Parent vs. Friend
6th October, 2010
In my work I have met a lot of parents who would like to be their child’s best friend. Parents want a relationship with their child where they hear, my mum or dad is my best mate. They want their kids to be able to tell them everything. They want to be able to be open and share everything about their life with their children. Sometimes this is because they don't not want to be like their own parents. They want their kids to be open with them so they decide that the best way is to befriend their own kids so that their kids do not feel threatened like they themselves used to. At the same time most parents talk about how they themselves used to obey and respect their own parents.
This is a very difficult topic...there is such a fine line between the being an understanding parent and being your children's best friend and that's why it is often confused. How can some expect their children to have respect for them as parents when the focus is placed on friendship? I hear the way children talk to their friends; I don’t want them talking like that to me. As their teacher, I’m not their dude, their man or their dog…I’m the teacher thank you! I'm a friendly teacher, who listens and is approachable but strict when it needs be.
I would also dare say that sometimes parents want to befriend their children out of selfishness. I always ask...Does the parent lack friends? Does the parent feel lonely in the relationship with the other half? Is the child the best confidant, especially when the topic being discussed is the other parent and their relationship? How can a child understand boundaries if his / her parents are his level, her friends? How can a child understand that drinking is wrong when his father tells him about when he used to get drunk? How can a girl understand boundaries in relationships when her mother tells her about the 'hottie' at work?
Parenting is about balance and understanding that not all two families are the same. When you hear someone say, ‘My children and I talk about everything’ or ‘My kids don’t keep anything from me’ and you sit there and wish that you too could have that same relationship, remember one important thing, most children do not discuss everything with their parents. It doesn’t matter how close you are. There are just some things kids will not talk about with Mum and Dad. As a counsellor I can say that children do not tell their parents everything! No, they don't. No, not even if they swear they do...and the good thing is that that's the way it should be. After all, why is it important to know every minute detail of your child's life? Is it for his / her own good, or is it for control? to feel good about yourself? to feel safer?
So many parents, in their strive to be the ‘best’, end up competing with others over who is a better parent, who has a closer relationship and who makes the better parenting decisions. It becomes a game of popularity and that’s when the focus has taken a wrong turn; as soon as it becomes a role of competition and the focus is no longer on the children but instead the parental ego.
I’m a big on respect and I believe that you are not just given in it, you earn it and parents are no exception. Children need to understand that although you are the parent, they can talk to you whenever, wherever and about whoever they want.
Parents already have many different roles. They already have the role as a friend; it’s just built in along with the role as mum and dad. It’s a package deal. Learning the balance between the roles is the key. Some kids need to see more of one role than another, some kids need that little extra discipline and some parents may never experience both, just as some parents may not be able to. There are also families which never experience ‘mate-ship’ with their children until later on in life, when their kids reach adulthood.
These are all personal choices. What works for one does not necessarily work for another and we can’t afford to turn this into a competition of who likes who better.
Tips for those, who, like me, don't read all the article when it's too long....
1. Be a parent at all times. Truth, wisdom, knowledge, caring, teaching, loving; the ingredients that should never be absent are the building blocks on which your relationship will grow.
2. Listen as a friend, but use parental practices for input. If he is worried about his buddies wanting him to drink and drive try to refrain from responding as a friend.Don't be wishy washy and say he shouldn't drink and drive but if he does it's understandable. It is never understandable to encourage him to drink and drive.
3. Be friendly with her friends but in an adult manner and by issuing guidance only when requested. Don't try to be young and hip so her friends will like you. If you aren't invited to hang out during the slumber party don't be offended. Be happy she has friends and in knowing they will be there for her when you can't be. Most parents are trying to still be hip and use their children to do so. Personally, I think it is very damaging. Buying same clothes as your daughter? Trying to compete about who's sexiest with your own daughter? Blushing when her boyfriends compliment you? Grow up!!
4. Laugh together. It's good to joke around and create memories that will last a lifetime. These are the memories she will hang onto when you pass on. This will also guide her in being the same with her children.
5. Spend time together but don't be stingy. Expect him to have days in which he prefers to be with his friends, but if you have a good relationship there will be times he will choose to be with you rather than his friends.
6. Always maintain the role as parent while she is growing up. The day will come when she will be an adult and you will be both mother and best friend.
One fact remains…Parents should be Parents first and Friends last. There will be a time enough when you can be both and this is something that shouldn’t forced or rushed as kids need their parents above everything.
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