We all know the girl form high school whose mom was a classic friend. At a young age the girl had a fancy car that her mother used to cart her to and from parties where there was underage drinking and drugs. You know. Because then at least she’d be supervised since she was going to “do it anyway.” Or the parents who let their children (and I say children because I mean those well under legal drinking age) have massive keggers at their house since then, at least, they won’t have to drive home drunk.
It’s not so the kid feels safe. It’s doesn’t prepare them for adulthood. It’s an abdication of responsibility.
Of course teenagers may go to keggers, sneak out of the house, lie, cheat, smoke or steal. But that doesn’t mean you aid and abet their delinquent efforts. It’s precisely because teenagers are faced with these choices that they need you to stand firm in your role as a parent.
They’ll have tons of friends. They only have one mother.
You are the parent when you:
- are willing to say no, later or never even though it’ll upset your child;
- put well-being above happiness; and
- choose what’s best even at a cost to yourself.
You are the friend when you:
- let the desire to be liked control your actions;
- share inappropriate thoughts, feelings, or facts (read more below); and
- are scared to cause negative feelings.
Of course we want our children to like us! I want my kids to think I’m cool, fun, and the best mother on the planet. This is highly unlikely, but it’s still a desire of my heart. Why? Because I love my kids completely. And it’s a natural human desire to be loved by those we love. But we can parent in a way that begs respect and mutual affection. When we shepherd our children’s hearts, discipline consistently, and require hard work and obedience we are not pushing our children away. We are bringing out the God-given good in them and, I believe, eventually they’ll thank us for it.
My children are still young so I can’t say my thoughts are proven in my personal life. However, I am a grown-up with a mother, have undergone hours of teaching on counseling, and am observant. Here’s what I think about how important it is to be the parent not the friend, but how we can mother in a way that lays a firm foundation for friendship in the years to come.
I fully believe that you really like your child, that there are times when you get along like peas and carrots, that you say you can read each other’s minds. But your child, whether young or old, needs you to be her parent. She has enough friends, and so do you. – Betsy Brown Braun
1. Parent ≠ tyrant.
If you cringed at the title of this post and think “why can’t we be friends?” then perhaps you misunderstand me. I believe we can get along well with our children. We can laugh together, share intimate moments, and truly enjoy one another’s company. And we can do this within the authority and parameters of the mother child relationship. A tyrant is a cruel and oppressive ruler. A parent needn’t be a tyrant.
You can maintain parental boundaries and authority while having a healthy and fun relationship with your children that blossoms into friendship as they become mature adults.
2. Giving them their way doesn’t mean they’ll like you.
This is a common misconception that deceives people the world over. Just because you give someone what they want doesn’t mean they’ll like you. In fact, if you do it consistently, it’ll probably have the opposite effect. Sure, you will make people temporarily happy by fulfilling their every whim, but it’s not sustainable and they’ll soon resent you for it. This is true in the context of almost any relationship. People pleasing (and yes this applies to your children as well) commonly results in a loss of respect, being viewed as a pushover, doormat and lacking backbone, and even makes the pleaser come across as cowardly (source).
Trying to be your children’s friend so they like you will backfire. And it will hurt.
3. The waters of authority get muddied.
“A generation of children are growing up badly behaved because their parents are too afraid to discipline them,” a leading clinical psychologist has warned. Your children need and want you to be the boss. Sure, they will try to get their own way and argue. I always feel equal parts irritated and proud when my children stand up to me. (Shh…) Their desire to share their own opinion doesn’t threaten me because I am confident the buck stops with me.
If you mold your behavior to ensure your children are pleased, you’re abdicating authority. And by doing so you’re giving said authority to little angels who aren’t strong enough to shoulder the load. Children know what they want to eat, but they don’t understand what they should eat. They know they don’t want to go to sleep, but don’t understand how important sleep is for their development. Above psychologist says, “The rise of the so-called ‘friend parent’ – who tries to be their child’s equal rather than their boss – means youngsters are approaching adolescence ill-equipped for the real world.”
If you don’t exercise your God-given authority over your children, they will find others who will take your place and do it for you. Only you probably won’t like the results.
4. Nobody likes discipline as it happens, but they like the results.
I’ve been a teenager. I remember wanting to go somewhere I knew was probably not a great place. Being nervous to ask mom if I could go and then, secretly, relieved when she said no. Children are the same. They want you to enforce the rules. They want you to hold the boundaries. They need you to be consistent and practice what you preach. In their stage of hormonal upheaval, coming of age everything-is-crazy-does-anyone-like-me world, they need a rock. It’s that solid rock (that can feel burdensome and boring) that provides children a firm foundation to flourish and grow amidst storms of life.
God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). In my mind, that says it all. God wants the best for us and loves us with a perfect love. If God disciplines His children to bring out impurities of heart and depth of character, how can we do any less with our own children? Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening– it’s painful. But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”
A parent must know the long-term benefits of discipline outweigh temporary unhappiness in our children.
5. Friendship in lieu of parenting brings confusion and insecurity.
Children instinctively know you are the boss. They look to you for instruction, guidance, care, and nurture. As they age, this continues to be the case. If you begin to treat your children as a pal, share things they aren’t emotionally mature enough to handle, or attempt to turn them into a confidante, the results will be devastating for them. If you don’t act like the parent they will feel the need to do so. Even kids know someone is supposed to be in charge. Your child shouldn’t feel pressure to act like a grown-up simply because you aren’t doing your job.
Sometimes it’s because the parents are simply exhausted from working so hard, managing the household and trying to raise the kids as best they can. Being a friend is much easier and more comfortable than being a parent, after all — at least at first. But understand that if it continues, it creates severe problems down the road, because it becomes very confusing for them. It creates poor boundaries and makes it hard for your child to relate appropriately to other adults. (source)
So mothers, take heart.
When your answer makes your child cry for the 3rd time that day.
When they tell you they don’t like you or – even worse – they hate you.
When you cry while disciplining because you know it actually does hurt you more than it hurts them.
When, no matter how hard it is in the moment, you choose what’s right over being liked.
Know that you are not a bad mother.
You’re not ruining their childhood.
You are simply doing your job.
When you take up your rightful role as parent you are investing richly in your children’s future, and when they grow up, they’ll collect the dividends. And from this rich place, true friendship can begin to flourish.