Home » Balancing Parenting & Friendship
As a mother of four, I step mindfully on the tightrope of being a parent and being a friend to my children. It’s a dilemma that simply doesn’t strike during those early years. “Can I have some more Goldfish?” “No,” you say deliberately, without hesitation and with the expectation of minimal consequences. The kid whines a bit and then focuses her attention back to the Scooby-Doo episode.
“Can I go to the Rihanna concert at the Verizon Center next Tuesday night?” After a slight hesitation, you inquire, “On a Tuesday night?” with the expectation of significant consequences for your 17-year-old. One could argue that a “no” would be the requisite parenting reply, and a “yes” would be the inappropriate reply of the parent trying to be the cool friend. Neither argument is completely fair. Balancing these types of decisions depends on the child, the risk factors that you might see as a parent, and the eternal question of when to start loosening the apron strings. But, I have, in fact, discovered that it is just as important to be your child’s friend as it is to parent with rules and expectations.
When one of my children was diagnosed with a chronic illness at eight years old, I remember thinking that if she someday had an unplanned pregnancy, she could die; that if she drank too much alcohol or took drugs, her life could potentially end much more abruptly than others having to make similar peer choices. It was critical that my husband and I created an avenue for open communication to ensure her safety. If she was afraid to tell us about these decisions, then we could lose a potential lifeline. I had always been both her parent and her friend, but now the “friend” part seemed even more vital. Could I be an effective parent and still be a friend as she grew up? I knew other parents who had drawn rather strict lines between the two. The consequences weren’t always great. The secrets tended to blossom. It is a risky separation if the relationship lines are kept that sterile.
As all of the children matured, I came to understand that this friendship aspect of the parent/child relationship was equally important to all of them. It wasn’t about being a “friend” only for the big life decisions; the friendship component of the relationship applied to our daily lives. It mattered that they could tell me when they had a rough day at school and that I didn’t merely focus on the rigors of a daily homework assignment. It made a difference when I could tell them that I wasn’t perfect, that I made mistakes, and that I had bad days, too. Yes, it was parenting, but it was also a gesture of friendship.
Just for kicks, I Googled the definitions of “friend” and “parent.” Friend: “A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” I didn’t realize that the definition excluded both my husband and my kids! (That didn’t seem quite fair or particularly helpful to this article.) Parent: “One who begets, gives birth to, or nurtures and raises a child; a father or mother.” This definition seemed a bit more open to interpretation. You can certainly nurture a child by offering them friendship. I know I consider my father to be one of my best friends. He raised me, grounded me a few times, and set forth expectations and limitations. But he was always my friend.
With toddlers AND teenagers in my house – one in preschool, one in middle school, one in high school, and one in college – my friendship and parenting skills are absurdly vast. I play hide-n-seek and give her a time-out. I wink at her when she spies a cute boy and scold her for talking back. I chat with him about how challenging long-term relationships can be and request that he keeps all the lights on in the basement when she comes to visit. I commiserate when she tells me how exhausted she is after a long day and suggest that she picks a safer country to travel to in South America when she considers a journey abroad.
There are, of course, times when I royally screw up and fall off my rope. The kids are always adept at reminding me when it occurs. “Um, you can’t borrow my pink cowboy boots, Mom. You look ridiculous.” “Why is it okay that you did that when you were a teenager but I am not allowed to now?” I usually bounce back quickly from the critique and figure out which mixed-message I may have sent. I try and stay true to my role as both a solid parent and a reliable friend. A solid parent guides a child to make good decisions; a reliable friend listens to a child when she relishes in those good decisions and when she crumbles from the poor ones.
Parenting and friendship are never exclusive; the combined effort often has magnificent results!
Betsy Trainor resides in Loudoun County and is a mother of four. She is corporate counsel to a Northern Virginia business and enjoys running, reading, and freelance writing. You can read more about her daughter, Riley, and the inspirational story about her diabetes and her involvement in future research at www.poshseven.com/riley-trainor.html.