I remember envying my friends whose mothers were their best friends growing up. My relationship with my own mother was good, but I didn’t share much about myself and my feelings with her. She was not my confidante, like some of the other girls had with their moms. Sometimes I wished for that. While everyone longs for closeness and empathy from their parents, there is really a fine line between having a healthy parent-child relationship and having a friendship. This line gets crossed all the time.
Now, I frequently hear kids telling someone that, “My mom is my best friend”. As a mother and a therapist, this always makes me cringe. While I encourage close relationships between parents and their children, you should never be ‘best friends’. To do so violates necessary boundaries between children and adults, and is actually unhealthy in the long term. As wonderful as it often seems to be BFFs with your child, you are actually causing harm.
Here are some reasons why you need to be a parent, not a friend to your children.
- Children need rules and boundaries to feel safe, stable and secure. “Friends don’t guide, nurture, and protect each other; they don’t set boundaries and limits for each other”. By definition, friends are your equals, your peers. Typically, they are of the same or similar age, and equal in their abilities. How could a child’s equal possibly guide them in life? They can’t. It is your job as a parent to provide security and a stable environment for your child. You are not equals, and it is not a democracy. There is a hierarchy that must be enforced. This is accomplished with love, nurturing, rules and boundaries. You must learn how to be firm, but gentle. Having the structure and security of knowing what is expected and when helps reduce the amount of anxiety a child will feel.
Children that are given too much power often present with ulcers, stomach aches, acting out, and an inability to concentrate. Do not be afraid of disappointing your child. Learn to say no, and mean it. They will get angry sometimes, and they need to know that you’re ok with that. Do not give your power away just because your kids say you are mean or unfair. Kids will always try to get their way, and they are masters of manipulation. Don’t fall prey.
- Kids are not developmentally capable of making big decisions. Their brains are literally not developed yet, and specifically the parts of the brain necessary for making big and important decisions. Let’s be real here; young children are still trying to master the basic notion of what is right and what is wrong, and teens struggle daily with how to make good decisions for themselves. Do you really think these very youngsters should be making important decisions or have a lack of rules and boundaries to guide them? They absolutely should not. Taking charge might not be your favorite thing to do, but it is your job and your obligations as a parent. When you give children tasks they are not ready for, you are setting them up for failure. It can have a negative impact on their self-esteem.
- You will create a little narcissist. Do you want to raise a self-centered, entitled little brat? If so, then by all means, be a best friend and set no limits and have no boundaries. If you want to raise a well-adjusted, self-sufficient adult, they will need to learn that the world does not, should not, and never will revolve around them. You must teach them how to live in the real world, which includes not always getting their way and learning how to cope and deal with the disappointment that comes with that. Their teachers, coaches and future bosses will not be their equals or their best friends. Neither should you.
- They will not know how to have healthy relationships as adults. Being best friends with your child is a form of emotional incest. Let your kids be kids, and get your adult needs met by other adults. Do not rely on your child to be your confidante, your date, or the only one fulfilling your needs. You need to model for them what healthy adult behavior and relationships look like in order for them to know. They will have trouble with boundaries in their own romantic relationships, they will expect their partners to accommodate their every need, and they will likely have problems with anxiety. Trust me; I see these adults in my office all the time.
In summary, it is wonderful to have a close and nurturing relationship with your children, at any age. Just be mindful that you are not equals, you must set and enforce limits to create stability, and you must demonstrate healthy adult relationships. Boundaries are crucial to development and well-being in any relationship. They make us feel secure. There is no greater gift than raising secure, happy, well-adjusted children who become healthy, happy, independent adults.