Why I Tell My Children I’m Not Their Friend

Stacey Freeman

By Stacey Freeman | Jan 28th, 2019

“It’s a girl!” the doctor delivering me told my mother.

“A girl? Are you sure?” she asked again with guarded delight.

“Yes! Why?” the doctor quipped. “Do you want to send her back?”

“No!” my mother said. “No!!”

Of course, she didn’t. I’d heard this story over and over again when I was growing up. My mother wanted a girl first because she wanted a best friend, someone with whom she could go shopping, out to lunch, and in her words, “pal around.” Who, after all, could be better for that role than a daughter?

A lot of other people.

That’s not to say daughters (or sons) aren’t the perfect company for a day of retail therapy, spa treatments, and vacations. They are, so long as the boundaries between parent and child aren’t blurred to the point of being nonexistent, boundaries that allow a parent to offer advice and guidance to a child, even an adult one, that the child will look to with respect, even if he or she chooses not to follow it.

When we don’t carefully demarcate the lines and enforce them, confusion can arise concerning the position both mother and child play in the family dynamic, the effects of which can last a lifetime. Jay Belsky, Phd., in an article for Psychology Today writes: “A parent who desires to be a friend to their child is going to have a much harder time holding a child accountable, while simultaneously and inadvertently making it more difficult for the child to behave in a cooperative, responsible and respectful manner.”

Single parents, by the very fact they don’t have a partner to lean on and confide in, may, in particular, find themselves looking to a child to fulfill their emotional needs. It may not be conscious either, making it even more critical that single parents become aware they are engaging in behaviors that can affect their and their children’s personal growth. Parents who are married may likewise exhibit such practices if they are lonely in the relationship they share with their spouse.

When we don’t carefully demarcate the lines and enforce them, confusion can arise concerning the position both mother and child play in the family dynamic, the effects of which can last a lifetime.

Although my parents were married only two days shy of a year when I was born, and my mother didn’t officially become a single parent until after my father died three months following my 13th birthday, a bad marriage had already set the stage for the friend-like parental relationship I shared with her. With the passing of every year since my father’s death, my decision-making authority and responsibility for tasks in our household typically left to an adult increased. So, too, did my stress level. And over time, a burgeoning desire to create a different, less exacting, parent-child relationship with my future children in which we are friendly but not friends.

That’s because children, although they may say the opposite, crave security and guidance. They want to feel protected and know you will meet their emotional needs. For this to happen, you need to create the proper environment first, which includes letting your child know what you expect of them. Even if your child shares with you, you don’t need to match them by sharing intimate details from your life. Instead, listen. Impart advice. Then ask your child to repeat it to make sure he or she understands what you have said. Check back often. If you get resistance or find they are breaking the rules you have set, repeat what the rules are. Enforce them when necessary and do it with consistency.

It’s why last night after a fun dinner out with my three teenage children, during which we laughed and quizzed each other about movie trivia, I was able to come home and, without hesitation, direct them to wash the laundry that had been accumulating all week and fold what was already clean. If they didn’t, I made clear there would be consequences. And you, as well as they, can bet there will be. Right now we are an HBO-less household because of the current living conditions in one of my daughters’ rooms and will remain so until further notice, or until the next season of “Game of Thrones” begins when I predict she will do what I expect of her to get it back.

Yes, it’s much easier to be friends with your children. And they won’t always like it when you are not acting the part. But the truest of friends look out for the best interests of the ones they care about and love. What you, and they, realize eventually is that by not being your child’s friend, you, in actuality, have become the best friend they never knew they had. And those are the kind of friendships that last a lifetime.

Stacey Freeman

Stacey Freeman

Stacey Freeman is a New York City-based writer, lifestyle editor at Worthy.com, and the founder and managing director of Write On Track.


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