Having been blessed with an amazing mom myself, I can think of three things my mom offered me from an early age that I think set the foundation for our beautiful relationship: giving love, spending time, and showing support and respect for what mattered to me. And many of the girls I've talked to about what they need from their mothers have mirrored those same ideas as being important to them.
Here are some more thoughts from Ask Elizabeth girls and experts to give you some insight into what your girls are truly longing for from their moms...
What We Need: Your Support
From the time I was very young, my mom took me - and my dreams to be a performer -seriously. The fact that I knew she put importance on what mattered to me and what I had to say let me know that my point of view had value. I cannot tell you how much that embedded the early seeds of self-worth in me! Just knowing that I had her behind me was this beautiful safety net that let me spread my wings. My mom was the fuel behind my focus and determination; her (and my amazing dad's!) unwavering support is what gave me permission to just be me.
Your girl may not have aspirational dreams just yet, but she definitely needs your support in one way or another! Again and again, girls tell me that having that loving, non-judgmental presence of their mothers is a top priority...
"I'm dealing with a lot: school, friends, relationships, major decisions about my future. Now more than ever, I appreciate knowing my mom is there to listen, to give advice (when asked!), and to pick me up when I occasionally stumble and fall." -Liza, 17
"Right now - and I think this is something that I have always and will always need from my mom - is someone to talk to. I feel that I need to have someone that I can simply pour my heart out to and tell everything without opinion or judgment." -Tiffany, 14
"What I need most from my mother right now is love and support. For example, I am a new driver and my mother gave me a car to use. Unfortunately, while I was backing out of a parking lot, I hit the corner of wall I couldn't see. I understand my mother was upset, but I was already mad at myself for making that mistake. Instead of my mother telling me, 'It's ok,' or 'Things happen,' she yelled at me and told me that I would have to pay to fix the car out of my own pocket. My mom made the situation even worse - all I needed right then and there was someone to calm me down and be loving towards me. It would have been better if later we could have discussed the repairs and consequences." -Jasmine, 16
By the way, adolescent counselor Suzanne Bonfiglio Baumann wants you to know one very important point relating to "being there" for your daughter in terms of support: it has nothing to do with quantity of face time! "So many moms worry that if they work or need to be physically distant from their children due to custody issues, illness, or profession, their kids won't know how much they love them," she said. "Not true. If you do the work necessary to be emotionally present for your child (taking emotional and physical care of yourself), then as she talks to you, asks for your help, messes up, or otherwise acts like the child she needs to be, then the fully-present moments you share with her will be persistent reminders that you are securely connected to her, reliable, and on her side."
What We Need: Be Our Mom First, Friend Second
Funny enough, your girls seem to want a boundary to exist, regardless of how close they are to their moms. They want you to love them unconditionally, listen to anything they want to discuss - much like a best friend - but still be unequivocally their mother above all else. Even the girls who call their mom their best friend (like me!) often have a strong mother/daughter relationship to back up that dynamic. It's what makes them feel safe and gives them the strength to grow into the secure adults they know you want them to become.
As Dr. Elaine Leader, co-founder and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Young People and TEENLINE at Cedars Sinai Medical Center put it this way: "At the end of the day, a parent needs to always be a parent. Their role is not to be a friend but to be a caring, understanding, and non-punitive parent. By being that kind of parent you will often hear a daughter end up saying, 'My mom is my best friend."
Suzanne Bonfiglio Baumann offers an interesting perspective about why moms might struggle with that mom/friend boundary. She explains, "So many parents struggled to connect in an emotional, expressive manner with their own parents when they were teens themselves. That distance and coldness they experienced as children has inspired us to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. But we need to remember: if our own parents seemed distant and unfeeling, we need to only counter their failures with connection and expression - not by inappropriately 'bonding' with your children. Laughing, dancing, and celebrating life's joys with your teen is all appropriate and necessary for exhibiting your humanity and creating a secure connection to your child."
