I can almost see the wave of heads nod in approval, and hear the resounding chorus of “Yes!” whenever that phrase is said. This statement of finality seems to permeate parenthood. It echos throughout time and crosses all cultural barriers. It’s a resilient assertion that has no opposition. Who can argue against it?
Of course, it makes a valid point. Parents are supposed to keep their kids safe, raise them right, and discipline them when they’re wrong. They are entrusted with the toughest job of all- making decisions in the kid’s best interest- and should be respected as the final authority.
However, what if our focus is wrong? Instead of concentrating on the “parent” aspect, maybe we should take a look at what makes a good friend. What if it would make us better parents, not worse?
Ingredients of a good friend
Certain qualities have to be in place for a healthy friendship to exist and thrive. This checklist varies in application but remains universal. Here are some standard expectations and why we should be applying them in parenthood.
It’s easy to tell funny stories about our kids, share their secrets, and laugh at the things they do. They’re young, so we assume they aren’t bothered by it. Truth is, kids don’t like being the butt of a joke any more than adults do. We might see it as something cute or funny, but they feel like they’re being made of fun of, laughed at, or belittled. I’ve seen children embarrassed and put on the spot because of things their parents are saying. I’ve heard my own kids ask me to please not share something. They’re young, but it doesn’t mean we should dismiss their feelings or assume it’s ok to share stories that might be very personal.
Gossiping, sharing failures, telling secrets, and ignoring someone’s feelings are great ways to make huge chasms in any relationship. Rarely do we stop to consider how things we say about our kids might fall into those categories. Make sure your kids can trust you with everything. Have their backs.
A dishonest friend will never be a close one. It wouldn’t be wise to trust a person known to stretch the truth, no matter how trivial.
Kids know when we aren’t honest. They catch on to the “little” white lies and the ways we can twist things. We often think we’re doing it for their good. Sometimes it’s to make our own lives more comfortable. Honesty can be difficult, but kids should grow up knowing they can trust what we say.
We don’t need to share everything, but we should be willing to talk about our hopes, dreams, fears, and failures. Let them see what drives us, how we handle setbacks, overcome uncertainty, and the effort needed to succeed.
We share these things with friends, and they encourage us to focus and push ahead. We forget that our kids can be our biggest cheerleaders (after mom). No one believes in you like they do. Even your best friend.
Teens, however, are different. They’ve lost the rose-colored glasses that turn us into superheroes. But at this stage, they need us to be real with them. We have to be relatable, not superior. They’ll be far more likely to listen and open up to us when we’re willing to do it for them.
This is similar to honesty and openness but goes deeper. It’s about knowing feelings are safe. It’s hard to open up to people, even parents. Especially parents, when kids are older. No one wants their feelings to be dismissed as silly or dramatic or brushed off and ignored.
A good friend boosts your confidence, but not in an unrealistic way. We all need that blunt friend who tells it like it is but gets away with it because of their unwavering love and devotion towards you. They make you face reality, but put your focus right back on what you can do about it. They believe in you and fight alongside you every step of the way.
Kids can go far if they know their parents believe in them. Actually believe in them. Not “do it my way, or you’ll fail.” Trust that they can figure it out. Guide them without giving them all of the answers. Teach them to do hard things, admit their failures, and recognize what they’ve done well.
This is a big one, and possibly the hardest to do. Society routinely fails to show children and teens respect. High expectations are placed on them that adults, don’t live up to. We assume we can ignore their feelings, trivialize their complaints, and force happiness just because they’re young.
If your best friend is upset, do you show empathy or irritation? Do you stop what you’re doing and listen, or say you don’t have time for it? Even if it seems petty, you’ll probably try to help and at least be civil about it.
Respect means viewing children as tiny humans that desperately need our guidance. They are not unchecked extensions of ourselves that we need to get control of.
Laughter is medicine to the soul. Victor Borge took it further and said, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” It’s an integral part of a friendship. It would be a shame not to share the physical, mental, and relational benefits with our kids.
Friendships require mutual interests. People can be complete opposites and click for no apparent reason. Something connects them, though. Maybe it’s intangible, like the same vibrant personality, dark sense of humor, or quirky traits that others shy away from.
Whatever it is, it unites them. Find that connection with your kids. Even if it’s just one thing, it’ll bind you together when everything else seems distant.
Wanting the best for each other
We want the best for our friends. We don’t tell them what their lives should look like, but we help them find their way. Advice and support are there for the taking, but good friends don’t force their opinions.
Likewise, parents want the best for their kids. Without massive amounts of restraint, it’s easy to slip into the role of dictator. Give kids the opportunity to fail. Put yourself behind them as a sturdy brace, and hold the flashlight as they find their footing.
See the best in each other
This isn’t the same as ignoring each other’s faults. It’s possible, and advisable, to focus on the former without losing sight of the latter. Concentrating too much on the negative hurts both sides of a friendship. One becomes irritated and the other starts to feel rejected. No one wants to be the sum of their mistakes, or have shortcomings be the highlight of their life.
Kids are still learning, though. I know I tend to make the same mistakes over and over. I think we all do. We can’t expect more from children that haven’t matured.
Point out the bad, when necessary
It’s not always necessary, and it takes wisdom to recognize when it’s time to step in. A good friend knows when to shut up and when to speak up. Unfortunately, it’s never black and white.
Luckily this is the one time parenting is (somewhat) easier. It’s our job to keep our kids from ruining their lives. It’s still not black and white, but we have some control. We can hand out advice and warnings a little quicker, and implement undesirable consequences.
The hardest part is watching them fail. The second hardest part is deciding when to allow it.
You’re not giving up your authority
You’re giving your children a reason to respect you and a security that allows them to be open with you. Forced respect and compliance only work while they’re young. And I would argue that it only looks like it works.
Children have a will long before they hit pre-teen years. It’s possible to break it, but that shouldn’t ever be our goal. We can get something that looks like obedience, but what’s accomplished if their heart is screaming “NO”? There will be times, probably more often than not, that we have to force our kids to do something they don’t like. But, we should want our kids to obey out of love, not fear. It’s like the drill sergeant that every soldier hates. They listen. They jump to conform. There’s feigned respect, but it’s all a masquerade.
A respect that grows with the kids
There comes a day when kids fear us a little less. Our opinions don’t mean as much. They make decisions, form conclusions, and become their own entity. By then, we as parents have put ourselves into one of two situations.
- We worked our way out of a job and are no longer relevant. We set ourselves up as merely a guidepost and enforcer, and fade out of existence as other things (like friends, the law, and their conscience) take our place.
- We built a relationship on a strong foundation, one that goes deeper than our role as parents. We maintained the relationship and allowed it to change as the children age. There was a connection instead of obligatory association.
Your kids may never see you as a confidant if you don’t start when they’re young. That role as “parent-only” can’t suddenly be altered. Don’t be surprised when your adult children have nothing to say to you. Not out of anger, but because they’ve grown up.
You’re role as authoritarian no longer applies. What’s left?
You’ll get the respect you deserve
Demand it, but do it through your actions. Expect it because you deserve it. My kids know they need to be respectful of me, but I also show them respect . How? I try to embody those same qualities that make an excellent friend. Those traits will give strength to any relationship, providing the fortitude and grit needed to survive the long haul.
What do I say when my 6-year-old asks if we’re best friends? “Always.” And I mean it.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Adrienne Koziol ( Author)