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Parent or friend; can you be both?

Posted on 01 August 2018

Can parents really be friends with their children? Or is it better to be the ‘best’ mother or father you can, and leave being their ‘best’ friend to their actual friends?

We’re not going to pretend there’s an easy answer; unfortunately there isn’t a definitive yes or no in any parenting bible. But, don’t fear, we’ve picked out some phrases that you may be familiar with, from your children, offering tips and advice to help you deal with it in a way that works for you. 

“You’re so embarrassing”

You’ve probably heard this many times; go on, admit it, part of you wants to snigger.

You like to think you’re showing you’re ‘down with the kids’ but instead of impressing them, they cringe with embarrassment. Or you go too far the other way and try to be overly affectionate towards them in front of their friends, making them go bright red. Sometimes there is just no winning as a parent.

It may help to remember that you were young once, and possibly felt the same about your own parents. With all the pressures on children these days, it’s no wonder they’re so conscious of how others see them.

So perhaps turning up in a bright pink jacket to your son’s first nativity play or blowing kisses at your daughter through the school gate isn’t quite the best approach.

“Too much information!”

Taking on the role of a ‘friend’ to your child can risk you entering the TMI territory. Sharing too much and involving your child in adult conversations can blur the parent/friend boundaries.

Sure, we’ve all got the best intentions as parents, we want to be as open and honest with our children as possible, but often, showing or sharing too many ‘grown-up’ feelings isn’t necessarily appropriate.

It’s also not always helpful to allow children to take on the same views of you. For example, if you share a negative experience you’ve had, with your child, it may deter them from trying something out in the future that may be a positive experience for them. They may latch on to your ideas and repeat them, instead of making their own mind up.

We’re all human, and as a parent you should express emotions, but it’s about being careful about the types of feelings and opinions you are sharing, especially with younger children.

Empowering Parents provides a good example of how it can be easy to make your child a confidante. They complain to you about being told off by a teacher. You too think that the rule is stupid and are tempted to agree with them, but this is ineffective and encourages them to disrespect authority figures. Instead, you may choose to take the functional parent approach and react with “I really disliked that rule when I was in school too, but I had to follow the rules”.

“But you normally let me do that!”

When the parent and friend boundaries are blurred it can sometimes result in them questioning your decisions.

As a parent, you naturally have your children’s best interests at heart and sometimes that means making decisions that they don’t agree with. When you’re making these decisions it’s helpful if both parents are on board, as playing the good cop/bad cop routine is never fun.

Some parents seek to be a ‘cool mum/dad’. But when a child calls you cool, what they really mean is, no rules, they watch TV till midnight or not ask permission to stay out late. So is being a ‘cool parent’, really that cool when they’re grumpy the next day because you let them stay up way past their bed time?

On the other hand, parents can be in danger of becoming too controlling. When you control, children tend to rebel and then you’re asking for trouble! Control also gives the impression that you lack respect, and the best way to teach them to respect others is to offer respect.

Getting the right balance between being the parent and their friend isn’t an easy one. When it comes down to it, there really is no right or wrong approach. Instead, it’s all about getting that balance and what works best for you and your child.