Should Parents Be Friends With Their Children?

This is an odd title I know. Should parents be friends with their children? Well you don't want to be their enemies but can you be both disciplinarian and best buddy? It's a fine line parents have to tread.
madmumof7 and daughter

 I have a very friendly relationship with my own mum. We like to shop together, go out for meals, chat over coffee, ask advice of each other, enjoy a glass (or two, or three) of wine together and we've been on girly holidays just like many friends do.

madmumof7 and mum


However there are aspects of our relationship that are distinctly mother-daughter and if I am honest I suppose there is a difference in the way I think of her compared to the way I regard my friends. An underlying remnant from the days she was more hands on parent complete with discipline, teaching and the control that naturally comes with parenting probably.

I consider it a good balance largely and when I think about it have probably been influenced quite a bit by the tone of my relationship with my mum which is very different to my husband's interactions with his parents which were much more formal.

I love shopping and eating out with my children, have been on holiday on a few occasions with three of my older children where we enjoyed a more friend than parent experience, and have a holiday booked with my eldest and his partner next year.

madmumof7 and teen son at Warner Bros Studios
Having fun with my teenaged son
madmumof7 and teens on airplane
Just the three of us off on our hols.

I consider us to have a fairly open relationship. No subject is taboo for discussion in our home and we try very hard not to force our views and beliefs on them and always aim to show respect for theirs.

madmumof7 and daughter drinking cocktails in Cyprus
Cocktail time! (legally able to drink in Cyprus at 17)

When mine became older teens or adults I have occasionally almost bitten through my own tongue to stop myself expressing dismay, horror or disappointment in any of their life choices that I personally disagree with whilst always being there for them if any situation goes belly up, and cheerleading for them if their decision turned out to be the right one for them. (which it often does!)

It sounds like we are friends right?

No. We are their parents.

I've always said I won't offer advice on madmumof7.com as everyone's parenting experience, requirements and desired outcomes are different. But a good friend of mine said I should maybe share more of my experience of raising 7 children for those who are interested and maybe would like some tips to try.

So here goes - how and why we decided on a friendly relationship model but will always be parents rather than friends.

Point one is vital. They don't really want us to be their friends. My children have said they appreciate our approach and in fact have said some of their friends envy our relationship. But I know that like every child ever born they laugh at us at times for our old git-ness.Sometimes to our faces but also I'm certain behind our backs. Fair enough - we are decades older than them after all.

Sometimes they need and occasionally actually want parents to take control. Especially when they are young they require someone to make tough decisions while trusting that those decisions are made for their health and well being.

It can be painful for the parents - no-one likes to see their child in pain for instance- but if they need invasive tests to potentially save their life, we have to be the ones to give permission for them and sometimes even help whilst hating seeing them suffer.

We have to be the ones to state the hard truths when their actual friends might either only give their opinion or worse, say what they think they want to hear.

Madmumof7 and teen daughter at Cornbury Festival 2018
Hanging out at a festival

We can never really be their friends because generally we are so much older than them.

Let's be honest, part of being a young person is rolling your eyes at the slow and dated ways of your parents and their pals. And even though I am "down with the kids"  (said ironically btw) to a certain extent with a bigger social media following than many of their age I still struggle with terminology and to a certain extent technology. Confession here; not only have I not got the hang of Snapchat, I DON'T WANT TO!

Point two is practical. As a parent you should reserve the right to go all 1950's mom/dad on them.

Despite our pally relationship if we say jump we expect our children to ask "How high?" We don't go in for the long explanations of why dashing out in the road is a bad idea, we shout "Stop" and our children have always stopped.

It's a bit like the army I suppose I that sometimes children need to just know to obey quickly and without argument for their own safety. This is not a popular view with some but equally it drives me mad to hear parents asking/telling their child repeatedly to do something and watching said child gleefully or wilfully ignore them.

I've frequently been complimented on my children's good behaviour and asked what my secret is and I have always answered, only half joking, "dog training."

It really is like dog training in that from toddlerhood we have used body language, tone of voice and clear simple commands with them. Occasionally when they were small we physically removed them from an area where they might have been in danger or a nuisance.

 For instance my son went through a stage of being fascinated with the letter-box style opening of a friend's VHS player (this was some years ago!). Three times I told him firmly "No" and moved him away from the gadget. He finally gave up and never bothered with it again.

Making your expectations clear is vital. You can't expect children to be mind readers so for example before a blog event I will always remind my younger children about being polite and well behaved. Then if they start acting up usually a reminder with the question:" Are you making me proud right now?" is enough to bring them back into line.

Being clear and consistent with consequences. A vague threat or a post event anger-based grounding is not usually effective. My mum never threatened anything she wouldn't carry out - she never threatened to stop the car and kick us out by the side of the road for example which is a threat I have heard  more than  once from other parents.

Equally she did everything in her power to avoid promising something nice which she couldn't guarantee.This attitude engenders trust which adds weight to any threats and builds respect for promises fulfilled.


All of this is very parent-like and not very friend like. Apart from the promises thing. I try very hard not to let my friends down.

I asked my older children whether they thought we had the balance between friendship and parenting right. My son who works in childcare says he uses our style of childcare as his model. Another son in his 20's said he might be slightly stricter but also thought on the whole we had it right. My daughter who is almost 18 says she loves that while we are strict on what she considers the important things, we can have conversations and fun her friends say their parents would never dream of sharing with them.

I think our attitude can be summed up by my feelings on a statement I heard once from someone trying to tell me we were too strict. They told me our children wouldn't like us. My reply was:"It's not my job to make them like me. "

I am a friendly parent not a friend and my children will no doubt at times hate me but my responsibility is not to make them like me but to keep them safe and help them grow into decent people. I do this out of all consuming love for them which goes above and beyond even the closest friendship.







Comments

  1. It's an interesting dilemma. My children are much younger and at the moment we aren't really friends but I hope we can be later on but I can see how it might be tricky.

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    1. I think it's important to be firm and friendly from the very beginning.

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  2. I think we were friends from fairly early years, when I could actually string few more sentences together. I think you can almost move from one end of the spectrum to the other as the years go by and children become more independent.

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    1. That's a good point parents blend into friends as the years go by. Easier since you don't tend to want to post stuff into VHS slots any more 😂

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    2. i don’t have a VHS player anymore! 😂

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  3. Very interesting article.

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  4. Really interesting topic! I am still a newbie at this mothering business (I have two under 5), but I often wonder how my kids will see me when I am older. I'd like to think I might be 'pretty ancient but cool-in-a-retro-kind-of-way mum' but it's made me question whether they will need such a fluffy role model or in actual fact, a parent!

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    Replies
    1. I'm hoping I've managed that awesome description you've come up with whilst also being reassuringly parent like .

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  5. I love how you have weighed everything up here Afra....I think you have nailed the dynamic here and agree....they need us to be parents first but also infusing friendship into that...which is a hard balance to strike. Thanks for linking up with us at #coolmumclub!

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  6. I love my kids and I am friendly with them, they feel the love and I hope to be friends with them when they are old enough to choose to spend time with me rather than me dragging them everywhere, but while they are children (7+12) I’ll be parent first. My eldest just said I have a good balance of parent and friend. I apparently don’t tell them they are good at something just for the sake of it. I think this is a good thing. They need to know when they are really putting in effort and when they are being lazy. We are all lazy sometimes and this is fine. But sometimes life needs you to be your best self. That’s the bit I take care of. Excellent article!’

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    Replies
    1. It's a useful conversation to have with older children and interesting to see how they perceive our parenting style especially when there is still time to learn and adapt from their comments.

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