Some girls have struggled with their moms trying to bond with them in a way that actually results in them feeling confused or having a lack of security. "My mother's pretty cool, but she doesn't act her age," eighteen- year-old Mara explains. "It's frustrating at times because she often goes out partying more than I do, and I just started college! I truly feel as soon as I left for college, she totally changed. My mother loves to go out drinking and dancing. She's been to more concerts than a concert manager. It would definitely be nicer if she was around more, especially when I come home to visit from school."
Suzanne says, "Gossiping about other kids or their parents or teachers, 'partying' with your child and her friends, or otherwise over-identifying with a developmental stage that your child needs to see you've outgrown are not only inappropriate behaviors, they are harmful ones. Your daughter needs you to be the adult now, so when you feel the urge to regress, call a friend your own age. And when your daughter does grow up, you will delight in her companionship and friendship because she will be connected, present, and equipped to have a healthy friendship with you, her patient mom."
Here's what some other girls had to say about the mom/friend balance...
"My 'mother mom' guides me in the right path and gives me advice, while my 'friend mom' is just really there to listen and we talk about how I feel and what I think I should do." -Susie, 16
"I so much appreciate the way my mom balances being my friend and being my mom. She is definitely someone that I can tell everything to and have a great time with but when a serious matter comes up, she always has the right amount of "mom" to handle the situation correctly." -Zoe, 15
"I think it is possible for mothers and daughters to be friends, but I think that it only is if the daughter is older and more mature. My mom and I are friends now, but if she treated me like she does now when I was younger, I think I could have gotten myself into A LOT of trouble. I needed a role model and "policy enforcer for a while. She played that part well (too well I thought at times!), but now that I have my own job, extracurriculars, and get good grades in school, I have proven to her that she doesn't have to keep one eye on me at all times. It's definitely been a process for the two of us which has its own ups and downs, but we have found a happy medium for us. -Jane, 18
"From a young age, my mom always instilled a basic idea in me and my sister. She always made it clear that she never wanted to be our "best friend." While she told us that she would love us and be there for us more then any friend ever would, that she was our mother and there was a thick bold line separating a friendship and a mother-daughter relationship. Over the years, I've come to understand why this is so important. I respect my mom so much for not being my best friend and being there as a mother." - Patti, 17
"I've got lots and lots of friends, but I've only got one mom. For me, that pretty much says it all." -Cara, 15
What We Need: Let Us Set the Tone
Speaking of the friendship part of the mom/daughter relationship, a lot of girls expressed that while they love having their mom there and knowing she's open to conversations about anything, they want to be the ones to set the tone for what they are willing to share. So their message is to let them come to you when they are ready. And when they do, try to assess why they are coming to you - sometimes it's for advice, sometimes it's just to vent, and sometimes because they need to know you understand. Oh, and many of them agreed: if you're not sure what she's looking for, ask her! They've said they don't mind being asked, and would definitely prefer that to being misunderstood. And that makes your detective work easier by removing the mystery.
Dr. Angela Diaz, Director of Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, suggests this approach: "Ask your daughter directly, 'How can I be most helpful? What can I do?' Be child-centered about helping them, because what you want may not be what they want."
Your girls have also said...
"I sometimes feel like she expects me to tell her everything that goes on between me and my friends, and I don't always want to. Don't get me wrong - I feel comfortable talking to my mom about pretty much anything and I trust her, but I just think that there's no need for me to tell her every little detail. After all, I'm a teenager and I want some privacy." -Lila, 15
"When I talk to my mom, sometimes it frustrates me that she doesn't fully understand where I'm coming from. For example, I'll be telling her about my friends and something they may have done which seems normal to me, but can be taken the wrong way by my mom. Or sometimes something small will upset me and all I want is someone to vent to and her answer would be, 'It's not important,.' Even though I know the matter may be unimportant, that's not something I want to hear right then. I would prefer comforting." -Jillian, 16
"I like that as I've grown up, my mom has backed off. She knows that if I'm in trouble or if I need someone, that I would come to her, but she doesn't force me to detail my days and thoughts for her. I feel like this is ideal because it helps me grown into my own person." -Adelaide, 16
I want to share one last thought for you on this point from child and family psychotherapist Dr. Beverly Berg, who offered this gem about striking the balance of what your girl needs: "Daughters will be saying in their actions and words, 'Go away, I can do it myself,' but what they really mean is, 'Stay close behind me most of the time, beside me some of the time, and in front of me only if you see I'm doing something really stupid or self-destructive."
