I’m My Kids’ Friend AND Their Parent (Psst… You Don’t Have to Pick)

I spent much of my early parenting life afraid.

True truth.

And although some of my fears made sense — as in, I’m pretty sure it’s a biological imperative and plain good sense to want to keep your child from harm — many of my fears were based simply on the Great Unknown of Parenting. I was afraid I’d do it wrong. Afraid of being too lenient. Afraid of failing my kids and somehow Ruining Them Forever.

Experimenting with parenting, after all, seemed wildly irresponsible. Why in the world would I trust myself with this gig when I might Wreck Everything, you know? So I turned to the parenting books and the experts, and I listened well to, well, anyone who had a formula. A sure-fire way to raise kids correctly. A bonafide fool-proof plan, in which I played the role of the fool who needed to be thwarted. I turned to every Bible-based parenting book out there, because I still believed at the time that the Bible was a blueprint and a rule book and that I was not to be trusted. Which makes me sad now; sad that I missed the Larger Point of the Bible, which is to put relationship and love first — and rules last — and that I missed out on believing I was made in Love’s own image, capable of loving my children in turn and learning from my gut, my God (whose other name is Love), and a compassionate community how to raise them well.

In my early parenting days, I believed I needed to be my kids’ parent and not their friend, as though friendship would undermine my authority and unravel everything I was trying to teach them. But, friends, I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

I just returned yesterday from visiting my oldest kid at college.

Six days in Hawaii in her condo with her friends…

… and there’s no question I was there as both her Mommy AND ally. Both advisor AND confidante. Mentor AND friend.

We hung out, we ate food, we were baptized by sun, surf and sand, and Abby and her people told me All the Things. The real stories about college. What’s going well and what sucks. What they’ve done and would do again in a heartbeat. What they’ve done and never want to do again. What was smart and what was wildly stupid. They’ve formed a community with each other, they have each other’s backs, and they cracked open their hearts to let me in. I got to say, “Oh my gosh, you all are the VERY BEST,” which is true — they’re remarkable — and I also got to say, “SHIT, that sounds scary — NEVER DO THAT AGAIN,” which they already knew.

They, in turn, were like every friend I’ve ever known — smart, savvy, deeply human, messy, magical, and in need of the occasional reminder that they’re wildly worthy of unlimited love exactly as they already are. Like all of us, right? Every last one. 

And — here’s what I need you to hear, friends — I was never more glad I abandoned the notion that I’m only Abby’s mom and embraced being also her friend. I would have missed so much if I didn’t.

So here’s my confession: I’m my kids’ parent AND their friend — all of them. My adult at college. My teenagers in high school. And my preteen babies with their high-pitched voices and sweet hugs and irrational outbursts fueled by hormones on the rise. Parent and friend. Every day. Every hour. Both/And forever. 

I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m perpetually confused by all the blogs, memes and videos out there in which parents declare they’re NOT their kids’ friend. Like they have to be either parent or friend, instead of deeply, eternally both. You know? Am I the only one who finds this perplexing?

I’ve hesitated to say anything because the “I’m not their friend; I’m their PARENT” bits are so prolific. But perhaps because they’re so prolific, it’s time to say I’m both. And you can be, too. You don’t have to pick, friends. 

I mean, I get it on the one hand. There’s an impression somehow that being our kids’ friends is equivalent to abdicating parental responsibility, letting our kids walk all over us, and failing to teach them to be disciplined humans who will contribute to society.

Might I posit, though, that that couldn’t be further from the truth?

Might I suggest that befriending our kids — ensuring they know we’re in this together, we are a team, and we have the same goals of a bright future — is actually a crucial part of the parenting gig? That it’s an absolutely critical part of creating a relationship centered around listening to each other and mutual respect?

And might I also say that equating friendship with letting another human walk all over us is a pretty crappy and unhealthy definition of friendship? Because it is. Like, really a lot. We can do better than that in the friendship arena and with our babies. We can model healthy friendship WITH our kids, not just in front of them.

I asked my kids about this a couple years ago, on a day I was particularly confused about all the online “Parent, NOT Friend” posts, so I’ll leave you with their thoughts in a few videos below, because I think they say it better than I do anyway. 

Sending you love,

 

 

 

P.S. I suck at making videos, so we’ll all just deal with the crappy quality, yes? Yes. Just as I thought.

And P.P.S. My favorite part of these videos may be that I was getting ready for work in between making them, so you can see the make-up and hair getting ever more intentional… not necessarily BETTER, you understand… just more on purpose. Ha!

P.P.P.S. Also-also, video #4 is a continuation of #3 because see the first P.S. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

P.P.P.P.S. I’d really love to know if I’m alone here on this Parents AND Friends thing. Thoughts?

UPDATED: P.P.P.P.P.S. Here’s the All-Important Beer Bottle video Cai mentioned in the first vid. #TheMoreYouKnow #HowToHoldABeerBottle

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
15 comments
  1. I try my best to be a parent an a friend to my two daughters, especially to my 10-year-old. As much as I want, there are really times that I turn into the “bad guy”. However, it is fulfilling to see that they are growing up to be responsible, loving and honest children. And maybe, just maybe, my parenting style is effective. Haha! Thanks for this good read!

