Very recently I came across a Facebook post about mothers and their daughters that struck me. The author was a mother sharing that she didn’t like that some mothers tell their daughters, “I’m not your friend.” She went on to explain why she would be her daughter’s friend, which included being her “example of sisterhood, safe space, confidant, protection….”
It brought several thoughts to the surface, so I shared the post with some commentary that aligned. Then, I tweeted a series of questions to find out what other people’s childhood experiences were and whether they would repeat them. The polls were not scientific by any stretch of the imagination. There were ample limitations, but the results were quite intriguing to me.
The poll questions were as follows:
- When you were a child/teen, did you want your parent(s) to also be a friend to you?
- When you were a child/teen, were you ever told by a parent, “I’m not your friend”?
- If your parent told you he/she was not your friend, do you plan to do the same with your children?
- In your opinion, should children see friendship in their relationships with parents?
I expected around one hundred or so responses, but at the close of the poll, questions 1–4 had 2,799; 1,955; 1,712; and 2,004 respondents, respectively. With the voting came countless quote retweets with anecdotes and explanations for their voting choices (voting was anonymous). If I had to summarize the commentary, the main ideas would be:
- Some did not want to be friends with their parents because they viewed friends as part of a peer group.
- Some believed their adult relationship with their parents would be better if they’d been friends with their parents during childhood.
- Some believed parents being friends with their children would have blurred the lines of authority.
- Some kept their parents at a distance because their parents didn’t extend friendship.
- Some parents did not want to be friends with their children during their childhood but attempted to change the relationship in adulthood. (Several folks said this was weird to them because their parents had been so against friendship in the beginning.)
- Some reported having wonderful and fulfilling friendships with their parents in childhood and have extended those as adults.
- Some did not necessarily want to be friends but wanted their parents to show far more empathy and understanding.
- Some were very against the idea of parents being friends with their children and connected it to opening the door to disrespect.
I appreciated people’s willingness to share their experiences with me. As I reflected on my own parenting, I was reassured in my decision to be a friend to my children. I understand that many folks don’t see the feasibility of doing so, but I do. My children recognize that Mom is the adult. They understand boundaries in language and action, so neither of those things hinder my ability to be a friend to them, especially when they need it.
When I was teaching, I found that a number of “power struggles” between teachers and students came from the adults’ desire to control. In conversation, I learned that it was about “making sure [students] know [the teacher is] in charge.” But, children know that already. Their decision to test a boundary does not indicate that they’d somehow forgotten who the adult was; it was just part of growing up and learning where they fit. It’s the same in parenting. By remaining consistent, my children lose the ability to “act out” under the guise of “I didn’t know” or blurred boundaries.
I looked up the synonyms for friend, and some of my favorites were advocate, advocator, backer, booster, champion, herald, promoter, proponent, and supporter. Being all of those for my babies is so important, and I cultivate relationships in which they feel safe enough to talk to me about things that make them the most vulnerable. In relationships that last as long as parenting, we cannot wait until adulthood to build strong foundations. By being supportive and encouraging parents, we’re already espousing the same traits as friends.
There is so much nuance to be addressed within this topic, but I hope more parents are open to reflecting on how we relate to our children. With the growing mental health concerns, especially for younger folks, I’m stuck wondering if part of the solution is in reinventing parent-child relationships.
When I think about all that this motherhood life entails, I find myself stumped when trying to answer the question: what part of parenting doesn’t include being a friend?
Feature photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash