The other day, I was chastising Grant, my 14-year-old for not coming home when he should have from a friend’s house. He told me I wasn’t being a very good friend to him at that moment. I immediately said, “I’m not your friend, I’m your mother” to which he looked at me with genuine hurt in his big, brown eyes and said, “what do you mean, you’re not my friend?! You’re supposed to be my friend!”
I replied back to him almost word-for-word what I’ve read in countless parenting articles and books: “you have plenty of friends but you only have two parents and our job is to protect you and guide you – not to be your pal.” I added, emphatically that I do like him as a person and enjoy spending time with him but that he needed me more as a mom than a buddy. He seemed to understand but was in a funk for the next few hours. I felt awful. I felt like I’d just broken up with my child and broken his heart in the process.
This got me thinking about stories I’ve heard about parents who try so hard to be liked by their children, even when they are youngsters, that the kids lose all respect for them and end up walking all over their parents because the parent isn’t acting like a parent. It makes me think of the bizarro mother/daughter relationship between Amy Poehler and Rachel McAdams in “Mean Girls.” Look it up, you’ll see what I mean.
I want my kids to like me as a person and, frankly, to think I’m fun and smart and kind and a great cook and all but mostly, I want them to think of me as their soft place to land and their guide through life whether they are five, fifteen or fifty. I know I like my mother as a person and enjoy spending time with her but ultimately and always, no matter how old we both get, she’ll be my parent and I like it that way.
A friend of mine put it really well when she said the liked and loved her parents and felt secure knowing that when it came to discipline or right versus wrong, they were going to be her parents and not her buddy. “I could look to them and know that they not only had my back but weren’t going to leave me floundering in this big giant world that could be confusing sometimes. They were SO MUCH MORE than just a friend.”
I agree that kids shouldn’t see their parents as their peers but I think there should be a degree of friendship between kids and their parents – just a different KIND of friendship. To me, you have to think long-term about the kind of relationship you want to have with your kids when they are teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, etc. and build upon that from early on. I enjoy getting into long, philosophical discussions with my kids, knowing that our mutual respect and give-and-take of opinions is between people, not dad and kid.
Ultimately, as a parent, you want to be perceived by your child as someone who will be honest with them, will be there for them and will help them become an adult. The danger is in creating too much of a dependency on the child or them on you – especially as they get into the teen years and certainly in adulthood. The type of relationship you have with your children, at any age, is tricky business. It morphs over time and situation but ultimately, I want my children to know, at any age, that I’m their Dad and I’m there for them.
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