Sunday, April 24, 2011


I hear it all the time. "I'm a parent, not a friend."  It is understood in our culture that these are somehow mutually exclusive.  If you know my stance on consistency, the united front, backtalk and other parenting myths, it probably won't shock you that I disagree with this, too.

What are the qualities of friendship?  That we love at all times.  That we know what is going on in each others life and work to maintain closeness of relationship.  That we sharpen each other and encourage each other to grow.  That we like each other and have fun together.  For the life of me, I can't see how any of those conflict with a parent-child relationship.  

Now, I get that we need appropriate boundaries.  The parent should never burden the child by oversharing or depending on the child to fulfill emotional needs that are meant to be fulfilled by God or other people.  The parent should never fear honest disagreement or healthy limits, even if it results in big emotions from the child.  The parent has responsibilities for the safety and health of the child, and in helping the child to grow in character and wisdom. 

But you know what?  That is true of healthy friendships, too.  In a healthy friendship, I would still be sensitive to my friend's feelings and capacities.  Some topics might be off-limits.  Healthy boundaries would still be maintained.  I would speak up honestly and not pretend in order to avoid conflict.  I would do what I could to help my friends be safe and healthy and help them to grow.  I know that my friends have certainly helped me to grow and have taught me so very much.  I can see how parenting adds responsibilities beyond those of friendship, but not conflicting ones.

I think that our culture has romanticized "the lonely commander".  We have this mental view of the noble general remaining aloof from all the soldiers under his command in order to appear invulnerable and worthy of unquestioning obedience at all times.  Since the context of the "parent-not-a-friend" comments is almost always in reference to coercion and following the parent's commands, I believe this image plays into it.  The gallant leader sacrifices a relationship in order to preserve the mystique and rank of command.

We aren't an army, though.  We are a family.  My goal is not to have a bunch of little soldiers who jump when I say so.  My goal is to have children who fulfill God's destiny for their lives, who know the height and depth and breadth of the love of Christ Jesus, who walk in freedom and grace, who are mentally alert and unafraid of asking tough questions.  In Jesus' Kingdom, being in authority also means serving those under us, and I believe it means being a friend, too.  Our family relationships don't follow the world's form of hierarchy.

As they grow into adults, our relationship will become even more friendship-based.  I am grateful for the foundation of trust and openness that we have now, and hope to build on it so that when the teen years hit, I won't be floundering in a place without the capability of coercion and without the closeness for guidance.

So I am trying to nurture my friendship with these precious little people who are also my children.  I listen.  We spend time together.  We talk about nothing a lot.  We laugh together over things that other people might not consider funny.  I try to show the same respect for them that I would for an adult friend, and take their feelings and thoughts just as seriously. 

And the truth is, I like my kids.  They are some of the funniest, most creative, thoughtful, interesting and lovingest people I know.  I am proud to be their mom and their friend.


Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

I agree with you. Whenever I've heard someone use that expression, I wonder what exactly is it that they consider friendship? It sounds like their definition of friendship is very costly. Boundary-setting and mutual respect seem to be lacking in friendships like those. Who would want to be friends with someone like that?

One Rich Mother said...

well said and I heartily agree.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much!

melissa said...

Beautifully put, Dulce. When I think of my nearest and dearest friends, one thing that stands out is that they're all people I respect, not because anyone expects me to, but because they're worthy of it. It stands to reason that the best way for us to earn the respect we want from our children would be by treating them with the respect they deserve, and the warmth of a dear friend.

Maria said...

I'm there with you! I don't get why they must be mutually exclusive OR why people insist that parents as friends is such a bad thing.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much! You are all so right--any relationship worth having is built on authenticity and mutual respect. <3

Unknown said...

Love it! This can be a confusing topic, but I'm glad you set it straight. Boundaries are important, but they don't have to dictate a sanitized relationship with your kids. My daughter refers to me as her "best buddy" and I love that! She is my "best buddy" too! <3

dulce de leche said...

Gracias, amiga. :) My son calls me his buddy, too. <3 <3 <3 I love hearing from all of you mamis who have a friendship with your kidlets!

Corey said...

wonderfully thoughtful! i feel the same way!!