Monday, March 21, 2011

First Friends, Best Friends

A friend of mine just wrote a blog post that got me thinking. He presents a conventional, age-old idea in parenting: that one should not be his kids' best friend. Many parents agree with this. You guessed it: I don't. The catch is that you need to really understand what it means to be your kids' best friend. See, it is a little different than being your best friend's best friend, but maybe not all that much, in a few ways.

I have seen forty-something moms in the mall dressed like their daughters and attempting to blend-in with a group of teenagers. I have seen fathers cursing and making lewd comments about women to their teenaged sons. I have seen parents who think it is okay to drink with their high school aged kids. I have also seen parents who are afraid to discipline their children -- who think their kids won't like them if they "lay down the law." These people are all fools. These people act more like buddies than parents and I trust this is the kind of thing my friend is objecting to in his post. I object to them, too.

But I have also seen parents with an easy, comfortable relationship with their kids. Parents who command respect but who are not afraid to laugh with their kids -- who know how to let little things go and deal only with the important stuff. Parents who have established a relationship with their kids in which the kids do see Mom and Dad as their best friends. Parents whose kids are not afraid of them.

I don't care what anyone says: fear is not a tool of good parenting. (I'm not implying my friend condones the use of fear, by the way -- fear is where some parents take things.) The use of fear is an option for parents who don't want to think. (And, let's face it: most people don't.) It's easy: scare them into doing what you want. That's not parenting, it's bullying. It might work -- might get the kids to do what they are told to -- but it is no way to set a foundation for a lifelong relationship or to teach you kids how relationships really work.

Kids who aren't living in fear -- and who feel their parents are truly their best friends -- will share their problems. These kids are likely, someday, to say, "Dad, things are getting serious with my girlfriend and I need your advice . . . " They are more likely to call their parents at eleven at night and say: "Mom, I'm at a party, and there are drugs -- can you come get me?"

On the whole, these kids are less likely to sneak around, I think. Think about it: a kid who is scared of his parents' wrath might avoid getting drunk for fear of getting caught; but, what if everything falls into place? What if there is little chance of getting caught?

On the other hand, the kid who is "friends" with his parents is more likely to do the right thing out of respect for what their relationship stands for; out of respect for the bond they have. (And I don't want anyone to dare tell me "kids don't think that way." If they don't, it is because we don't give them the chance to think because we are always yelling at them and saying things like "Wait until you father gets home . . ." (Oooo. Dad -- the big tough guy. That's brilliant.)

In the end, you do need to truly be your kids' best friend. Think of the qualities of a best friend: He is honest; he respects you; he tells you when you screw up and he holds you to standards of respect and interaction. If you step outside this stuff, he lets you know about it. Parents should be no different with their kids.

I am not, for one second, talking about being wishy-washy and spineless. (Are our best friends wishy-washy and spineless with us?)There are many times when you have to make the difficult calls: take the toy away; ground your kids; refuse permission for them to do something all the other kids are doing; not allow your kids to play with certain others. Kids need consistent and reasonable consequences. All of that is hard. But doing it truly is part of what makes you your kids' best friend. And they know this, believe me.

Being a good parent does not require distance. Or fear. It just doesn't. Distance breeds nothing but separation.

Party buddies? No. Best friends? For the love of God, yes. Imagine how teen rebellion would dwindle if our kids really did see us as their best friends. It can be done. I think it must be done.


  1. I couldn't agree more. Having also read your friends blog (he seems brilliant, by the way), I think you both agree but with very minor differences. I love being a friend to my kids, like you do to yours, but I do think there should be a line between buddy and parent...fuzzy as it might be sometimes.

  2. "I think you both agree but with very minor differences."

    Completely true -- I would even go so far as to say there are no real differences, but that I wanted to go farther with definition. My friend, for the record, seems to fit nicely, at least in my estimation, into the category of: "parents with an easy, comfortable relationship with their kids. Parents who command respect but who are not afraid to laugh with their kids." In the end, perhaps I'm just not so fond of the message the "hammer" tag might send . . . P.S. My friend has stinky breath, charming though he might be.