Why You Can’t Be Your Child’s Friend

 

Here’s the truth: if being your kids’ friend was enough to raise them  successfully, we would all probably parent that way. But our job is way more  complicated than that. Children and teens really crave boundaries, limits and  structure. At the same time, they also need some healthy separation from us as  they go through adolescence and develop into adults. Our role as parents is  really to teach, coach and give our kids consequences when they misbehave. If  you slip into that friend role, however, it’s virtually impossible to lay down  the law and set limits on your child’s inappropriate behavior.

When  you treat your child like a friend, you’re telling her that she is your peer,  and that her power is equal to yours.

 

I’ve noticed that a lot of parents are trying to be their kids’ friends these  days—many give in to their kids’ demands, perhaps because they want to be the “cool” parent. Sometimes it’s because the parents are simply exhausted from  working so hard, managing the household and trying to raise their kids as best  they can. Being a friend is much easier and more comfortable than being a  parent, after all—at least at first. But understand that if it continues, it  creates severe problems down the road, because it becomes very confusing for  them. It creates poor boundaries and makes it hard for your child to relate  appropriately to other adults.

Related:  Does your child think he’s in control of your house?

Sometimes being your kids’ friend lends itself to having a “confidante” relationship, where you treat them more like a peer, rather than a child. As a  result, their respect for you (and other adults) can diminish. You’re not in  charge anymore, and they may feel like they’re responsible for your emotions in  some way. But this isn’t fair to kids—they are not meant to play that role with  us. As they grow up, they really need to learn what their place is in the world,  and we need to give them time to grow into each phase. Treating them like a peer  doesn’t allow them to just be kids in the long run. If you suspect you might be  doing this, you really need to look at what’s happening and try to change the  dynamic. (More about this next.)

“TMI, Mom and Dad!”

When you take on that “friend” role with your kids, you can get  into the habit of oversharing information, which can include talking about adult  difficulties or complex problems. This is dangerous because it really gives your  child the message that you are vulnerable and need them to be strong  for you. Of course it’s okay to have problems, but sharing them with our kids  isn’t fair because our issues are too difficult for them to handle. Instead, we  need to be able to help our kids with their problems, and to give them  the message that we’re here for them as responsible adults. Rather than  thinking, “What can my child do for me in my time of distress?”, we as parents  need to think about what we can do for our kids when they’re going through tough  times. And as adults, we need to learn to get our needs met differently—by  talking to other adults.

Understand that you run the risk of losing your child’s respect if you’re  sharing your weaknesses or looking as if you can’t handle your problems. Your  child needs you to listen to him, be a sounding board, a teacher and coach. I  understand this firsthand, because my mother overshared with me. She was worried  about losing my father’s affections, and confided all her fears about their  relationship to me. From a young age, I knew she was emotionally fragile. I  quickly became a “Parentified” kid—meaning that as a child, I was the one taking  care of her, and not the other way around.

The truth is, kids should not know what parents struggle with in their  relationships. Sometimes, your child might overhear you arguing, and if that  happens, you can later say, “I’m sorry you had to hear that; that wasn’t for  you. Dad and I will make sure that doesn’t happen again.” If you’re going  through financial difficulties, your kids will most likely be aware of it, and  that’s okay. You might say to them, “We don’t want you to be burdened with this.  We’re working hard to do what’s best for our family.”

Related:  How to stop the power struggle with your child and take back your parental  authority.

How to stop oversharing: If you’ve been oversharing with  your child, come clean and be honest. You might say, “I shouldn’t have shared  those things with you; I’ve put too much on you. I’m not going to do that  anymore.” By setting those limits, you’ll begin to change the relationship. Your  child may not like it at first—they may even fight you on it for a while, in  fact—but ultimately, it’s the best thing for them. Look at it this way: they  don’t really want to take on your vulnerabilities. They’re not mature enough to  handle that kind of information. It’s difficult for them to handle their own  emotions, much less their parents’. In the long run, they’re going to appreciate  what you’ve said.

You will also need to respond differently to your child and not simply demand  that he communicates differently. For example, if you and your child have been  talking for years about how annoying a relative is, it won’t be effective to  simply say, “Don’t call Aunt Jane a jerk anymore.” Instead, try saying: “I don’t  think it helps to call Aunt Jane names. Let’s figure out how you can get along  with her more successfully.” That way, you’re helping him solve the problem he’s  having with his aunt—and you’re not complaining to him about issues you  yourself might have with her.

Who’s the Parent?

When you treat your child like a friend, you’re telling her that she is your  peer, and that her power is equal to yours. This will block your ability to be  responsible and accountable with your child, because you won’t be able to  effectively set limits and give consequences when she misbehaves. After all,  what would you say to your best friend if they told you they were  giving you a consequence for being late or for doing housework? You’d probably  laugh in his or her face! We do not expect our friends to be our coaches or  to set limits for us. That’s not a traditional friendship role—but it is part of your role as a parent. The bottom line is that if you act  like your child’s friend, she won’t take your authority seriously. And if you  are so close with your child that she becomes your confidante, it will be easier  to let her off the hook for things—the same way we let our friends off the hook  sometimes.

Lines of division: It’s also important to realize that if  you tell your child about your problems, this can have a harmful effect on your  relationship with your mate—and on your child’s relationship with the other  parent, as well. When you go to your child with your problems rather than to  your partner, you lose that connection with him or her. It also makes it harder  for your kids to have a close relationship with the other parent, because at  some point it forces them to pick a side. It’s not fair to make them feel like  they have to choose one parent or the other.

The importance of separation and individuation: As your kids  go through the developmental stage of adolescence, they need to be able to “individuate” and separate from you as a parent. If you’re bonded too closely,  it may be very difficult for them to get the separation necessary in order to  grow. Kids who aren’t able to do this often rebel in their adult years—or they  go the other direction and never leave home or function on their own. As  painful as it is for us sometimes, it’s imperative that at some point our kids  push us away a bit so they can mature and develop their own sense of self. As  parents, we really have to accept that our kids are growing into separate  individuals. That’s a good thing, because that’s how they learn to function in  the world. And if you and your child have more of a friendship than a  parent-child relationship, they may have a hard time doing this.

As parents, we also need some breaks from our kids. Our goal is to raise them  to be their own people. If you need someone to talk to, reach out to friends and  family, a support group or maybe even the school system. But make those  connections and do what you can to find like-minded peers to confide in instead  of your child.

Related:  How to stop feeling anxious about your child and learn to parent  calmly.

So does that mean I shouldn’t hang out with my kids?

Of course you want to spend time with your child and have fun together—and  you should! You can (and should) still do friendly activities with them. In  fact, it’s very important to have those moments. I’m not suggesting you cut your  kids off and say, “We’re not going to be friendly with each other anymore.” The  problem arises when you start relating to your child as if you are one of their  friends, and not their parent who has their best interests at heart, but who  also has authority over them.

Friendships are generally comfortable and easy. It would be great if  parenting was like that, too—but it really isn’t. Our true role as a parent is  as an educator, guide, supporter, limit setter and coach. This is how we’ll  teach our kids to be successful, responsible, and accountable adults

 

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