Too close for comfort

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The Independent Online
Being best friends with your child sounds like a great idea but Sara Atkinson, 41, who works as a PA, has found that it has drawbacks. Her daughter Katie, 18, an A-level student, might confide in her mother but does she respect her?


`Sometimes I think, "Don't laugh so much, be sensible - you're not my age. Be a grown-up'' `

My friends can't understand how close I am to my mother. I was asked to go for a drink after college but I told them no - I was going out with mum! Once when I was really upset about a boy, we talked for two hours over a whole bottle of Bailey's. My friend couldn't understand why I'd spoken to mum before I talked to her. She complains that I tell mum too much, that I should have some privacy.

It's difficult when we argue - it's like she's two different people. One of them I can talk to about anything and the other's nagging me to do my homework - it's like, "Katie, get back to reality - she's your mother not your friend."

I get cross when she sides with daddy, and I feel betrayed. One moment we are really, really close, it's ridiculous, and the next she's my father's ally. I feel so alone. I have to realise that he's her husband and he's my father; I can't have all her attention. I'd been getting home late from clubbing and my mother had covered for me a couple of times. Then I came in at four and was greeted by both my parents in their dressing gowns and summoned to the lounge. Instead of feeling angry, I felt guilty because of the distress I'd caused them. I thought, mum's never going to talk to me again - that trust between us, which I value so highly, had gone.

Sometimes in front of my friends, I have to tell her to stop messing around or using my nick-names. I don't like it when she drinks too much (I can see myself coming out in her) and I think, "Don't laugh too much, be sensible - you're not my age. Be a grown-up." I think, I'm only a child here but I'm acting older than my mother.

She borrows my clothes and the other day chose a black skirt that was far too tight. I told her she shouldn't wear it because I know people will stare at her. If it's a best friend that's fine but I have to draw the line with my mother.

I want to commute daily to university and although she doesn't want me to, I really want to stay here. People don't understand and I've had arguments with my teachers. They say, "Katie, you've got to be independent." I tell them I don't want to get independent yet - I'm OK at homen


`I find myself saying, "Don't reprimand me as if you were an equal - I'm your mother" '

I was very young when I had Katie and we almost grew up together. We are incredibly alike to the point of being, telepathic. I will leave a message on the answering machine, suggesting Katie fixes pasta for supper. Before she gets home she'll call me at work to tell me she'll be cooking pasta!

My husband, Mike, and I have had some pretty chequered times and we can get tetchy with each other, particularly when we're tired. Sometimes when we've had a tiff, I make Katie an ally which is perhaps something I shouldn't actually do.

Because I'm back late in the evening; Katie runs the home. If I don't tidy the kitchen I'm told off for not putting things in the dishwasher. I find myself saying, "Don't reprimand me as if you're an equal - I'm your mother."

She is getting difficult about exams, saying that she's not going to bother and forget university. I say, don't be silly you must get A-levels. For the next four months she has to cut down her social life. I play the heavy-handed mother and say: "Upstairs and do your studying." I get quite irate when we row, like we did last night over these blessed A-levels, and she's slamming the door upstairs. She resents me and talks back to me like she would to a close friend.

After getting cross and shouting at her, I fear that I haven't acted as her friend. I've laid into her or told her she was useless. I feel guilty. I panic and worry that our relationship will suffer because I got so heavy; that she won't confide in me and I won't be there when she needs me. I'm so frightened of losing her friendship that I end up backtracking. It's a real problem for me.

I suppose it's hereditary, I'm very, very close to my mother. She was 34 when she had me but I was only 22 when Katie was born. When I was Katie's age she was 50; she couldn't be a hippie with flowers and bare feet. There was enough of a generation gap not to encroach on each other's standards. Today it's harder because mothers stay younger longern

Interviews by Andrew G Marshall