How Close Should Mothers and Daughters Be?

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Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images, Paul Morigi/WireImage

If the dress fits, can mom wear it? Just ask Sarah Palin, who wore 24-year-old daughter Bristol’s sparkly white mini-dress and black stilettos to the Saturday Night Live Anniversary Show in New York City on Sunday.

"I’m wearing all Bristol!" Palin told Us Weekly. “Everything I have, I borrowed from Bristol. Her [bag], her dress. It’s something left over from Dancing With the Stars, but her shoes, she made me give her a deposit before I wore her shoes! She was like, ‘Mom, these are like red soles and you don’t mess with them unless you’re on the red carpet, otherwise you pay for them!’”

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Photo: Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images, Neil Mockford/Getty Images

Whether that’s cringe-y or cute is up for debate, however, many mothers and daughters dress alike. Other examples include Kris Kardashian, 59, who hit the red carpet in April 2013 wearing the same red, lace Valentino dress that daughter Kim Kardashian, 34, wore one year earlier, Nicole Richie, 33, who, in December, borrowed 6-year-old daughter Harlow’s winter coat to attend an event and Bethenny Frankel, 44, who stirred controversy in October when she posed for an Instagram photo wearing her 4-year-old daughter’s pajamas. 

But mommy-and-me outfits aren’t just a Hollywood trend. The Dallas-based company Me N Mommy sells matching shoes, dresses, skirts, and tops, as does the California vintage shop Ryleigh Rue Clothing. And in one extreme example, a 50-year-old English mother spent $15,000 on plastic surgery and blonde hair extensions to look exactly like her then 29-year-old daughter. “Why shouldn’t I? She’s good-looking,” mother Janet Cunliffe told ABC News of her transformation. “I think she looks good. I love her look and she’s part of me. So why not?”

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Photo: Instagram/Bethenny Frankel

Mother-daughter relationships are notoriously complex, a phenomenon that often boils down to differing communication skills, according to Deborah Tannin, PhD., a linguistics professor at Georgetown University and author of You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation

“Mothers want the best for their daughters and often communicate that through advice, which daughters tend to internalize as criticism,” Tannin tells Yahoo Parenting. Generally speaking, women also form relationships through sharing secrets and identifying with each other, yet in the context of a mother-daughter relationship, that’s not always possible due to traditional parent-child expectations. “Mothers and daughters as ‘best friends’ is a fairly new concept — in the past these relationships were rooted in respect and authority,” says Tannin.  

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When mothers and daughters carry expectations for each other typically reserved for friendships — regarding each other as equals, confiding information that could potentially be hurtful to a family member, or becoming competitive (an aspect of female friendship that’s well documented), the mother-daughter relationship can erode, particularly the protective mother instinct. That’s especially true for mothers who want the best for their daughters but still feel envious when their offspring succeed in areas they lacked. It’s because women tend to view their daughters as reflections of themselves. “In our youth-obsessed culture, that dynamic can be especially complicated,” says Tannin.

Wearing the occasional matching outfit can be cute, however, creating healthy boundaries between mother and daughter is smarter. 

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