Should Children And Parents Be Friends? (My answer might surprise you.)

 

Imagine this. Your 14-year-old daughter is standing next to you, wiping up the dishes you’ve washed. You are discussing the general hum drum of life.

Out of the blue, she asks, “Am I your friend?”

Wow.

“Am I your friend?”

What would you say?

I stood there, stunned. Once again, my daughter was providing me with a learning opportunity.

Was she my friend?

What if I said “No”?

If I don’t think of my daughter as a friend, then what is she to me? My enemy? My ‘unequal’, someone lesser than me? Someone I don’t accept or trust enough to be my friend?

I was struck by the contrast of her simple question: “Am I your friend?” to “Are you my friend?” Similar words, but fields apart in meaning.

My head buzzed with parenting authors advising readers not to befriend their children. After all, they say, how can you discipline your child if you’re their friend?

Then I noticed that just about everything I read on parents and children being friends is centred on the parent. Author after author, expert after expert, indicate that if a parent wants to be their child’s friend, it would be to meet the parent’s needs, and asks for too much from their child. That the trouble with being a child’s friend is that the parent is searching for a mentor, a counsellor, a confessor. Inevitably, an author will conclude that the role of being a parent to your child cannot sit with being a friend to your child.

But.

What about a child’s need to be accepted as a friend to their parent? What might it mean to a child if their parent declines their offer of friendship? Or their parent does not offer their friendship to their child?

My daughter’s question completely turned the conversation around. She gave a voice to the silent party in the parent-child friendship debate. The child.

What if I believed that parents and children could not be friends? What would my answer mean to her, to her developing sense of self and self-concept?

The Macquarie Dictionary (Australian), defines friend as ‘One attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard’.

Well - that describes how I feel about my children – and have felt, since they day were born. Perhaps, it might also describe how my children feel about me, and hence my daughter’s question.

“Am I your friend?”

Does being a parent mean not respecting a child as you would a friend?

Does being a child mean not being deserving of the regard a parent would have for a friend?

How my role as ‘parent’ guided my answer

I might be the parent, but I am not The Boss. I don’t see my job as exerting control over my children or being a ‘disciplinarian’. I do not enforce external rules, boundaries, or limits on them. Doing so will invoke fear . . . of me. On the other hand, neither am I permissive, ready to be walked over by my children, ‘giving in’ to their whims. Instead, I walk the middle road, between authoritarian and laissez-faire.

My responsibility, as I see it, is to create a relationship of warmth and mutual respect; to guide my children, to keep them from harm, to trust them, to encourage them in their endeavours, to act as a consultant, to be authentic. My role is to love my children, unconditionally.

I am a fallible human being that makes mistakes. I learn as much from my children as they learn from me. I have experience and knowledge that they do not have. They are still developing their skills, their values.

I try simply to live and model the values and behaviour that I’d like to see in my children. I aim to be respectful in my communication with my children, to build a relationship of warmth and trust. At the same time, I recognise that I am a person with her own needs, who expects respect (built on regard rather than fear) from my children.

I am acutely aware that as children become teenagers they will seek out, and confide in, those with whom they have the closest relationship – their parents, their friends. If we rely on fear to assert authority, then we undermine the foundations of a trusting, loving, life-long relationship with our children. Our children will turn from us to their peers for guidance.

As parents, my partner and I take on adult responsibilities - our children are not responsible for what we must provide as parents. We pay the bills. We work. We drive. We make decisions, we organise. We openly reflect on what we believe is important in the world.

However.

In our household, we endeavour to be as inclusive with our children as possible. This means involving them in decisions that impact on their lives, as well as ours.

If we can’t decide what to have for dinner, we ask the children. If we are looking to go on holidays, we include the children.

Parents worry that if their child is their friend, then they are asking a child to take on an adult’s problem. Yet, if my adult friend shared the difficulties she is suffering, I do not ‘take on’ her problem. I listen, I empathise, I acknowledge, I might offer ideas. But I do not wear her problem, nor do I solve her issue. That is not my life - it is her life. I am simply there to be consulted, to be trusted.

“But”, you might say, “do children need to know about adult problems?”

In the past few years, our family (immediate and extended) has suffered death, cancer, dementia, mental health, employment and financial difficulties. Loss and grief.

Each of these issues impact on our children, effecting their daily lives, their future lives. We share with our children, in age-appropriate ways, whatever may be happening. In my view, this is treating our children with the same respect I would treat a friend, and it is no less than they deserve as human beings.

My answer

“Am I your friend?” my daughter asks, again.

I turn to her.

“Yes! I am honoured to be your friend.”

First published by Larissa Dann 7 May 2020.

© Larissa Dann 2020

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