All parents love their kids and pretty much all of us I’m sure, have wonderful dreams of doing things together and spending time really getting on as adults. But just as we recognize that it may be great to be your child’s friend when they’re an adult, is it a good idea to want to be your child’s friend when they’re a child? It’s easy to cloak the question in rose coloured glasses as a reflection of the relationship you hope to end up with, something that was very cutely portrayed in that lovely Randy Newman tune in ‘Toy Story.’
You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles
From your nice warm bed
Just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me
We all hope that once our children are grown up, we can be good friends and that’s really the ultimate in terms of a enjoying a relationship that has matured the way it should. However, let’s focus today on when kids are young and ask the question is it good to be your child’s friend? You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not really for it but then if it’s not a good idea, then why isn’t it?
We are often told that it is possible to be friends with your kids as long as you uphold boundaries but that’s like being in a row boat half full of water and being told that as long as you continually use an ice cream scoop to bail yourself out, you won’t sink. Sure, if you continue to scoop the water out, possibly you won’t sink but it’s exhausting and you have to keep doing it ad infinitum until you get either a very sore arm or go crazy. It also reverses the normal adult to child flow and put you and your children in a less than optimal leadership position that isn’t helpful at best and can make life very challenging for you at worst.
1. If you want to be your child’s friend, your leadership will be affected
You see when you try and be your child’s friend, you put yourself in a situation that makes you vulnerable from a leadership standpoint. I know emotionally vulnerability is a plus at times with people you trust fully, but children are children and they’re not looking for vulnerability, they’re looking to you for direction. Seeing you opening up and being vulnerable is likely to scare the heck out of them. Not only that, but friends tend to direct each other equally, each one naturally knowing the times when one needs something a little more out of the relationship than the other. It’s a constant give and take but your relationship with your child is by necessity more one sided. That’s because they don’t just want you or your direction, they need you to interpret the world and make the important decisions for them and there’s the difference.
2. If you want to be your child’s friend, that desire is coming from you, not them
It’s also important to remember that the impetus to become a friend of a child usually comes from the parent, not the child. It usually means that the parent is looking to the child to fill in something within themselves, which they think would add to their parenting experience. A warmth, a closeness, a bond that they think will be fulfilled by being a friend. Often it’s in response to a desire to have a different relationship with their child than their parents had with them. The trouble is that by being a ‘friend’, unless you are scrupulously careful and frankly, even if you are, you run the very troubling risk of achieving the exact opposite and sinking under the weight of your desire for closeness.
Think how difficult it is to offer boundaries to even best friends, who are mature in thought and expression. Now try and offer a far greater amount of boundaries to a child in a way that maintains a ‘possible’ friendship. Think how often you hear children play with each other and then fall out with a sharp, “I’m not your friend anymore!” If those words hit a chord, then they are having an impact and if they have an impact, it’s very likely that the parents will modify their parenting behaviour in response to that impact. How will they do that? Well, likely by providing less boundaries or by not following through or a myriad different less than positive responses.
Leadership matters. If a parent cannot act because they are constrained by a need to remain friends with their children, they hamper and distort their efforts.
If you want to be your child’s friend, keep in mind what adult relationships are really made of
Let’s remember that friendship is often defined by mutual understanding and compassion. Whereas a parent can certainly be sympathetic about a situation to a child, that sympathy and compassion offered is built on experience. An experience of similar situations over the years aid in the interpretation and potential solution for the problem. The question is, how can a child reciprocate? How can a child be expected to help a parent deal with the stress of the gas bill? Mortgage problems? A marriage break up? A car breakdown? The simple answer is they can’t.
If you want to be your child’s friend, you will eventually but it takes time
Even as they age it takes children many years to be on the same kind of footing with grown ups so as to be able to offer a reciprocal relationship. My husband and I were having a chat the other day about some of his early girlfriends. He had long since come to the understanding that one previous and serious relationship failed to develop because even in her mid twenties, the girl concerned, still looked to him to help with her problems but had failed to develop the capacity to deal or even empathize with his. That left the relationship stunted and unable to progress fully in to something far more meaningful.
Parents need to realize that by believing in the possibility for a truly reciprocal friendship early on with their child, they deny that child the very building blocks necessary to provide that friendship later on.
If you want to be your child’s friend try thinking of it like this, to have a friend relationship with your kids is like having your cake and eating it too. It’s the same as creating a moment of satisfaction for the lips and a lifetime on the hips. It’s a way to feel good for the moment at the loss of something far more important, both for your child’s future relationships with other people as well as the relationship they have with you.
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