I was sitting recently with a client and her mother. My client, a 10-year-old girl, was explaining to me that her mother was her friend, in fact, her very best friend. She stated this as if it was a positive thing, but all I could think was this was the root of most of their difficulties.
Consider this – the foundation of the majority of friendships is equality. Both people have equal say in what they do and how they do it. This does not translate well in the parent-child relationship. How can you be your child’s friend and their parent at the same time? Simple answer, you can’t. Friends are often supportive of one another no matter what – a parent cannot do this. A parent needs to praise positive behaviors while offering consequences (punishment, discipline, whatever) for negative behaviors. A parent helps a child to problem solve difficult situations even if the potential solutions are uncomfortable or, at times, painful.
Here are some warning signs you are becoming too much a friend and not enough of a parent to your child:
1. No Routines or Limits
For many parents, life can get too hectic to follow through on their parenting plans, especially if it will take some work to get the kids on board. After a while, their family’s lack of routine can result in lazy, spoiled teens or tweens without schedules and responsibilities.
2. Avoiding conflict
Many parents find it easier to give in to their tween or teen’s demands than get into yet another argument, so they become more lenient than they’d like. This may be particularly true for parents who didn’t like the strict way that they were raised, so they relax the rules.
3. Making school (or other activity) an excuse
Savvy teens who want to shirk their responsibilities at home often use schoolwork (or sport’s practice or music lessons) as an excuse, because parents are usually pushovers for anything supposedly related to academics.
4. Being overly concerned with your child “liking” you
Some overly permissive parents are more concerned with their teenagers liking them than being effective authority figures.
5. Rewarding kids with technology
Tweens are getting smartphones at younger and younger ages, often because they wear down their parents by begging for the devices. But giving in isn’t good for your child, even if you justify that she can call you if she unexpectedly needs a ride home. (I am guilty of this one!)
Parenting is a tricky balance sometimes. You want to feel connected to your child and for them to trust you to be able to come to you with questions and concerns. You want them to respect you as an authority figure to be treated with respect at the same time. This is the tightrope. It can be a struggle to figure out how to be open enough so they will want to talk with you, but still maintaining their respect for your position as parent. You can be a friend to your child, but first and foremost, you need to be their parent. Your child needs the comfort of knowing you are there if things ever go sideways and they can count on you to pull them back if they are out of line. Clear expectations and boundaries are comforting even when they chafe against their burgeoning independence. If anyone has this sorted out, please let me know – it definitely would make things easier at our house!