What We Need: Be Real
In Ask Elizabeth workshops (and, as you'll see pop up often in this column), we talk a lot about how girls wish their moms would open up to them and not feel like they have to present themselves as some untouchable "authority figure." Moms, they want to know you're human, too!
Eighteen year-old Kylie explained why this is so important to them. She says, "My mom now shares with me her life as much as I share mine with hers. We used to only talk about my life, my friends, my goals. Now, it's more 50/50. I tell her about school, she tells me about work. We talk about friends together. She tells me how she feels when she makes a mistake or is disappointed, happy, angry. When she shows me she is a human being instead of the image of perfection, I feel more comfortable opening up about my feelings. I feel less like she will judge me and more like she'll listen with compassion."
A small note of caution here, though: girls want you to share about your past and your life with them, but within reason. "It needs to be a good balance because sometimes my mom shares things with me that are too heavy for me too handle," said fifteen year-old Lindsey. "Those are the times when I don't want to be her friend and I just want to be a daughter."
What We Need: Mom/Daughter Moments
Often, it's just the simple and real moments spent with their moms that girls need the most. The moments that are just about being together - nothing fancy, just good old-fashioned time spent together - end up being the times that build that precious trust, support, and open communication. Growing up, I had years of dance training, and those drives back and forth to my various lessons are the moments from my childhood and teen years that I still hold closest. Singing together to the "Les Miserables" tape (yes, before cd's - ha!), laughing, sharing my goals and dreams with her (which as you already know she really listened to), talking about my friendships - those memories make me so happy, and laid the foundation for the joy we created that still fuels our adult relationship.
Your girls have said that they love those small moments with you - in the car, getting a manicure, just going for coffee, whatever. Your full attention matters to them - more than you might think!
I recently asked my mom what made her take what I had to say so seriously when I was a teen. When she told me that there were things I taught her as well, I actually got teary-eyed at the thought of how our dynamic had helped her grow and learn as it had helped me. I had no idea that at that age my thoughts or views of the world had that effect on her. After all, we see our moms as superheroes who have all the answers. Hearing that touched me, and it was something I wanted to share with you as a little reminder of how invaluable those precious moments together can be - for both of you.
As always, everything here is just to give you different perspectives to consider from the amazing Ask Elizabeth girls and experts. Take what works for you! Hopefully you'll find some insight you hadn't considered before, or maybe you'll discover that the track you are on with your daughter is exactly where you and she want to be!
Until next time...
Love, light, and magic,
Follow me on Twitter @ElizBerkley
Recognized by the London Times as a "fearless and committed actress," Elizabeth Berkley has demonstrated the versatility of her talent from comedy to drama in a host of successful film, television and stage performances. She is also the founder of Ask-Elizabeth, created as a safe forum for adolescent girls (ages 11 to 18) to ask the questions they have been afraid to and empower them with answers. When Berkley works with the girls, she creates a big sister relationship in a safe setting that allows them to open up and start talking and sharing. In these two-hour, interactive workshops, Berkley discusses themes like body image, fitness, beauty, family, goal-setting, friendship, dating, etc. -- all important aspects in the emotional life of a teenage girl. Berkley has touched the lives of more than 30,000 teenage girls so far through her nonprofit organization.
Her book, Ask Elizabeth is currently #2 on The New York Times Best Seller Lists.