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Monday, June 13, 2011

7 "Dangers" Of Being Friends With Your Child

If you ever listen to parenting advice, you have probably heard some form of this...

WARNING: Being Friends With Your Child Is Dangerous. Do Not Attempt Under Any Circumstances.

If you choose to defy this warning and attempt friendship with your child, you better brace yourself for one or more of the following:
  1. It will be inconvenient. Friendships sometimes involve having deep conversations at odd hours. Who wants that? You might rather your child go to his same-age friends for the late-night conversations so you can get some rest. Then when you want to know what's going on with your child, you can just covertly read through his text messages and emails. You will get his thoughts much more succinctly that way, when it's convenient for you.
  2. You will have to abandon your hopes of perfection, now. True friends don't try to mold or shape each other. This may involve you accepting your child for who he is. Sounds like a lot of work. You might rather form expectations about who your child should be, and expect him to conform to those. Then you can be angry or disappointed when he can't or doesn't want to live up to them.
  3. You will not be on a pedestal. You will feel free to be yourself in this friendship as well. You may admit to mistakes and apologize for things. It will make you seem fully human to your child very early on in the relationship. This might be disappointing if you were planning on hiding behind a cloak of parental infallibility for any portion of your child's young life.
  4. Your child will not always do what you tell him to do. People go to their friends for advice (but do not always follow it). This means your child could value your opinion as a thoughtful suggestion, but ultimately make his own decisions about things. This will definitely not look like obedience. You might rather your child not come to you for advice at all.
  5. You will have less time alone. Friends enjoy spending time together. This may happen with you and your child. You would definitely get more time for yourself if he preferred to hang out with other people as soon as possible.
  6. Your child will feel left out by his peers. Friends say nice things about each other. Your child might feel left out when all the other kids are complaining about their parents, because he has mostly nice things to say about you. You might rather keep a tenuous relationship so he can fit in with the other kids.
  7. The other moms will think you are obnoxious. Friends appreciate each other. The other moms will think you are lying, or bragging, when you offer stories of your child's genuine expressions of gratitude for the things you do for him. You might rather have more stories of your kids' being ungrateful or disappointing (see #2).
Side effects include smiles, fun, and prolonged periods of happiness.
Friends talk to each other, confide in each other, listen to each other. Friends like spending time together. Friends appreciate each other. Friends trust each other. If having all of this with my children is wrong, then I don't want to be right.

Can you think of any actual problems with being your child's friend? I can't.

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If you like the idea of being your child's friend, but still have concerns about it, read this follow-up called Five Words That Have Nothing To Do With Friendship With My Child Or Anyone Else.

40 comments:

  1. Love this. :) The picture at the end is so sweet. I can't think of any real problems either. Sure, there are occasional times parents have to step in and be parents without regard to the relationship (ie. a two year old racing for a busy road), but friends wouldn't let another friend hurt themselves either. That type of scneario is really the only one I can think of where I would act without worrying about damaging the relationship, and I don't think those few times mean you shouldn't be friends with your children.

    I linked to you from my blog btw. :)

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  2. Thank you! This post is wonderful. I remember my mother criticizing other moms for "trying to be friends" with their kids. But I think what she, and many other people do, is confuse approval-seeking for friendship.

    There needs to be another word to distinguish the sort of self-changing friendships we cultivate that allow us and force us to be honest, that build us up and reciprocally honor us. Then when we say we're "friends" with our kids, it would say more than "we hang out" :D

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  3. I'm not sure parents can or should be "friends" with their children. Most definitely parents can cultivate a loving, respectful, close relationship with their children,(strive for unconditional love) but there is always an age, experience, and power differential between parents and children. I think of friendship as being between peers- a parent's role includes that of being a provider, a guide, a leader, and a teacher at times. Friends can freely choose to be in or leave a relationship, whereas a child is dependent on a parent for survival, shelter, food, warmth. Emotionally, a child needs a parent to be a grown up - for instance, you might break down, cry, and share your deepest fears with a friend, but, while I advocate being honest with children, it could be very overwhelming for a child to be privy to such information, and such a strong show of emotions from a parent- the parent has an obligation to share in a way that won't be emotionally intrusive and overwhelming, or require a child to "take care" of the adult when it is beyond his ability to do so... Just some thoughts...

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    1. I'm inclined to agree that there are simply things that it would be inappropriate to share with a child or expect from a child, but acceptable to share and expect from an adult friend. There can be, and should be, significant overlap... but parents should be aware of the power, experience and development disparity.

