I often hear: “My child is my best friend” in reference to underage offspring. As a parent and former teacher, I confess it makes me cringe. Parenting and friendship are different things; parenting requires you to make unpopular decisions, establish and enforce rules. Friendship does not.
I have been friends with my bestie for 42 years, we are a year apart in age and to say we have not done some stupid things together would be a lie. We both have children, hers nearly 40 and mine in their 20s. We have many things in common. This, however, is not the case with our children — at least not until they become adults and perhaps parents themselves. I share things with my friend that I would never share with my children because she has the foundation to understand adult problems.
By treating your child as a peer (friend), the parenting lines become blurred. Who sets the boundaries? Who establishes the consequences, ensures expectations are met? Who is responsible and accountable? You could very well lose the respect of your child by treating them as a friend because you are telling them that you are not adult enough to handle your own problems and need their help to do so.
Let’s recognize that few children have the emotional maturity and decision-making ability to offer advice on adult issues. Nor do they have the life experience to assist adults with complicated adult problems. Your love life, personal finance issues, and complaints about work are far above a child’s ability to comprehend.
Children need to be children, their job is to learn, discover, and develop into adult. Burdening children with adult problems because they are “your best friend” is not only unfair but potentially damaging. It implies to your child that “you need to be strong and support me” instead of being the parent and supporting them. A child needs to interact with those their own age and as a parent you need to interact with people who are adults. Let’s face it — adulting is difficult. The last thing I personally would want to do is create a situation where my children felt they had to help me with my problems.
Children not only need boundaries, but crave them. As parents it is our responsibility is to establish the boundaries and make sure they are adhered to. If you treat your child as a peer, call them your best friend, you are telling them their power is equal to yours. How do you tell your peer or equal that they cannot do something they really want to do when you both have the same level of authority? Parents sometimes have to say no, while friends don’t.
Who is accountable for the bad decisions if you are equal? A parent provides guidance, teaches the child to navigate the world, holds them responsible for poor choices, keep them safe, and supports them as they learn about the world around them and navigate this thing called childhood. I still remember a speaker I heard decades ago who said the word “parent” needed to have a “Y” — it should be spelled PAYRENT because the ones who pay the rent must be the ones who write the rules. The point of his entire presentation was that parents must be parents and allow their children to be children.
Does this mean you cannot be a fun parent? Absolutely not! Provided children understand that adults are adults. Children need to know that parents can be fun, they can be silly, but they are still adults and they keep children safe. As the parent, I have to live in the grown-up world and honestly at times I would rather live in a child’s world because it is more fun. I remember the day my daughter, then about age 4, told me “You aren’t my best friend anymore” because she was mad at me for saying no. This opened the door for me to have a talk with her about how much I loved her, but that I wanted her to have friends her own age, just like I had friends my age. I have very strong and loving relationships with both my 20-something daughters, and though we are closer to being friends now, there are still things I will not discuss with them because they are my children.
Pendleton home economist Virginia Justice and her husband have two college-aged daughters.