Why Can’t We Be Friends?

In many parenting books and articles, I’ve come across the statement “you are not your child’s friend.” It always makes me wonder what the author’s definition of “friend” is. Because I do consider—and have almost from the moment they were born—my children as my friends. Why? Here is how I define friendship:

A friend is someone who I know and who knows me

A friend is someone I’ve experienced events or activities with

A friend is someone I can have fun with

A friend is someone I have common interests with

A friend is someone who I help and who helps me

A friend is someone I can share joys and sorrows with

A friend is someone I can trust

Here are some of the definitions of “friend” in the dictionary:

  1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
  2. a person who gives assistance; supporter
  3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile:
  4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.

So why would some parenting experts advise against friendship? I assume it is because some friendships are unhealthy; and because friends often play a role (such as a confidant) that would be inappropriate in a parent-child relationship.

Examples of unhealthy “friendships” include:

  • “Friendships” in which the fear of losing affection overrides concern for the safety or well-being of the other person or for yourself.
  • Inappropriately exclusive and/or controlling “friendships.”
  • “Friendships” where the needs of one person dominate, to the detriment of the other person.

These “Friendships” are familiar; most of us have been involved in one or more of them, particularly as we were growing up and experimenting with how to be in a relationship with another person. These mistakes helped us learn what not to do as a friend. Sometimes relationships survived these mistakes and became healthy friendships, other times we were able to form healthy friendships with new people.

What helped us to learn what to do as a friend? It’s not enough to learn what not to do. Parents who have healthy friendships with other adults provide a model for their children. I believe that having a healthy friendship with your child also helps him or her to learn about friendship.

So what is a healthy parent-child friendship?

  1. There are appropriate boundaries—the parent is still the parent and provides protection and guidance.
  2. The child is allowed to be a child, not forced into an adult role.
  3. The parent has adult friends and healthy relationships with them.
  4. The parent encourages and facilitates the child’s contact with and friendship with other children (and with other adults when appropriate).

My friendship with my children evolved as they grew into adults. There are still boundaries I’ve set, and additional boundaries they have set. I still have the urge to provide protection and guidance to them— they usually tolerate this, sometimes gently reprimand me about it, and occasionally request it.  Our friendship will evolve still further as I age. I have good memories of times of fun and friendship with my own parents before their deaths. I hope one day my children will have similar memories of our friendship.

Originally published 3/3/15 on Parenting Success Network

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