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    2. I also agree with Lisa Sunbury. Very well put. You said everything that I was thinking when I read this post about being friends...I will add: I do have a very very good relationship with my daughter of 10 years old. Part of the reason is because I respect our different roles and cultivate a healthy mother/daughter relationship with her. She doesn't need another friend - she has plenty of other 4th graders to talk/play with at school and activities. What she needs is a strong role model, a loving listening ear, and encouraging uplifting reminders from the only woman alive who has known her from birth. That is a very special and important role I need to fill for her, in love. We ARE friends, but it's sooo much more than that. Best relationship ever~

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  4. good post! can you also post about how to become your child's friend?

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  5. LOVE this!! I try to think of my kids as people first, people I love and want to be around. I try to think of myself as a wiser more experienced friend who wants to help them along the way.

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  6. Ugh...my mother tried to be my friend. I didn't need a friend - I needed a mom. You can still be a mom and treat your children like people. From my personal experience - awful suggestion.

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  7. I like the post. I definitely want to have the type of relationship described with my daughter. Nonetheless I do agree with some of the comments made about being a more experienced friend that offers a guide and being conscious about not overwhelming a child with adult like issues beyond their comprehension...

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  8. This is great. I'm not sure if I like using the word "friend" so much as I would like to re-define "parent" to include even more love and joy. All I hope is that my kids feel how much I love them, and can one day share that love with someone else.

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  9. MA makes an excellent point and pivotal, I think, to the important distinction being made in the various comments above. There IS a big difference between approval seeking and friendship/ respect. It IS possible to follow all the tenets above in an age and personality appropriate fashion for each of your children while still providing "proper" guidance, support, strength and space. Being your child's friend doesn't mean you have to dress like a 10 year old or try to hang out with your child's friends excessively or share personal information with your child that they are unwilling or unable to handle. Unless you truly have the intellect and interests of a 10 year old, this would be inauthentic anyways... I would respectfully submit that approval seeking is just as manipulative as dictating. You are still trying to elicit a specific result rather than being authentically yourself and allowing others to do the same.

    It is simply a matter of being who YOU are and offering the same amount of respect and consideration to your child that you would to an adult friend/ colleague. Now, this is assuming, as adults, we KNOW how to BE this kind of friend to our adult friends. Many adults still do not have these skills. Honestly, I think what is being described above is somewhat in line with your post about parenting styles. The style being alluded to is a dictatorial/ authoritative style of parenting. It is being assumed that an alternative to this ....friendship .... is an approval seeking type of relationship (which I had growing up.) I don't think that either of these scenarios is indicative of an appropriate or healthy relationship between people of ANY age. We live in such an A or B culture. If it's not one way....it MUST be the "other." (exact polar opposite) As if there is ONE other way. I was always a hater of multiple choice. Preferring instead to choose my own option F,G,H-Z. It doesn't have to be one of 2 ways or one of 4 ways. The beauty of the qualities listed above Trust, Respect, Humility, Pride, Enjoyment, Friendship, Happiness, Concern, Personal Integrity, Self-Reflection (forgive me if I have missed any)is that if we live by them....we ca co-create each of our own individual situations WITH our children. Nobody HAS to do it any other person's way (works better if we don't try that)but if we have the skills and abilities listed above we can have a mutually respectful and satisfying relationship with our kids without trying to turn them into who we want them to be (which doesn't work BTW). Loooong...my posts are always long.... sorry :)

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    1. Thank you for this comment. It's hard to articulate the difference between "trying to be friends with your children", and the true genuine friendship that involved parents have with their children. You did a beautiful job at articulating that difference.

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  10. this is awesome - the kids and i love it :)

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  11. Thanks everyone for the comments! I am looking forward to getting deeper into this issue of friendship between parents and kids. I hope I can address most of the things that have come up here in a later post or two.

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  12. Love this!!! To end as friends, you must begin as friends. As with most things in life, a parent teaches a child about many different "hats"- being a partner/spouse, an employee, a "home engineer" (lol), a volunteer, etc. Why shouldn't a parent model that relationship which can be extremely crucial to a human being to their child!? I feel it is my responsibility to teach my kids about real and true friendship. What better way to do that than by being a good friend? Having experience in our relationship, their very first friendship, will set them up for better success in their future relationships. How do you recognize a friend if you've never had one? (I'm new to your blog BTW, via Jen/The Path Less Taken. LOVE!)

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  13. I can think of an actual problem - our culture doesn't allow or encourage kids (or adults to a somewhat lesser extent) to have close friendships with anyone not their own age. Because of this, many people don't know how to be friends with people of different ages, or even what that looks like.

    It's great to be friends with people close to your age who are experiencing similar things at similar times, but having older friends can be an invaluable resource for coping with life challenges. Older cousins, neighbors, teachers, cool babysitters, adults with common interest/hobbies, and parents can all provide a friendship that comes with insight into additional life experience and the potential to provide wisdom and advice that only comes with experience.

    Younger friends (particularly children) don't have as much life experience and may not be able to handle being asked for advice on deep emotional issues, but can provide a prospective into what's really important that is so often lost in the daily grind of adult life.