  2. I asked my 5-y-o these same questions yesterday. My favorite part:
    Me: Why do you think it’s important for parents and their kids to be friends?
    Sweet Pea: Because if they weren’t, the grownups would be so sad to not have me as their friend.
    That’s right, it’s for the GROWNUPS’ benefit to be friends with the kids. And here I thought it was for the benefit of the children, but, as usual, my daughter is right. We parents need friends, too.

  3. Both/And is definitely the way to go. I’ve always been my daughter’s friend AND her mom – I can’t remember a time when that wasn’t true. And because God was gracious to me, he gave me a VERY easy child to do this with. I’ve only had to pull rank on her a handful of times. She’s now almost 21, she got married in January, she and her husband live with me so they can save a down payment for a house (and then I’m going to live with them and help raise grandbabies!!!). She compares our relationship to Lorelei and Rory in Gilmore Girls. “Except the part where they stopped talking to each other, mom, because I don’t ever want that to happen to us!” I truly lucked out with this one!

  4. You inspired me to ask my six year old about this.
    Me: Am I your friend?
    Her: No
    Me: What am I?
    Her: Chopped Liver

  5. I’m absolutely friends with my 6 year old girl. I feel like the friendship happened more recently because she is in that spot between little girl and big kid. And I love it. Toddlers are assholes so I’m loving the age she’s at right now. It’s the perfect age. She’s my mini me: sarcastic, funny, and sassy. I’m still very much a mama to her but we are friends too. I think it’s important. I say things like “Come on, girlfriiiieeeend. Hurry up.” And she’ll say “Okay, girlfriiiieeeend.” haha. I love it.

  6. Yes! I am absolutely my kids’ friend, and I guarantee you they don’t think my authority is undermined in any way. In fact, it’s the opposite. I pull rank sometimes, but I rarely have to, because they trust me the way you trust a good friend. They tell me when they’re struggling (mostly). When I tell them things, they trust that I have Good Reasons.

    IT’S LIKE YOU’VE NEVER EVER SEEN GILMORE GIRLS!!

    OK, I jest, but only kind of.

  7. Much love, Friend.
    Going through a sticky patch just now with my (almost) adult kiddos, and not sure where to turn, but I’m having to trust them and trust God.

  8. So appreciated this. Thanks for the food for thought!

  9. “There’s an impression somehow that being our kids’ friends is equivalent to abdicating parental responsibility, letting our kids walk all over us, and failing to teach them to be disciplined humans who will contribute to society.” Wouldn’t we want our friends to help us be better people? Would we let our friends walk all over us? Aren’t relationships supposed to make us better contributors to society. Both/And!

  10. Possibly my favorite part of the beer video is his inside-out-and-backward t-shirt.

    Your kids, Beth. Wow. Heart and brains and every inch themselves.

    Okay on to the original question: YES we can and should be both. I’d say I felt much more like a friend to my parents as I hit early adulthood, but thinking back, it might be just that I was a teenager just before that, and so was super frustrated with my mom’s strictness and my dad’s dorkiness. Even during that era, we had a lot of fun together though. But there were definitely some things I didn’t share with them.

    The same argument goes on for teachers. “I don’t care if the kids like me; my job is to be their teacher, not their friend.” Well, yeah, but how hard are you going to work for a teacher you dislike versus a teacher you like? Also, do you really want to spend the bulk of your days in a roomful of people who don’t like you?

    I do think some of the people that say that kind of thing really just mean, “I’m not going to buy my kids beer and weed and a brand new car and let them do whatever the hell they want in an attempt to avoid all conflict.” Which, come to think of it, would probably make you a pretty shitty friend anyway. You gotta tell your friends if they’re being complete dumbasses, right?

  11. As someone whose parents most definitely did NOT take the view that parents and kids should be friends, I have to say that I agree with your kids. Do I love my parents? Yes. Do I feel like I can now (or could as a child) come to them for the type of help I would need and expect from friends? Not even a little. Our relationship is so superficial, and as someone who also suffers from anxiety and depression I can honestly say I would never go to my parents for support in that area.
    I am trying to do the opposite with my son. I am a single mom, so I feel this almost desperate need to make sure he knows that I have his back 100% no matter what. Do I expect him to follow my rules? Absolutely. But I also want him to know that he can always come to me to talk about anything.
    (I hope that makes sense. It’s 5:20am, I need more coffee!)

  12. This has always confused me, too. It makes me sad that people feel they have to choose just one.

    I’ve always seen myself as a guide more than an authority– I can give advice, and set limits on what *I* will do, but my kids’ choices are obviously their own!

  13. Oh, thank goodness.
    Me too.

  14. I’m not a parent, but as a person with parents, I can safely say that I am definitely both the child of and friend of my parents, and it’s great. My dad and I often have long, nerdy conversations about all things sci-fi or video games, and my mom and I can talk about pretty much anything. (Admittedly, it probably helps that I’m 22, and as I’ve grown into adulthood, the friend aspect has definitely emerged more, but I think it was there when I was younger, too)

  15. O.M.G. LOVE them!!!!! My favorite was, “’cause you’re depressed, right?”

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