“You can either be a friend or a parent to your child,” I often hear, “there is no way you can be both.” they pass a verdict.
You have to be a friend if you want to be a half-decent parent.
A parent has to be a friend+ because being only a good friend is not enough.
A friend here would mean being the person who they come to when they are in trouble or going through a difficult time. And of course, they continue to like you even when they don’t need you :).
Which is why things like grades in school, professional aspirations, how they will be there for me when I am older—all take a back-seat in my world of parenting. That some of these things are actually projections of the parents’ aspirations imposed on the child and others are plain unfair expectations—is a matter for another discussion. But I would argue, even for these aims, being friendly rather than parently would serve the purpose better.
Of course, neither do I want to take the place of their best friend, nor do I want to substitute their social circle. Not only is that the opposite of being a good parent, but that is also hardly something a good friend should do!
To be that specific friend, though—who the kid comes to and who will continue to like your company—while being a parent, is no mean task. They would have to know I am non-judgemental. Like really*. They would have to believe that I know what to do in a difficult situation. Which means they have to know me and how I have handled such tough spots. And I would have to be a person they like to hang with*. And all of this without losing my sense of self and without bending backwards.
This entails lots of non-heavy conversations. A two-liner here, a few-liners there—none of them intentionally revealing right now. But in the long term, I would like to believe, they are adding up to making me their friend+. Yes, getting to know my little human beings, is a welcome by-product.
So, of course, you have to discipline them and tell them about the ways of “society”. It is you who has to teach them about boundaries—others and theirs, and let them learn from their mistakes, be independent, and all that jazz. There is no getting away from leading by example on values like empathy, compassion, and just generally being a nice person. Taking responsibility and dealing with both good and bad consequences, that’s still a part of our job description as parents. If you have done all of that, you get a bonus responsibility—guiding them towards being aware of their feelings, emotions, reactions to situations. Oh, and paying bills. You get to do that too.
Loaded, right? Tell me about it!
But, who said we can’t build a friendly relationship along the way? This can be done without creating a power dynamic, right?** Some parts of our role can be converted towards our real goal. And guess what? Along the way I have sensed the “loaded”-ness of parenting lighten up a bit, making room for the really heavy times.
Anyway, the biggest one of them all, “discipline” covers so many activities that fill a day. The instructions are exhausting, even when you are the one giving them. “Wake up.” “Sleep.” “Eat.” “Not that, don’t eat that.”
I know I need a break from them. And I believe if we allow ourselves, the relationship offers enough opportunity to take that break. So, I would rather
– they learn ways of “society” by us mulling together about why we do what we do, rather than the finality of, “This is how it is done.”
– they discuss newspaper items with me to know my view about the world, power dynamics, boundaries, and so on.
– I tell them about my day. The boring ones and the challenging ones.
– I ask about them and their friends. They ask about my friends and me.
– we exchange things from the latest books we are reading or movies/shows we are watching.
– not make each moment of my parenting life a teaching opportunity. I could try to make it one of learning though.
And most of these things can be made age-appropriate. I remember a lesson in feminism I learnt from my daughter when she was all of three.
Isn’t this what friends do? Why keep the friend in our kid away from us? Are these not the little things that might want them to spend time with us, have fun with us, and of course come to us for help, if need be?
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*Attempts to speak like them makes them roll their eyes. It’s cute.
**I am not one, so I am not sure, but I reckon even submissive, permissive parents could gain some control back if their kids see them as their friends.