    There shouldn't be age limits on who you can be friends with (including your own children), but you should expect friendships with people of different ages to be different from friendships with age peers (and friendships between people of the same age to be different depending on what that age is).

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  14. Love this post and would welcome a similar one on my blog and yours about teachers/students being friends. I believe it is crucial and makes a huge positive difference. So many are afraid of teachers being students friends. I'd love to bash some of those fears.

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  15. @Leticia, Absolutely. If our kids don't learn about friendship from us, they will learn it from someone else. That seems risky! Thanks for the love.

    @Reboloke, You are right. That is a problem. Our society really does not support these kinds of friendships and that is very sad. At this point in my life, I have friends of all different ages. Why can't our kids have the same? Thanks so much for the comment.

    @Innovative Educator, I'll see if I can re-word it for you ;)

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  16. Thanks for such a lovely posting...

    The key to genuine friendship/nurturant parenting is self empathy.

    A healthy friend will hear what the other has to say and affirm how the other feels in ways that deepen the others understanding of themselves.

    Same applies to a parent.

    The authoritarian mode of relationship does not provide this crucial learning/nurturant experiential. The authoritarian parent does not enable the child to understand her or him self, but rather tries to mold the child to fit the parents preconceptions (which are mostly unexamined).

    Loss of self empathy leads to a lack of empathy for others, which leads to a sense of disconnection from that which nurtures, which leads to fear and a desire to control the other. It is a cycle, one that is repeated generation upon generation, and that becomes codified and built into the emergent structures of such a society over time.

    The correlation between the 'standard' parental mode and how Governments behave is very clear to me. The lack of genuine friendship between Government and people is all too obvious. And it is toxic.

    I have counselled parents who have been 'struggling' with their teenagers, by showing them how to re-build empathy through honesty and openness, through listening to their children without judging them. Once that empathy has been restored, at the very least, the child knows that he or she can speak freely to their parent.

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  17. The lack of support for empathic parenting and the centrality of the 'economy' in our Society speaks volumes.

    Google 'Poisonous Pedagogy' and read about how parents are instructed to condition their children to meet the needs of Society and the parent rather than meet the genuine natural needs of the child.

    Note too that so many in our culture have little recall of what it was like to be an infant, to be an explorer of a new world, and with that little empathy for the infant they are caring for. This is societally induced, it is a cyclical pattern, and needs to be understood and broken.

    Keep on posting. It's probably the most important work to do. Understanding and nurturing the Ecology of the child will lead to profound changes in our Society over time. Changes our descendants will be oh so grateful for.

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  18. @Cornelius, Thank you very much for the comments. I really appreciate the support. I think the world would be a better place if adults could better remember how they felt as children, and how they wished to be treated.

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  19. This article is brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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  20. @Christine, Thanks for the comment :)

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  21. My son (15) and I are close friends. We talk, we share nearly everything that life throws at us. I know what's going on in his life at any given moment, and he knows what's going on in mine. We support each other, help each other, and guide each other. I meet his friends, he meets mine. It's a shared working relationship, and a very close friendship.
    I'm ALSO his mom. I help him learn, I help him make decisions that are right for him, I provide for him, and I make sure he's safe from serious harm.
    It's absolutely and completely possible, and VERY rewarding, to have a close friendship with your child while still meeting your "obligations" as their parent. Jake and I prove that every single day.

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  22. @Cathy, That is beautiful. I aspire to have a similar relationship with each of my children. :)

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  23. Another great blog post, Vickie! I'm so glad to stumble across your blog! I wrote something a couple of years ago about being friends with your teen - another of those "taboos!" I haven't written a lot on that blog, but here's a link if you're interested.
    http://understanding-teens.blogspot.com/2009/11/relationships-with-your-teens.html

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    1. Hi! I merged a couple blogs and so this article is now here:
      http://suepatterson.blogspot.com/2009/11/relationship-with-your-teen.html
      Thanks! :)

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  24. I think that learning to be a good parent has helped me to become a better friend in general.

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  25. @Sue, Loved your post :)

    @Angela, Me too! I have really learned a lot about relationships in general, along the way here. Thanks for the comment.

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  26. I think the key isn't not being your childs' friend, but being their parent FIRST.

    I respect my adults friends ability to make their own decisions regarding their own welfare, because as adults if they make bad ones, that's their choice to make, for instance. If a five year old in my care wants to eat nothing but hot chips and tomato sauce for three months, on the other hand, it is my responsibility as a parent figure to NOT allow them to make that decision for themselves.

    I've known too many people who are so scared of their child not liking them that they make terrible decisions about their child's welfare; about available foods and sleep schedules and all sorts of things, because they're so scared of their child not 'liking' them.

