The Dilemma of Being a Parent and a Friend

Joan Marques - Ed.D., MBA.
Burbank, California

I don't know any parents that look into the eyes of a newborn baby and say, How can we screw this kid up. (Russell Bishop)

This morning was one of the many in which I wondered about the combination of being a parent and a friend. There are so many sources that will tell you that the best way of being a parent is to be a friend to your children as well, so that they will trust you enough to share their troubles with you. And once that multi-dimensional relationship is established, you will be able to monitor the way your child can handle his or her issues better.

I don't think that there is any parent that would disagree with this statement. After all: who wants to maintain a distance with his or her children and run the risk of not knowing what drives them to certain actions?

However—and here's my dilemma—it is not always an easy task to be a child's parent and friend at the same time. Especially when the child reaches adolescence or young adulthood, for that's when issues of youthful cruelty expand to serious proportions, and your life-experienced opinions start to collide with those of your offspring.

An example? Imagine your 15-year-old son complaining about a bully in school. You energetically start instructing him about handling this pitiless character, and it works well... until, one day, your son introduces you to his new best friend: the bully! Now, an optimistic soul may hope that the bully has realized his nastiness and changed his ways, but experience has taught us that such is an unlikely scheme. Bullies are out to control, and the victims usually only become the bullies’ friends because it's easier to join them than to fight them. Not because they are really such desirable friends.

So, here you are: knowing that your child is now in the hands of one who has merciless control and can drive your young one to deeds that you would prefer him to refrain from.

Another example: Imagine your 19-year-old daughter repeatedly pouring out her heart about an emotionally and mentally abusive boyfriend. You listen, pick up the pieces of her shattered self-esteem, and mend them: Time and again. You keep talking to her, and explain from your own life experiences how crucial it is to break the ties with an emotional abuser while it is still relatively easy: that is, before there are children involved. However, your young one also expects you to be her understanding friend when she wants to hang out with this despicable creature again. For that's what a friend would do, right?

But what would a parent do? Just shake his or her head and watch the youngster maneuver him- or herself in a hopeless situation again?

You know, the parents among the readers who have younger or older children than the ones in the so-called difficult age-area described above, may be fast with their judgments: either because they have not been there yet, or because they, like most people, have decided to forget what was too painful to remember. Thus, these parents will have all kinds of wise advices for you.

But "having children makes one no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist," says Michael Levine. To me, that underscores the truth that there is no single right way of raising your children. One can have 5 youngsters at home, and all 5 may require a different approach. Some kids hardly need any direction; others will need more guidance when they're little, yet others may need more supervision as they mature. Some kids, again, may require micro-guidance at all times, while others should rather be let free to find their own way.

So, who can tell what's the right approach toward raising children? There are so many adults out there who never had appropriate care as a child and still turned into excellent members of society. And there are just as many adults who had a lot of attention during childhood, yet turned out to be appalling characters.

I guess I agree with Elizabeth Gaskell's statement that a wise parent humors the desire for independent action, so as to become the friend and advisor when his absolute rule shall cease.

So, my conclusion is, then, that, if you want to do a good job as a parent, the best way is to listen and to communicate. And to tell your children that you want to be their friend, but that you are their parent as well, and that they cannot expect the impossible from you, which would be: shrugging when they make the same mistake over and over again. Yes, you will not turn your back upon your child under any circumstance, but the perspectives have to be set straight. Period.