Grown women: I want mommy!

Are women in their 20s and 30s increasingly dependent on mommy dearest?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published June 29, 2007 2:40PM (EDT)

Caution: A treacherous trend story lies ahead. Please buckle your cerebral seat belts to avoid serious impairment or injury.

Professional women in their 20s and 30s are talking to their mothers a whole lot, reports the New York Times. And they're dishing about everything -- even sex. But this isn't a piece about how, as times change, daughters are becoming increasingly open and honest with their mothers. Instead, it examines -- with rubber-gloved hands -- the oddity of that most intense relationship between mothers and daughters. Developmental psychologists and sociologists are brought in to answer an apparently burning question: What the hell is up with the freakish amount of emotional intimacy between mothers and daughters?

It's an understandably inquisitive article; mother-daughter dynamics are damn interesting. But, that's nothing new -- so, the article is instead pegged on the fact that psychologists and social scientists are just now starting to study daughters' attachment to their mothers as they transistion into adulthood. (And ... that Paris Hilton cried out for her mom when she was recently ordered back to jail.) The Times reports that researchers say there's evidence that it's become "more common for adult daughters to keep their mothers' apron strings tied tighter -- and for longer."

Except that, well, there isn't much evidence: "The fact is that very little is known about this topic," Frank F. Furstenberg Jr., chairman of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, told the Times. "Our research network is doing a slew of studies on changing relations among young adults and their parents, but the research is still in the field." Huh. Note that he said "young adults" rather than "young women" -- not to mention that the research is incomplete.

I'm not convinced that there's increasing mother-daughter dependence so much as there may be a new set of expectations as far as what role parents should play once their kids enter adulthood. Some days it feels as if you could successfully hold your breath until the next piece is published about 20-somethings sleeping on their parents' couch or borrowing tons of money to supplement their meager -- or nonexistent -- income. (Not to mention the glut of hand-wringing dispatches on young men's "failure to launch.") The Times piece itself acknowledges that "there have always been close-knit mother-daughter relationships" but that "social, demographic and technological changes" have made increased closeness possible. But most of the explanations given in the article aren't gender-specific at all.

That's all to say that the article and its proclamations about increasing mother-daughter dependence should probably be taken with a grain of salt. As should the various conclusions about the trend: Some psychologists say intense mother-daughter attachment is unhealthy, some say it's perfectly positive.

Researchers may still be collecting data to prove this trend actually exists, but plenty will find evidence right there on the Times' Web site: Thanks to all those needy momma's girls who no doubt immediately e-mailed the piece to their mothers (and then called them to, like, talk all about it) it's currently listed as the Times' most-read article.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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