Written by Lorena Morales
Translated by Lorena Martínez Lombard
The month of love and friendship is a good time to reflect upon something that I frequently hear said between parents who are proud of the relationships with their children: “we are best friends”. By this, they refer to the fun time they spend together. The question is, can we be friends with our children? How can we regulate being parents and also being their friends?
Us new generation parents have changed the way we spend time with our children. There have been positive changes in the way we approach our children, as well as our consideration towards them. More-so, there is evidence that signals the importance of a secure attachment in creating a healthy emotional development in children.
However, let’s define what it means to be a supportive parent that effectively fulfills their job, and what it means to be a parent who is a friend (this being a relationship between equals). I consider there is a variety of reasons for which it is NOT convenient to be friends with you children.
Firstly, there is a basic reason: friends share an equal amount of power; parents and children don’t. If a parent and their child are at the same level, this would mean that no one is in charge, which could generate a great amount of problems. It could lead to a permissive – or inclusive negligent – type of parenting. In the moment a parent-friend wants to implement rules, they will find this is difficult to do in an effective manner. Effective disciplines requires consistency. Children of permissive parents – whom are easily given permissions – do not develop an adequate capacity of self-control nor tolerance towards frustration.
We frequently observe parents who are excessively “friendly” towards their children: parents who want to please their child and be over-attentive. These are parents who as children themselves weren’t cared for enough, and desire to compensate this lack of care by excessively controlling their child’s life. This is also known as the “Wendy Syndrome” (more frequent in mothers), in which parents feel the need to find acceptance and approval in their child. In their struggle to be liked, they create “Peter Pan” children, who don’t always assume the appropriate responsibilities for their age and become dependent of their parental care. A child who was always maintained confortable does not feel the need to grow, and considers the opportunity of becoming an adult to be an obstacle.
Also, in some cases, being friends with your children manifests into them becoming a confident of your problems, when in truth, children do not have the mental nor emotional capacity to manage these problems. Instead of creating emotional closeness, as parents expect, this can provoke high levels or anxiety or even depression. It is important to remember that our children’s mind is born immature, and although they are constantly changing, do not achieve full maturity until they are 20 or 30 years old. This confirms that we are not in equal positions when it comes to seeing and managing life.
On the other extreme are parents that, because of diverse motives, are not interested in making the effort of working on their children’s formation. This is why they become “friends”, out of commodity, not paying attention to their lives and allowing them to be “free”. In truth, by doing so, they are abandoning their children to face life challenges all on their own. This negligence can provoke emotional disorders and a hole that, due to its lack of guidance, is filled in the wrong places.
But the fact that we can’t be friends with our children, in the strict sense, does not mean we can’t be friendly towards them. Precisely, a good parent is one who truly accomplishes their function – someone who is caring and attentive in accompanying their child through their life path. Someone in which children can trust and open their heart with certainty of being accepted and understood. A good parent is someone who is firmly in charge of their children, and is confident of their knowledge. This allows them to place limits and give all the necessary care and affection. A good parent acts as a leader, teacher, coach, provider… a figure of authority that is respected and admired. Someone with who children can have valuable and significant conversations.
If there is doubt about how effectively we are delimiting our function as parent-friends, it is necessary to take a moment to reflect: What role do our children play in our lives? Are we fulfilling our role and allowing them to fulfill theirs? Are we present, attentive, and loving, yet firm, in our position as captains? Are we raising overprotected children or are we forming adults? We have a marvelous gift in our children, let us celebrate the joy of having them and watching them grow, let us celebrate the art of being parents.
As an educative platform that promotes child rights, Pequeñ@s Ciudadan@s seeks to help know and foment the right to emotional health. Our team is advised by medics, psychologists, educators, lawyers and philosophers that share information and formative activities regarding Culture of Lawfulness for children. We invite you to share our articles and be informed of more information through our Facebook page.
Lorena Morales is a clinical psychologists, psychotherapist and thanatologist, specialized in individual, partner and family therapy. Founder of Blueprint, through which she also offers capacitation to families and educational institutions.