Should Your Child Be Your Best Friend?
A picture from the early years with my sweet youngest daughter.
My youngest daughter has always been an emotionally intense person. She feels things deeply and expresses those feelings. As a child, there were a few times when she wasn’t happy with my parenting decisions and ran to her room, slamming the door and saying, “I hate you, Mom!” I stood outside her door and calmly replied, “I’m sorry you feel that way right now, but I will always love you no matter what.” She has told me she hated that calm reply, but I can’t say I regret it. She needed the reassurance of boundaries and unconditional love.
Many of my younger friends in the thick of parenting say they are best friends with their children, and it leaves me wondering, is that really a good thing? I never even thought about being best friends with my children as they were growing up. It’s not that I wanted to be their adversary either, but I assumed my role was to guide them into adulthood safely and securely, and that role often involves setting limits a child isn’t going to like. When I told my daughter she could not stay up late to watch a movie and skip school the next day, I knew my rule wasn’t going to get me voted “most popular parent.” I never wanted to be the cool parent; I just wanted to help her grow into a good, responsible adult.
I also wonder if being your child’s best friend is more of a generational issue? Is the tide turning from authoritative parenting to a more of an attachment parenting model? I see positives in both styles. I do think there is a difference between being friends with your children and claiming to be “best friends,” or maybe I’m hung up on semantics? Here are the reasons I believe you shouldn’t be “best friends” with your child.
1. Children need structure and limits
Even though kids may rebel against some rules, as long as a rule is fair and reasonable, the limits are a source of security for a child. The rational part of a child’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. It’s our job as parents to guide children gently but firmly towards adulthood, letting go gradually as the child matures.
2. It’s too much pressure for the child
Children do not need to be our confidante and be burdened with adult issues. It’s especially tempting to confide in a child when you’re a single parent. I cringe when I see single parents calling the male child the “man of the house.” That boy is still a child with all the needs and limitations of a child, despite his parents’ marital status. My oldest daughter was always very mature, and I occasionally made the mistake of placing unrealistic expectations on her during my years as a single mom. Being a single parent is lonely, and it’s easy to set unfair expectations on the children. (Sorry, Alexandra!)
3. It’s healthier for all parents, married or not, to be good role models for having healthy friendships in their lives.
I have an adult best friend, and I don’t call her in the evenings to make sure she’s limiting her screen time and has brushed her teeth. If I did, we probably wouldn’t be best friends for long. But kids need a parent to set and enforce those guidelines. Adult friendships are generally reciprocal and have no established hierarchy – two qualities that don’t fit the healthy parent-child relationship. Although children do give back to us in many ways, it would be unwise to seek affirmations or guidance from young children.
This is not to say we can’t be friends with our children, but it is not our primary role. To prove that I wasn’t a total “killjoy” parent, I will tell you I was once criticized for having too much fun with my kids. I took that intended insult as a parenting compliment. I did have a lot of fun with my children, but ultimately, I was the person in charge. My kids knew I enjoyed their company, but they also had the security of an adult being in control.
As parents, we want to be that soft place for our children to land. We want to have an ear always ready to listen and arms open to embrace our kids. We want to bond tightly with our children and always be there for them. Those are reasonable and achievable goals with a suitable investment of time and energy. Being friends with our children and being responsible parents are not mutually exclusive roles, but the type of friendship changes with time. As our children age and become adults, relationships may certainly evolve into more of a friendship and even best friends. Having adult children that I can count amongst my closest friends is one of the best parts of this stage in life!
Now that she’s an adult, we’re such close friends that my daughter chose for us to wear matching dresses on a recent mother-daughter trip.