Santa Clara University

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Mother, daughter, friend
Some relationships are more about sharing than authority -- but Mom is still a role model

By Nerissa Pacio

San Jose Mercury News


For those mothers and daughters lucky enough to call each other best friends, a special balance and bond transcend the traditional relationship between a parent and a child. Their friendships are often less about strict roles of authority and obedience and more about flexibility, camaraderie, openness and sharing.


The notion of mothers and daughters as best friends is all over pop culture these days -- from television characters Lorelei and Rory from "Gilmore Girls'' and Susan and Julie from "Desperate Housewives'' to real-life celebrity teams like Britney Spears and her mother, Lynne; Beyoncé and her mother, Tina Knowles; and Goldie Hawn and her daughter, Kate Hudson.


For real-life mothers and daughters, though, it's more complicated than what we see from Hollywood shows. When situations arise that call for customary parenting, these mothers recognize that they're the role models expected to lead the way.


"Success is more likely when the close mother-daughter friendship still maintains the appropriate boundaries and roles of mother and daughter,'' says Thomas Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, "and that there is a mutual respect for each other and each other's needs and place in life.''


For 53-year-old Gloria Merlino of Menlo Park, the tight friendship with her 30-year-old daughter, Gloria Ebner, grew out of Merlino's struggles and triumphs as a single mother. "I had my daughter when I was young, and I was a single mom for 13 years,'' says Merlino, who married after her daughter was in high school. "She was the oldest. I relied on her to help me with my two other children. I saw how mature she was. She's my best friend and has always been my right hand.'' Ebner says she learned from her mother to be open-minded and to never give up. "I've seen mom at her lowest points but I've never judged her. And she has the same attitude toward me. She had a strict old-school upbringing but she realizes we live in a different time and place now.''


For many mothers and daughters, their closeness grows out of these mutual lessons learned. "Mothers also learn from their daughters,'' says Susan Shapiro Barash, professor of critical thinking/gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College and author of nine non-fiction books on women's issues. Baby-boomer mothers lived in a world that was much different than their daughters' world today, Shapiro Barash says. For instance, many women who are in their 20s and 30s have more work and educational opportunities open to them than their mothers did.


"Good mother/daughter relationships come from both people learning from each other,'' she says.

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