A strong mother-daughter Swiftie bond shows itself in little ways, such as fewer fights in the car over the music they’ll listen to.
But it’s there in big ways, too. They’ll find themselves talking about friendship and forgiveness after listening to “Betty” and discussing whether the song “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” is, in fact, about a miscarriage. Maybe a mom will share a breakup story, and her daughter will mention a developing crush, and the next thing they know, they’re deep into another conversation. They’ve each learned something new, and none of it involved prying, spying, stalking social media accounts, or forced conversation at the dinner table.
Mothers and their tween and teen daughters aren’t supposed to see eye-to-eye on many things. But these days, it seems, a mutual affection for Taylor Swift and her music is shaking up that whole dynamic.
Before buying tickets for Swift’s “Eras” tour, which arrives Friday at Gillette Stadium for three shows, Acton native Hillary McGuckin asked her 21-year-old daughter, Kayla Smith, if she’d rather go with friends. “And she said, ‘I will only ever go with you.’” McGuckin’s voice caught as she recounted the story.
That’s because McGuckin and her daughter’s Swift bond has endured for 15 years, from Smith’s childhood, through adolescence, and now into adulthood. They’ve seen three of her concerts together over the years. Smith, an acting major at Wayne State University, told her mom recently that she distinctly remembers the first time she heard Swift. McGuckin played her “White Horse” off 2008′s “Fearless,” and a small Swiftie was born.
Asked whether their shared love of Taylor Swift made navigating what could have been tumultuous teen years easier, McGuckin doesn’t hesitate. The answer is yes. “Both my daughter and I lean very heavily into music as therapy. We listen to it, we discuss it, we try to figure it out.”
Kristine Giarrusso of Windham, N.H., is fast approaching her daughter’s teen years. Quinn is turning 13 next month, and her birthday present is for the two of them to see Swift together at Gillette this weekend. This will be Quinn’s first concert, and “I’m really excited to be the person to introduce her to live music,” her mother said. “I would hope that it’s something that connects us for the rest of our lives.”
For now, it’s Swift’s music and messaging that connect them.
“I think we all face challenges through the different stages of our lives, and we’ve heard Taylor talk about these challenges,” Giarrusso said. “Ultimately, it’s a message of empowerment and self-esteem and taking things head on.”
In Swift’s 2020 documentary, “Miss Americana,” viewers witness many of those challenges. The singer opens up about struggling with an eating disorder and being hypercritical when she sees herself in photos. She addresses her mother’s cancer diagnosis and recovery. (“She is my favorite person,” Swift says. It shows.) She talks about being groped by a radio host in 2013, and the sexual assault trial that followed. In one scene, she’s onstage marking the one-year anniversary of winning her lawsuit in that case, telling a sea of fans, the vast majority of them young women hanging on her every word, “I just wanted to say I’m sorry to anyone who ever wasn’t believed. . . . I’m so grateful to you guys for being there for me during what was really, really a horrible part of my life.” In another scene, she breaks her silence on politics, arguing with her own father that it had come time for her to speak up, though he’d always steered her away from controversy and the threat of alienating her fans. Viewers watch as she hits the button on an Instagram post endorsing two Democratic candidates in a crucial election in her home state of Tennessee.
“I just thought to myself, ‘Next time there’s any opportunity to change anything, you had better know what you stand for and what you want to say,’” she says in the film. “I feel really good about not feeling muzzled anymore. And it was my own doing.”
That self-discovery is an enormous part of what mothers say they like about Swift, and why they think she’s a good role model.
Eileen Farrell Mathews of Arlington, who’s taking her daughter Naomi Mathews, 12, to see Swift this weekend, said, “I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s really genuinely inspiring to say, ‘Here is someone who stood up for herself. . . . When we’re in situations and something doesn’t feel right, trust that.’”
In preparation for the show — they’re going with two of their mother-daughter Swiftie friends — they’ve been hard at work making friendship bracelets to trade with fellow fans, and they’re planning which Swift “era” to dress as. (Farrell Mathews’s outfit is inspired by the “Lover” era, and Naomi has chosen to rep “Reputation.”)
“It’s just celebrating the joy in life,” said Farrell Mathews, who gave Naomi the tickets for Christmas, complete with an elaborate scavenger hunt to find them.
Katie Buckley of Arlington, a researcher for Teach For America and the mother of two girls, also finds Swift’s music to be a useful parenting tool. “My kids roll their eyes when I start to get preachy,” she said. But if there’s a topic that comes up — body issues, social justice issues, getting involved as young people — “now I let Taylor do it. They’re listening in a way that they might not have otherwise, because it’s Taylor.”
But not all Taylor talk is serious. Buckley is taking her daughter, Sadie, 10, to the show, and they’ve been making playlists and planning sparkly outfits.
Ashley Miller of Boston isn’t waiting until her youngest daughter, Avery, is a tween to make a Swiftie out of her: The family celebrated the toddler’s second birthday by taking her to the opening-night show in Nashville, which Miller called “the sweetest and kindest experience.” Fans were exchanging bracelets and niceties, and taking and sharing photos. Miller credits Swift for this. “She’s just been such a great role model for all the girls. She’s just so mesmerizing and positive.”
Among the best lessons? “She teaches us to just ‘shake it off,’ right? There’s always going to be haters, and that’s OK,” Miller said. “And it’s really special to see how much respect she has for her mom.”
Years from now, when Avery is a teen, that mother-daughter Swift bond could serve their relationship well. It has for others.
“My mom can probably confirm that she always knew what was going on in my head depending on what song I was blasting from my room,” wrote Kayla Smith, Hillary McGuckin’s daughter, in an e-mail. “We always have something to talk about, and have ever since I can remember.”