I started out my mental health career as a family counselor, logging many hours on the road doing in-home therapy. Although I do different therapy now, that time as a family counselor taught me so many lessons. These were some tough situations, and I still think about these families from time to time.
One thing that struck me was how parents sometimes turned into a wet noodle in front of their children. They threw out some strong words, but then took themselves out of power in a matter of moments. They responded rather than acted. They behaved as if they and their children were peers. And also, they were simply doing the best they knew how as parents.
Parents As Friends
One disturbing issue I’ve seen more frequently is the “parent as friend” situation. Parents let their kids do whatever they want because there are fewer arguments this way. Parents talk about adult issues with their children, using them as a confidant. Divorcing or separating parents make the oldest child their pseudo-adult companion. Parents enthrone their children’s wants more than their needs and become a “favorite parent”. I had one parent tell me how they weren’t supposed to “provoke their son into anger”, citing scripture to back her up.
Kids need parents and want boundaries. When a kid’s parent acts like their friend, they actually lose a parent in the process. Who can they count on to show them healthy limits? Who can they depend on to show them the right way when they’ve done wrong? Who will be there to both forgive and teach when they make a mistake? A parent who acts like a friend isn’t doing any of these things.
You Can Reclaim Your Rightful Position As Parent
I know that this list above might strike a few of you the wrong way. Perhaps you’ve done one of these things yourself, or had a friend act this way for a while. It’s something that can be corrected and changed, but you might have to suffer the consequences for a while. Kids are not often rational creatures. They are creatures of habit, emotion, and self-focus. None of these are bad things, just kid things. Kids need the steady strong presence of a parent who will stop them in their tracks, let them rant and rave, and still be standing there when the kid needs a hug.
If you have had trouble like this, it’s not too late to make a change. Find a good parenting friend or your spouse to help you out. Observe yourself and understand when you cave in or cross into “friend” territory. Take note that an emotionally available parent is not being a friend. They still have the “parent hat” on the whole time. If things are really out of balance, you may need to get help from a family therapist.
What do you think? Have you sometimes been too much of a friend to your child, not the parent they needed? What did you do to turn things around?
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Last reviewed: 8 May 2009