Friend versus Parent
Friend vs Parent
We all liked to be liked, right? We all want many friends, and, for those we spend a large chunk of time with, we want them to be enthused by our interactions. As I always say, one can never have too many friends. Now, while I couldn't agree more, that sentiment does not actually apply to your children. In fact, I have bad news for you: you cannot be your child's friend if you want to be an effective parent. Yes, I know. But listen, this is an important distinction to make and the better you see that, the more effective you will be as a parent.
I think one of the hardest things for parents to understand when they are having problems with lack of respect from their kids is that it is probably their own fault. I know, hurts to hear it. Likely, the cause of the respect issue is in great part due to the fact that they (the parents) are trying too hard to be buddies with their kids, and trying too hard to be liked by their kids and their kids’ friends. You are not your kid’s friend; you are their parent. And there really isn’t any way to be both. Ouch, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be liked by their own kid?
This is not about being liked, though. This is about being respected.
Let me explain this a different way. One of the ways that we define ‘friend’ is as a member of a fellow peer group, and one with whom you share a mutual bond of affection. Generally, familial bond is a disqualifier (although I have to admit we have repeatedly reminded our own children that their brothers are their best friends so definitely they should treat one another with more kindness…). We do not necessarily include ‘respect’ as a quality we give our friends. Kindness, yes. Comradeship, absolutely. Respect? Certainly a nice perk, but not necessarily a requirement. Not to the point where if a friend were to say something (i.e. give us instructions), we would do said request with no questions asked, as one should do to parental instructions. On the other hand, what we as parents demand from our children includes respect, love and a bit of obedience. See the difference?
I was with a group of parents the other day, and they were lamenting the lack of respect they felt they received from their children. In the next breath, they were talking about what extremes they went to in order for their children to like them. Wait. Listen, friends, you can’t have it both ways. You are not your child’s buddy. You are their parent. Parenting effectively means that you offer them guidance, affection, and discipline. You give them nurturance and sustenance. But you do not give them friendship (at least not in the true sense of the word). Why not, you ask? Good question. The reason is simple: Because being their friend undermines your position of authority.
Don’t get me wrong: one can be definitely be friendly with their parents, especially as we get older and we realize they are not as full of crap as we thought they once were (you know, because as teenagers we knew EVERYTHING and mom and dad clearly did not). Now, my mom is one of my favorite people in the world. The older I get, the more I realize how amazing she is. I see what she did for us, and I see the richness in all that she taught us. I respect her and value her opinion (even if I don’t always follow it). I think she’s smart and is an amazing example of how a person – and a parent – should be. When I see an email from her in my inbox, I make an extra effort to get to it sooner rather than later because my continued communication with her is a priority for me. She is always always invited wherever we live, and she's always included (or at least invited) for travel and vacation plans. Is she my friend? Hmm, no, but I greatly appreciate her companionship. I respect her, and I know that she is a very important person to me. But she is not my peer, not my friend; she is my mom. Sometimes being with a mom is even better than being with a friend.
I’m not saying you can’t be liked by your child. Quite the opposite, actually. There is no need to be a domineering whip-cracker-type parent. You can be in a position of authority, and still be kind and loving. You can demand respect, and offer support. You can be loving and offer discipline. Parenting means filling a lot of shoes and wearing a lot of hats, but ‘friend’ isn’t necessarily one of them.
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