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Be Your Child’s Parent, Not Their BFF

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Saturday, May 27th, 2017
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Family eating together

We see it all over social media, at the mall, and around town.  Moms and daughters arm-in-arm, shopping, gossiping, lunching … just like BFFs. The male counterpart can be just as alluring: the “cool” Dad, always the hit of the party, the lenient Dad who can be counted on to bend the rules.


Here are 3 reasons why:

1.    It’s not in the job description.

2.    Friendship is egalitarian. Parenting is not.

3.    It’s harmful for your children.

Allow me to explain.

Being your child’s BFF is not in the “Parent” job description.

Here are the essential responsibilities of parenting:

·      Give unconditional love

·      Provide a safe emotional and physical environment

·      Teach family values and basic morals

·      Make and enforce family rules

·      Set limits

·      Mentor

·      Champion

·      Deliver loving criticism, provide reality-testing, mete out consequences

When you do it (mostly) right, your kids will come to trust that you have their back as no friend can. And that gives them a better-than-decent chance of arriving at young adulthood confident in their ability to pursue relationships, a career and fulfill their other aspirations.

Kids will have the opportunity to have many friends over their lifetime. But they only have one Mom and one Dad. Don’t abandon your role – or them.

Friendship is egalitarian. Parenting is not.

Your children’s friends are their equals. They’re supportive of one another’s wildest ideas, even those not in line with family values and rules. Friends are permissive…buddy-buddy…partners in childhood crime.

The urge to befriend one’s children is basically moot with young offspring, who are totally dependent on and often in awe of their parents. It’s as if toddlers implicitly understand the power differential that needs to exist between parent and child: “If you’re changing my diaper, you’re totally the boss of me.”

But when our children start to differentiate and become more autonomous, that sense of who’s the boss of whom – which generally doesn’t exist between friends – can become a harder line to toe.

The biggest danger of abandoning your parental responsibilities – of loosening them, even – is that if you do, you’ll have a harder time enforcing rules and standards. Parenting operates like trust. Once you lose it, it’s hard to get back. Don’t run that risk.

It’s harmful for children.

Clearly, being a parent is significantly harder and more complex than being a friend. You have to give kids bad news and set limits – again and again. You must provide constructive feedback on their actions – and enforce consequences. Actions like these may not position you for “Parent of the Year” in your children’s eyes.

There are a number of reasons a parent might gravitate toward shifting the balance of power with their kids, including:

·      Wanting to be seen as ‘cool’ or the good guy

·      Not wanting kids to be angry or disappointed in parent for any reason

·      Confusing over-sharing and talking about others as closeness or intimacy

·      Treating your teen as a confidante to fill social or emotional voids

Such betrayals of the parental role stymie their emotional development.

In the animal kingdom, homo sapiens are the only mammals that maintain a long attachment between parent and offspring. That means that if parents don’t do the job until our kids have the skills and tools to essentially become their own parent, the job doesn’t get done.

Starkly put, if you abdicate your role as parent in favor of befriending your children, you leave your kids in the position of parenting themselves – a job they simply are not capable of performing.

Parenting is such an important job. And when it comes to our children, we’re “it.” They have no other Mom and Dad. We may make lots of mistakes along the parenting journey, but this is one to avoid.

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