SuPeRnOvA and SwEeTpAiN: Can I be friends with my kids? | SuPeRnOvA and SwEeTpAiN
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Can I be friends with my kids?

Before we get into the detail of the article, I really want to thank the team here for letting me post here with them.  It means a lot to be able to get something published in my Careers and Business Blog at great site like this.

I had strict parents and want a better relationship with my children. Is it really so bad if they see me as a friend?

I recently read an article in which you described a “friend-parent” and indicated that to be one is not appropriate when your children are young.

This has confused me. I don’t want my children to see me as anything other than their friend. I want them to feel loved and liked by me and for them to feel the same way about me.

I didn’t like my overly strict and unemotional parents (and still don’t). The thought that my children, even now when they are young would have similar feelings about me fills me with dread. If as parents, we are not their friends, what are we?

photo not mine
Tanya replies: The label of the “friend-parent” is one I use to describe a phenomenon I am noticing more and more in my clinical work, especially when it comes to younger children referred to me for a variety of intractable behavior problems.

Being a parent encompasses many aspects within the most complex and wonderful of all relationships, including being their protector, nurturer, comforter, manager, playmate, supporter, role model and authority figure. But when they are young I believe we should not think of them as our friend or us theirs.

Friend-parents of younger children get so caught up with being “liked” that they lose the ability to be authoritative because whenever they set a boundary and are met with their child’s rage or unhappy, they cave in.

It is not uncommon for me to hear parents exclaim anxiously that they are afraid that their children “don’t like them”. Indeed, when an angry, thwarted little person says “I hate you Mummy” or “Daddy you are not my friend”, the friend-parent will give in.
Let me be clear here — I am not talking about parents who really do do hateful things to their children. I see this phenomenon in the context of well-loved, often very privileged and indulged children who are simply railing against the very reasonable boundaries set down by their parents.

The friend-parent will let a child eat what they want, when and where they want. Bedtime happens when the child decides and if that happens to be in the parental bed, then dad will sleep in the spare room so as not to distress and potentially cause long-term emotional harm to the demanding child.

The friend-parent will feed a lazy child, capitulate in the face of a tantrum and effectively, creates a world where their offspring will only ever like them because they always do what they want.

Having practiced for more than 20 years, this is a recent phenomenon, but if my clinics (and letters to me at The Times) are anything to go by, a growing trend.

These parents are battle worn and broken, terrified that their child will be scarred for life because they tried (briefly) to set an appropriate boundary but were met with stubborn resistance, anger and tears.

Often, such parents not only struggle with their child “not liking” them, but also, like you, bring the baggage from their own relationships with their parents and try to manage it by overcompensating in the opposite direction.

The anxious friend-parent will also try to reason with their young child and negotiate how they enforce discipline. So sticker charts are abandoned because the little one got very upset if they got an X on their chart after they bit their sibling (of course — that’s the point).
Bedtime only happens after a prolonged set of demands are made and met by the youngest yet most powerful person in the home.

What happened to saying “no” and meaning it? Where did the good old-fashioned view that as parents our role was to help our children learn social skills, manners and a respect for trusted authority figures? Why have we become so afraid that our children won’t like us when we have to show them some tough love?

With the amount of media they consume, young children are very linguistically adept. This does not mean, however, that they have the cognitive ability or life experience to become collaborative partners in the way they are raised.
They may be able to discuss and negotiate effectively and also quickly learn to use the word “sorry” with tearful saucer eyes as a get-out-of- jail-free card, but that doesn’t mean we should fall for it and so lose our authority in the face of an important life lesson they need to learn.
Over-discussing only reinforces the behavior that we are trying to help our children change. The friend-parent makes empty and unrealistic threats and often the household ends up one of screaming, shouting tantrums — both from the children and the adults.

Calm, consistent discipline helps young children to grow into responsible and respectful people and, indeed, as they get older and more independent they do become our friends and we theirs because there is a healthy respect on all sides.

The opposite of being a friend to our young children is not to be their enemy, although there will be times when you may have to parent them in ways where they do see us as not being on their side.

However, if we become preoccupied with being only always “liked” by our little ones, we risk setting them up to struggle to make their own friends because they believe that everyone in their world should only ever do what they want on their terms and — as we all know — that isn’t how life works.

This post was contributed by the Welsh Website who is a regular poster both here on their own blog.  You can catch them on twitter, Facebook or even their very popular YouTube channel.

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