I think one of the hardest things for parents to understand when they are having problems with respect from their kids is that it is probably because they are trying too hard to be buddies with their kids, and 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 a way to be both. Ouch, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be liked by their kid, right?
Let me explain this a different way. One of the ways that we define ‘friend’ is a member of a fellow peer group, and 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 friends so definitely they should treat one another with more kindness…). We do not generally include ‘respect’ as a quality we give our friends. Kindness, yes. Comradeship, absolutely. Respect? Nice but not necessarily a requirement. 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 the other day, and they were lamenting the lack of respect they felt that they received from their children. The next breath they were talking about what extreme means they went to in order for their children to like them. Friends, you can’t have it both ways. You are not your child’s buddy. You are their parent. Parenting 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: you can be friendly with your parents. My mom is one of my favorite people in the world. The older I get, the more I realize how amazing she is. 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. 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 parent.
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.