Are you too friendly with your child?

Updated: Apr 28

When our children are small our role as parents is a combination of functional and emotional input, we feed them, change them, bath them and generally do all the things they can’t do for themselves but we also love them, protect them, build up their self esteem and encourage them to be the very best person they can. As they get older our role begins to change as they learn to feed and dress themselves and the emotional side of parenting becomes more powerful. It is an essential part of their growing into responsible and mature adults that they feel loved and protected but that they also have boundaries set so they learn about consequences. At different stages in their lives they will rely on you more for functional support and at other times more emotional support and at each stage you need to remember that you are the parent and it is your job to guide them, make boundaries and not be their friend.

When our children reach different stages, they can start to push against authority and limits, they start to resist rules. It is important that we stick to those limits and help them learn what is safe and appropriate and what is not. Remember when they were small and you would provide fruit instead of sweets because it was safer and better for them, they soon learnt that there was no point in arguing about it because there was no choice.

Time and again I hear parents saying we want to be our children’s friend; we like it when they have all their friends’ round, and we join in or my daughter is my BFF. No! Stop! You are way to emotionally involved with your child and you need to learn that in order for them to become independent adults, able to make their own decisions and know what is best for them they have to make mistakes. You cannot set limits, have them push those limits and then you remove them simply because your child shouts ‘I hate you’! Setting boundaries is a healthy function, and you need to do it for your child’s sake. Boundaries are how children learn to figure out what is safe, what is appropriate and what is not.

If you try to be your child’s friend it undermines your role as a parent and undermines any authority you have. Think about the relationship you have with your friends, you may offer them advice but you wouldn’t dream of saying "No" to them over something they wanted to do, you would respect their decision because they too are an adult and have learnt what is acceptable and what isn’t, your child has yet to do so and needs guidance.

Children probably have lots of friends, but they only have one Mum or Dad. You are their parents, and it needs to be that way until they are fully grown adults leading their own lives. It is hard sometimes to not use your child as your sounding board and in some cases it is fine but in a lot of cases it is not. If you moan about your partner, neighbour, or agree with them that their teacher is useless (even if you quietly agree with them!) it’s showing them that it’s okay to be disrespectful about other people. Much better to say nothing or simply say “I had to follow the rules when I was at school, it is just how it is”. Confiding in your child as you would another adult is ineffective; your child does not understand what to do with the information and is emotionally and intellectually unable to support you in your concerns. Much better to confide any concerns or worries you have with someone of your own age than your 13-year-old son or daughter.

Think about it, if you disrespect adults in front of your child, they are going to think that this is acceptable behaviour and copy you and in doing so will eventually think it is okay to disrespect you because you are also an adult and supposedly their friend.

Certain decisions and conversations are for you as a parent only. Children can offer you their opinion. They can tell you what they like and dislike. But certain decisions—especially important ones—must be made by you, the parent. So if you are choosing a school for them, or moving house they are entitled to an opinion but because you are aware of the bigger picture, such as finances, or other influences the ultimate decision has to be yours. At the end of the day, children need to understand that the family acts as a unit, and the adults are responsible for the decisions. Explaining that you cannot afford something is fine but saying that you cannot pay your bills could make your child anxious and worried about something that they cannot control. They need to learn the value of money and that things are not handed to them on a plate and that you have to work for things but confiding in them that you can’t meet your mortgage payments is not necessary.

If you think about the friends you have, you generally have the same values, ideas and thoughts on life and have got things in common. For your child to grow into a rounded adult they need to be able to develop their own ideas and values, yes of course some of them will be influenced by the way you have bought them up but they are unlikely to all be the same as they will have other influences like their own friends, teachers at school, stage of life etc. They have different priorities to you and are still trying to understand what is right and wrong for them. Trying to be their friend and their parent can cause unnecessary conflict and angst.

Much of the way we parent our own children is influenced by our own upbringing and how are parents were with us. It may have been that your parents were particularly strict and unapproachable and you want something different for your children, but being approachable and having rules doesn’t mean you have to befriend your children it simply means that you pick you battles, you have rules they must follow and you have consequences if they don’t. Teaching our children to understand the word no is important and if they do not know how to deal with it this can cause problems for you and them as they get older.

As your child grows and begins to become an individual and not just an extension of you and the family, they will begin to form their own thoughts and ideas about the person they want to be. Listen to them, discuss with them your concerns or thoughts, and allow them to express theirs but if something is not right then explained why. They may not want to share every aspect of their daily life with you and that’s okay, but the important things like where they are, who they are with and are they safe are all the things that they have to tell you. In this day and age of modern technology keeping in touch with each other is easy so a simple text to let you know things is not hard for them, set rules that suit you and your family, everyone is different, but whatever your expectations are make sure if they don’t follow the rules that they have a consequence. You may not like some of their friends, you might not like that they are out and not doing homework, but find a balance that works for you and don’t try to befriend them so that you are not in a position to be emotionally blackmailed by them.

It’s never to late to become the parent, if your child is older, sit them down and explain what is now going to happen and why, say something like “I’ve decided that there are some things I should be talking to other adults about. So, I’m not going to talk to you about them anymore because I think it hurts our relationship.” You do not have to be specific about the subject matter. Just be clear.

For example, it is normal for friends to sit around and bad-mouth their teachers. It is what they do. But a responsible parent will help their child solve the problem he is having with the teacher. And that is what you need to do.

This is not about you being unfriendly to your child, there is a difference to being friendly and being a friend. You just need to remember that you are the parent and that you have a responsibility to your child to make sure they do things like their homework, behave in a certain way, understand that life is about success and failure and how to handle both, of course you love and care for your child and hate the arguments that surround them trying to get their own way but effective parenting ensures that they grow into solid, responsible adults who will no doubt become your friend!

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