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Author: Should Mom Be a Girl’s Best Friend?

Mothers and daughters often have a complicated relationship, so when the two are close as adults, everything is great, right? Not so, say co-authors Linda Perlman Gordon and Susan Morris Shaffer in their new book, "Too Close for Comfort? Questioning the Intimacy of Today's New Mother-Daughter Relationship."

Gordon, a family therapist, and Shaffer, who heads a Maryland state resource center for parents, talk with USA TODAY:

Q: Where is the line between "close" and "too close"?

Gordon: It's too close when a daughter relies on her mother to do things she really should be doing for herself. It undercuts her self-esteem when her mother rescues her all the time. Mothers are struggling with knowing when to say "yes" and when to say "no." They're struggling with how be a loving, generous mother and "Where do I draw the line between letting her be her own person?" There is one type of mother that is also too dependent on her daughter. The daughter really starts to feel guilty and feels like she's carrying Mom on her back.

Why is this too-close relationship developing now?

Shaffer: We think that mothers and daughters have a lot more in common. Mothers are young at heart. They enjoy the same music. They have similar interests. And because of technology, mothers and daughters have a tremendous amount of accessibility to each other that we didn't have with our parents. It's almost like this umbilical cord that connects us in very strong ways.

Gordon: One of the things that's really an important sociological shift is that young women are single for longer. What's happening is you have a period of time to forge a new relationship with your adult child, which you might not have had if your daughter got married. The boundaries are really different when there's somebody else involved. One 30-year-old (in a focus group) said when she got married, she couldn't understand why her husband didn't want her parents to come over in the evenings a lot.

You say mothers and daughters cannot be "best friends." Why?

Shaffer: The mother-daughter relationship is never equal. They're never at the same life stage at the same time. It's not a level playing field. The mother is always the emotional caretaker. We have heard mothers say "I always have my mommy eyes on." They can be friends, but they cannot be best friends because best friendship requires mutuality, and it requires what we call a "continuity of contact" - you went to college together, you grew up together, you raised your kids together. That has the makings of a best friendship.

Are you hearing from mothers worried their daughters are too dependent, or hearing from daughters about their mothers?

Shaffer: Certainly, we've heard from daughters worried about mothers - particularly mothers didn't have a strong sense of self. But for the most part, we've heard from mothers thinking that they are in a situation where their daughters are on college campuses asking them to look on the Internet where their next class is or feeling that they're their daughter's human alarm clock.

Is it possible that this too-close situation could be the same with Baby Boomer mothers and their sons? If not, why?

Shaffer: I don't think it's the same for a variety of reasons. Boys have to grow up in ways that have to be different from their mothers, whereas it's harder for daughters to do that. They're a mirror of one another. Mothers talk with daughters as if they're friends, but sons never talk to their mothers as if they are friends. They talk to their mother as Mother. I'm very close with my son, but I'm his mother. There's never an issue that I'm his friend.

If mothers and daughters find themselves in one of these too-close relationships, what advice can you offer to develop appropriate boundaries?

Gordon: Daughters have to be really clear about telling them (their mothers) what they need and what they don't need. It's hard for mothers to start seeing them (their daughters) as adults. Some mothers are still somewhat intrusive in their suggestions.

Shaffer: The mother can be much more of an active listener, vs. telling her daughter what to do - assuming that you always know what's best for her. Mothers are still working from a place of protection for their daughters. At some point, daughters need to be able to forge their own path. We want to be along on the journey, but we don't want to be able to control it, nor should we.

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