Be a parent, not a friend. We’ve all heard this saying countless times. But what does it really mean? And why can’t you be your child’s best friend? After all, I always wished that my mom had been more of a friend to me. Isn’t that a good thing if my child sees me as a friend?
Being a parent, rather than a friend, doesn’t mean that you can’t have a respectful and loving relationship with your child. What it does mean is that you have to be the authoritative figure. Children are not emotionally or developmentally capable of setting boundaries and making good decisions for their own wellbeing. It’s your job to do that, even if it sometimes means that you have to be the “bad guy”.
If you’re always trying to please your child, afraid to set boundaries or enforce rules for fear of upsetting them, you are setting them up for failure and disappointment. The real world just doesn’t work that way. Society, even schools and jobs, are bound by countless rules and boundaries, and they will be enforced, even if your child doesn’t like it.
DO NOT let your child make all of his own decisions. He is not ready for that, and it causes stress. You can discuss things; get his opinions and input, and then YOU, THE PARENT makes the decision. Whether it is about which school to attend, which classes to take, summer camp, sports or anything else, YOU MAKE THE DECISIONS. Obviously, if your child says they hate baseball but want to play piano, you could probably make that happen. But if they want to attend a school you don’t think is best, or take classes that are too hard or too easy, you have to make the judgment.
Many parents think it’s better to let their kids make their own decisions. It’s not. As they get older and more mature, it is healthy to gradually give them more decision-making power over their own lives, but very slowly and with guidance. By the time they leave home, you do want them knowing how to make good decisions for themselves. But if you give them too much control too soon, it often causes anxiety, stress and even ulcers or migraines. I have seen this far too many times. It is just too much pressure. Worse, if they make bad or wrong decisions, they will constantly be changing their minds and you will have to clean up the mess. You know these families: always changing schools, always changing teams, never sticking with anything. This is where parents need to step up and pull in the reigns.
There is a show currently on TV called “Jane the Virgin”. Jane is 20 something, and her mother had her as a teen. They have always been “best friends” and her mother always gave in to whatever Jane wanted. Her mom partied and dressed “cool” and they practically look like sisters. But recently, their relationship became strained, as Jane is tired of her mother acting like a teenager. She even criticized her mother for letting her quit dance lessons when she was young! Even harder, Jane is getting married and moving out and neither can fathom how they will function living without the other. Your child needs friends his own age. This is developmentally imperative throughout life. Peers cannot be replaced by even the most loving of parents.
At the end of the day, we all want to have close, loving relationships with our children. And you still can. You just can’t be their best friend. Guide them, teach them, allow them be mad at you for doing what’s best or what’s right. Eventually, they will become healthy adults who look up to you and respect you and strive to be like you. What more could any parent ask for?