Can You Be Both?
One of the most annoying myths that run rampant in mainstream parent is this: “I’m not their friend, I’m their parent.”
As if that means something. I’m not their friend, I’m their boss. I’m not their friend, I’m their teacher. I’m not their friend, I’m their coach.
Here’s my take on this, and whilst I fully know it’s a wildly unpopular one – I believe in it with every fiber of my being.
I do not believe you can be an effective teacher, coach, boss, officer, parent – if you are not first, and foremost, a friend.
What does it mean to be a friend?
- Friends like you
Friends elect to spend time together, elect to be in each others lives. They make this choice because they are drawn to the other person and find value in connecting with them. If you give the feeling that you do not like someone – because you’re NOT THEIR FRIEND, You’re their parent – you are sending them into a feeling of disconnect from you. Perhaps fear, shame or embarrassment. Perhaps deep questions about their own worthiness of being loved, unconditionally. If you want to be a parent who is cooperated with, cared about and looked up to – you have to be their friend. You have to like your child and you have to make it clear to them that you like them and find joy in connecting with them.
- Friends are there for you
Friends will go out of their way to help you, do things for and with you and forgive your shortcomings. When you’ve had a tough day, when you were your worst self, when you messed up – a true friend sticks by you. A true friend sees the beauty and value in you even when you’re at your worst and doesn’t punish your for your human faults.
Sure, as a parent do you sometimes have to set limits and hold boundaries? Yes! Do you have to teach your children right from wrong? Sure! Do you have to allow them to feel their true, authentic emotions and learn from them – even frustration, disappointment and guilt? Yes! But, if you are not their friend – why would they ever elect to remain connected to you, after all of the dependency of early childhood is grown out? Why would they value your opinion and company if you’ve made your connection based in controlling and teaching?
If you don’t make your child know how much you like them, indeed how likable they are – that is the energy they absorb from you and it forms their self-perception in a way so deep and penetrating it can take a lifetime to overcome. The intrinsic feeling of not being valued, loved unconditionally, and even liked by our parents informs our self-concept as someone who isn’t worthy.
I am not suggesting that we can, or should, like our children all of the time. Probably none of us likes anyone all of the time. We can become irritated, annoyed, frustrated and enraged with some of the people we love the most.
I AM suggesting that we make it a rule to treat our children like friends – friends we adore, cherish and take a deep, passionate interest in. Sure, there are fall outs. Sure, there can be tensions. But ultimately, we like them. And we are there for them.
When we have to “parent” them, we’d be wise to do so as their friend. As someone who is firmly in their corner and likes them profoundly (not just loves them). Love can so easily be a cover-up for a host of behaviors that would never be accepted in a friendship – crossing boundaries that make the feelings of love blurry at best, but completely buried at worst. We’re left behaving in ways that don’t feel loving – either to us, or our children, all in the name of being a “parent”.
To be their “parent” doesn’t mean to punish.
To be their “parent” doesn’t mean to lecture.
To be their “parent” doesn’t mean to manipulate, guilt, control, hurt, spank, cajole, reward, bribe…
All of the lessons we want our children to learn, all of the growth we desperately yearn for in them – that they should be kind, wise, upstanding citizens, productive, responsible and giving people – all of these are learned better (and perhaps only learned) when the teacher (or parent, in this case) creates a strong report and connection with the child.
Whilst it may be impossible to always feel friendly towards our children – I’m proposing that friendship be our baseline, the breath and rhythm we come back to. A warm, fuzzy, kind feeling of friendship.
Rather than proudly saying: “I’m not their friend, I’m their parent!” as a means to justify all of the controlling we’re engaging in – how about we say, proudly,