Growing up, my mom and I weren’t what you’d call “close.” Who am I kidding… we didn’t’ get a long at all… AT ALL. I knew with complete certainty that she loved me. And I was just as certain she didn’t like me very much.
There were a million reasons why we never connected – conflicting personalities, unreasonable expectations, and all the other tangled layers that make up a mother-daughter relationship. ‘It’s complicated’ didn’t even begin to describe our relationship.
We were both disappointed by our relationship status. But we’d come to accept it. “It is what it is,” we’d shrug our shoulders and say.
So imagine my surprise when my mom became my best friend the year I left for college. Her phone calls were welcomed. In fact I found myself calling her every couple of days… by choice! Her advice was sought after, her approval coveted, her encouragement the fuel to my fire. She made me laugh (Who knew she was funny?) and she helped me navigate the labyrinth of college life.
Slowly but surely I began to tell her everything – how my classes were going, boys I met, parties I attended, new friends I made. If it happened, I told her. I mean, that’s what you do with your mom/BFF, right?
One afternoon, as I regaled her with the details of the awesome house party I’d attended the previous Friday night, I was met with silence. Total and complete silence. I checked the cord to make sure I hadn’t stretched it too far as I paced around my dorm room. Nope, still attached.
“Mom? Are you still there?” He response was immediate, “I’m here.” Then she took a deep breath and continued, “I need you to stop telling me everything.”
I was devastated. I felt like I’d been sucker punched. We’d worked so hard to get here. We were finally the mother-daughter dream team I envied my whole life. She was my person. MY PERSON. And she was breaking up with me.
“Let me finish,” she blurted. “I love you. I love our relationship. I’ve waited as long as you have for us to get here. But if you continue to tell me everything, you’ll make me a liar or your enemy.” I listened, crying silently.
“I want you to share your life with me, but don’t make me have to be the ‘cool mom’ who laughs at stories of you drinking too much or hanging out of the car as you drive around in a convertible with your roommates. You’ll make me a liar. I don’t think that stuff is funny. I’m your mother. I’ll never think it’s funny because all I can see are the hundreds of ways your choices could have devastating consequences. I know it’s what college kids do. I’m not naïve enough to think you aren’t doing silly and reckless things. But you’re my daughter and I’ll never find danger funny.
“If I’m not the ‘cool mom,’ you leave me no choice but to be the uncool mom who lectures you on safety and making good choices, reminds you how dangerous getting drunk at a party can be, nags about seatbelts and safe driving. I’ll become your enemy – the person who ruins your fun and doesn’t understand what it’s like. We’ll be right back where we started and we waited too long and wasted too many years to go back there. So, do us both a favor, don’t tell me everything. Don’t make me choose between liar or enemy. I don’t want to be either. I just want to be your friend.”
Our relationship evolved again that day. She wasn’t breaking up with me. She was setting boundaries because this is what you do in healthy relationships. It’s not all or nothing. Those are childhood friendship which end as quickly as they began. She set boundaries so we could love AND like one another, so we could truly have the authentic relationship we both longed for all those years.
A few months ago, my teenager was laughing as he told me about some silly antics he was pulling in class. Some innocuous goofing around and obnoxious 9th grade boy behavior. I couldn’t laugh. I’d be lying if I said it was funny. The teacher in me wanted to lecture him on appropriate classroom behavior. The mother in me was horrified by what the teacher must think of him. (And, if I’m being truly honest, what he must think of me as a parent.) So I turned to him and said, “I love you, but please stop telling me everything. Don’t make me pretend to be the ‘cool mom’ who thinks this stuff is funny. You’ll make me a liar. And don’t make me lecture have to lecture you about behavior or building your reputation. You’ll make me your enemy. So, stop telling me everything.”
Yet again, my mom was right.
That’s my normal.