There’s no doubt that being a parent to a child of any age is one of the most difficult (yet rewarding!) and important roles that one can play in their family. As a parent one must make a multitude of decisions daily about what is best for their child. These are often murky, unclear, and it may seem as though vastly different choices could each create outcomes that are desirable for different reasons. Unfortunately as many say, there is no guidebook for how to make the “right” decisions. The choices that each individual parent makes for their children are going to vary depending on many factors. These can include the ways in which we ourselves were raised, our worries about what others might think about us and our family, our beliefs about parenting, our roles within society, our ability to be physically present with our children at certain times, among many others. And because so many factors are at play, no two parents will raise their children in exactly the same manner.
One of the major dilemmas that many parents face, especially as children grow older, is their desire to be a friend to their child as well as to maintain their role as parent. Wanting a strong, emotionally close relationship with one’s child is something that most parents naturally wish for. In other words, we really want our children to like us. We want to know that they trust us, that they will come to us when life throws them a curve ball, and that they will want to be involved in our lives just as we long to be involved in theirs.
Sometimes however, this desire to be our child’s friend can lead us to change the overall nature of our true relationship: parent and child. When we think about the relational definition of a friend, we get a sense that two people who are “friends” are more or less equals; that is, they are peers and on the same playing field. However, a parent/child relationship is meant to be hierarchical in that the parent is responsible for the well-being of the child, while the child does not hold that responsibility for their parent. These are two very different types of relationships, and it is important for parents to maintain their role in guiding their children through life in a healthy way. That being said, I believe that it is possible for parents to fulfill their responsibilities in a way that is friendly, which encourages their children to respect, trust, and love them.
Here are some tips for parenting in a friendly way, which will promote emotional closeness between you and your child without sacrificing a parent’s role:
- Give kids what they need: More than anything, children need a dependable, predictable structure in which to feel safe as they grow. They need a comfortable home with adults that they trust will help guide them through the use of rules, schedules, and advice. Even though kids hate it when we discipline them, being consistent in applying consequences that they knew to expect for certain behaviors demonstrates security and predictability, which can very much help them to trust you as a parent.
- Separate discipline from quality time: While discipline is important, don’t let it interfere with your showing loving interactions with your children. Often it is easy to allow our anger and frustration to show through our tone of voice and expressions when our children disappoint us, and while this is natural and sometimes healthy, assuring them that we love them no matter what they have done is also crucial. In addition, try not to allow this frustration to interrupt your quality time with your child, and don’t withhold time together as a form of punishment. This will help your child to understand that a relationship with you is still important and desirable, and that your intention is not to upset them but to help them learn. In addition, finding opportunities to praise them and give them positive feedback when it is deserved can remind them that you are on their side.
- Earn their trust: This can sometimes seem counterintuitive, because as parents we want our children to trust and respect us. But sometimes the easiest way to accomplish this is to seek out the trust of our children. Just as they must earn ours, we must earn theirs – through demonstrating over time that we are true to our word and are acting in their best interests.
- Show interest in and become involved in their lives: One of the most important ways that we can be friendly with our kids is to listen to them. Show genuine interest in what’s going on in their lives on a daily basis. For example, know their close friends’ names and get to know them when they spend time with your child. Go to their events and be familiar with their world. This demonstration of genuine interest in doing life with your child will show them that you care about them, and might make them more willing to share the harder things. Of course, making sure to give children, especially teenagers, a chance to achieve some degree of independence is also important – balance is key.
- Take care of yourself first: We’re the best at parenting when we ourselves are taken care of. Whether this means finding your own adult support network to vent with and to give us a place to talk about adult concerns, or taking some time to relax and de-stress so that we have more patience with our children, or doing whatever we need to feel good – our children will notice that we’re in a good place and will find it easier to approach us when they feel that we are able to handle what they bring to us.
- Seek help if needed: If you’re finding yourself in too much of a “friend” relationship with your child instead of a parent, or if conversations at home with your child become volatile and you don’t feel that you have it under control, it can be very helpful to set up an appointment for family therapy to work through the difficulties you are facing with a family therapist.
It can be very difficult at times to be a parent, because often the decisions we know we must make don’t align with what our children would like to hear. They may lash out at us verbally, disobey us, or be upset with us. This can hurt us to our very core. But in the end, the best thing that we can do for our kids is to give them what we know is best for them, and in the end they will see that our love for them is not demonstrated by giving them whatever they want, but by giving them what they need.