How many times have we heard the phrase, “I’m your parent, not your friend.” Or, “Your children don’t need another friend, they need a parent.” I despise those phrases. In fact, for several reasons, I think those phrases are very problematic in parenting.
First of all, everyone needs a friend, a friend who is wise and can provide good advice from a place of understanding, a friend who can listen and be trusted. A parent can be that friend. How often do kids change friends? A parent is an unconditional friend, a friend who always has their child’s best interests at heart. A parents friendship lasts a lifetime. A parents friendship can be one of the most meaningful relationships in a child’s life.
So why are there people out there who treat this like it’s such a bad thing? Why are there those parents who proudly state, “I am not their best friend, I am their parent. If they tell me at least once that they hate me, then I’m doing my job.” That is a terrible thing to say! It’s is such a skewed vision of parenthood, and even friendship for that matter.
There is a verse in the Bible that my mother used to quote to me, it says, Parents, do not provoke your children to anger. So success as a parent is not making my child so angry that they feel as if they hate me – even if it is for saying no. Success as a parent when a child feels respected, valued, understood and is able to comfortably share things with their parent the same way they would with a friend.
I think the idea of a parent being a friend to a child is very misunderstood. Being friends with a child does not mean a parent has to be Regina’s George’s mother and bring in condoms on a tray and take pictures of her daughter dressed up as a playboy bunny. That’s not even a friend by my definition.
There are different aspects in a true friendship. There is the fun part, like when girlfriends get their nails done together, or take trips to the beach. There is the trust and confidence when friends share deep personal things that are going on in their lives. There is trust, when friends keep each others secrets and are loyal to each other. There is support, like when a friend is going through a break up and needs to hear an, I’m here for you, rather than an I told you so. It’s the same between parents and children.
I can build a relationship as well as a friendship with my daughters from day one. While my girls are little I can respond to their cries with empathy to build trust. When they mess up, I can help them problem solve instead of punishing or shaming them. I can delight in the things that interest my girls – right now that means watching every single tinker bell movie on repeat and letting Laila cook with me every night. When they are older I can take them shopping, to the movies, for pedicures. There are so many things that I do with my adult friends that I can also do with my girls as they grow.
More importantly, I really believe that treating our children as friends can prompt us to treat them better.
Last night my daughter was whining constantly, and whining is like my Achilles heel- I can’t stand it. That is nails on a chalkboard for me. I opened my mouth to beg her to just stop for one minute when I stopped and reminded myself that she wasn’t whining for the sole purpose of getting on my nerves, and she certainly wasn’t whining for no reason at all. Instead of whining myself I recognized that Laila just needed my attention for a minute and I got down on my knees and kissed her forehead. Her reaction? She wrapped her little arms around my neck and gave me a huge kiss. “I luh you mama” she said as she hugged me even tighter. All she had wanted was a hug.
I rocked her in my arms and thought to myself how thankful I was to have a such a sweet daughter. I thought about how fast she’s growing and I how I hope that once she’s older she’ll be my best friend.
That’s when I realized, she already is my best friend, all shrunk down. It’s important that I respond kindly when she whines or cries. I have to treat her like a friend now if I want her friendship later. Just because she is my daughter doesn’t mean I can be impatient with her now and expect her to be close with me later. Every time I respond to her I have to remind myself, if I treated one of my friends this way, would we stay friends for very long?
Being a good parent doesn’t mean not having a friendship with your child, being a good parent means understanding that every relationship is different, but that every child deserves the same respect that would be given to a friend. As the saying goes, “A daughter is a little girl who grows up to be her mothers very best friend.