    (Which is ridiculous, because children appreciate good parenting in the long term, even if they don't appreciate it right this second because they don't WANT to go to bed, mum.)

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  27. I'll be honest, I have not read all the comments yet. BUT that said, I want to acknowledge one comment I did read in particular. It had to do with age. Besides my husband, I also have another best friend. Funny thing is, she is old enough to be my mother. But she is not. She came into my life when my oldest child was a little, little girl. I am there for her, and she is there for me. But our age differnce would make people think we weren't "friends." It doesn't matter what age you re, you can always be friends with older and younger people. Thank you for the post!

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  28. @Minna, I think it's possible to be a parent AND a friend to your child, at exactly the same time. :)

    @Anon, Thanks for sharing your experience. I also have friends of all different ages, because age really doesn't matter when you make a connection with someone. It's a wonderful thing! How could it be bad to want and work on the same level of connection with our children? Glad you liked the post. :)

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  29. "Can you think of any actual problems with being your child's friend? I can't."

    I can! My wife came from a single-parent home where the mother was a 'friend' to her children and rarely a parent (meaning providing discipline, structure, responsibilities, etc). As a result, there was - and still is - a profound sense of cliquishness and immaturity to each of the 4 kids in her family.

    The clique mentality comes from their family 'hanging out' with each other instead of developing strong, long-lasting relationships with extended family or friends or groups outside of the home. They were each other's friends and had no use for outsiders.

    Each of the 4 kids have a fair amount of snobbishness to them as well. Just like any clique, they tell each other how great they are and anyone/anything outside of their circle that says different is dismissed. This was a big problem at first as they each grew up and got married. Suddenly their 'circle' expanded and new people (in-laws) were commenting and changing things. It caused quite a stir sometimes! Fortunately they are finally letting go of some of that clique-snob mentality.

    We've been married almost 6 years and my wife has made huge strides in becoming a strong, firm-standing woman. She used to couldn't handle even the slightest conflict, much less even discipline our daughter when needed. She left all the 'dirty work' to me. I finally got tired of being the bad guy and started forcing her to be a parent instead of a friend. Our daughter is noticeably better, and I don't feel like the mean ogre anymore.

    From what I've seen, being a 'friend' to your child does not give them the skills to have ACTUAL friends and relationships when they grow up. I mean, it is no different than a man who won't let go of his mother even after he is married. Why love your wife when you've already got a significant woman in your life already? Likewise, why have friends and relationships when you've already got one?

    Toss this silly 'friendship' crap out. I'm sorry, but this article is just one big piece of bad advice.

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    1. A man who feels he has the right to "force" his wife to do anything will probably not understand what it means to be a true friend to his children. Therefore, I'm not surprised you don't understand this post.

      One thing is for sure, if you are being a "mean ogre" or anything like it to your kids, then they WILL find people who seem like better friends to them than you are. Hope you are happy with the way that turns out.

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  30. I know this is an older post but I stumbled on it today. I have been thinking a lot along the same lines and I agree... mostly. A friend to me is someone who knows you better than almost anyone, the good and the bad and the in-between, and loves you for who you are and wants to spend time with you. This sounds like a good parent to me! I know my my mom never knew the real me because I was constantly judged for any thoughts I shared. So I didn't share them anymore. I want more for my relationship with my daughter than that. However I do struggle with the other side of it a bit, partly because my own upbringing is hard to get past sometimes (especially when I'm stressed), and partly because my 3 year old is starting to get the attitude to end all attitudes.

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  31. Parents can not be friends with their children. Children grow up to resent their parents for not being the adult. Children have brains that are developing, and this pedestal, as you put it, is supposed to be the example that they aspire to as a grown up. If you're coming down to their level, they can't grow up, and they become insufferable adults.

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  32. I think it's sad to see that so many people don't understand that being a friend to your child doesn't mean permissiveness and giving them everything their heart desires.

    It also doesn't mean acting as if you are your child's peer. For those saying that their mom tried being their friend - she probably wasn't doing what this article suggested. She probably was trying to act whatever age you were so you would think she was cool and hip or whatnot.

    And being someone's friend throughout their life...your friendship changes over time. So being a friend to a 5-yr old will be immensely different than being a friend to a 10-yr old or a 16-yr old.

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  33. I think it's sad to see that so many people don't understand that being a friend to your child doesn't mean permissiveness and giving them everything their heart desires.

    It also doesn't mean acting as if you are your child's peer. For those saying that their mom tried being their friend - she probably wasn't doing what this article suggested. She probably was trying to act whatever age you were so you would think she was cool and hip or whatnot.

    And being someone's friend throughout their life...your friendship changes over time. So being a friend to a 5-yr old will be immensely different than being a friend to a 10-yr old or a 16-yr old.

    Our society is so focused on this idea of "I'm the boss. Do as I say!" I find that sad and so one-sided.

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