Is it bad to be your child’s friend if you’re also their parent?
One of the pieces of advice we often hear in parenting circles is: “Remember, you’re their parent, not their friend.”
To be honest, when my children were little and I was immersed in evangelical culture and parenting blogs, I used to teach that (and even wrote columns on it for our local paper!).
But then something weird happened.
My girls grew into teenagers–and I really liked them. They became my friends.
That didn’t mean that I wasn’t also their mother; it didn’t mean that I couldn’t tell them what to do or that they wouldn’t listen to me.
It was more that, by the time they were teens, they naturally did what was right because they respected me and had internalized our values.
We had a good relationship. They naturally respected what I thought because I knew them well and they knew that I loved them and that I was safe. I took an interest in what they were doing. I knew their friends. I had proven that I was safe and that I had their best interests in mind. And so Keith and I didn’t really have to lay down the law that much when they were teens because we were their friends too.
Rebecca explained this well in her book Why I Didn’t Rebel.
It’s kids’ relationships with their parents that are characterized by trust and honest to goodness intimacy that helps kids willingly choose to do the right thing. When they know that you trust their instincts, too, they tend to live up to expectations.
No, there are no guarantees. Yes, some kids are naturally more difficult than others. But even the difficult ones that she interviewed for her book said that when they had good relationships with their parents that were based on mutual respect, often these times of acting out did come to an end more quickly. And even if they did rebel, they were able to come back because they had that relationship–or they kept the relationship even if the kids made choices the parents didn’t like. And then the parents still had influence in their life.
What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?
Recently Rebecca was browsing on Instagram where she saw a post by Focus on the Family that didn’t seem to understand this concept.
They posted this:
Rebecca found it quite disturbing, and she posted an Instagram story to talk about it.
I thought today I’d share that Instagram story (which basically means a bunch of graphics that all go with each other on Instagram) because I really like it, but also to remind you all that we are all on Instagram too!
(story is written out in text below if you can’t read it all!)
Alexander, I am your parent. And I hope desperately to also be your friend.
I will teach you and guide you to learn how to love others. I will speak blessings over you and empower you in your strengths.
I will apologize when I make mistakes. I will respect your boundaries. And, yes, there will be consequences when you do bad things. But they will not be overly harsh or punitive.
I will treat you with the respect and dignity I hope you demand from others because I know my voice will become that by which you measure your worth, and how you expect to be treated by others.
My goal is to empower you, not control you. I love you.
But what is more important than me telling you that (like the emotional blackmail in that Focus on the Family post) is you feeling that because I’ve proven it with more than just empty words.
And, hey, Focus on the Family: If your idea of parental love could also describe an abusive boyfriend, maybe that’s not healthy or helpful is all I’m saying.
I know that Focus on the Family was likely trying to be funny and practice hyperbole.
But Jesus, after all, calls us friends. I think it’s okay for parents to call their kids friends, too–and vice versa.
We need to be careful how we joke about this stuff. We should not be laughing about stalking and controlling our children. We should normalize empowering them and guiding them. We know that being too firm a disciplinarian, focusing only on our own authority and not respecting our kids, can backfire. So let’s not joke around like this. It really isn’t funny.
What do you think? How do you see the balance between friend vs. parent when it comes to your kids? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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