or for "age-appropriate behavior" — to judge our lives in the present. Being unmarried doesn't make you a teenager, and wearing a miniskirt or going to a club doesn't mean you think "40 is the new 20." Can't media outlets write about childrearing without perpetuating tired stereotypes about what makes a good woman or a good mother? Maybe someday they will, but given its record on issues affecting women, Forbes probably won't be leading the charge.
Are You A Best-Friend Mom? [Forbes]