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Be your child’s best parent, not best friend

By John J. Tassoni, Jr.

I recently heard a little boy ask his mother a question whose answer would set a critical path for the child.

“Mom, are you my friend?” the child asked. I listened carefully to the mother’s almost immediate answer.

“No, I am not your friend. I am your mom. Your friends won’t take care of you like I will”.

I secretly smiled when I heard this response. This mom clearly understood what it means to be a parent.

It seems the line that separates a parent from being their child’s friend is getting smudged these days, with more adults leaning towards friendship than parenting.

Psychologist Alicia Banderas is very decisive on this point. She said that parents cannot be their kids’ friends because friends are not capable of establishing setting limits and saying ‘no,’ which are two fundamental aspects of good parenting.

Then there is the issue of trust. Trust is a given in parenthood; trust is not the same as friendship.

Growing up, there was never any doubt for me or my three siblings that our parents were not our friends. They weren’t supposed to be. They were there to care for, guide, educate, protect and support us. And they did so with a lot of love and patience. It was a role that they didn’t take lightly.

Today, with so many parents working longer hours, second jobs, or are just less involved in their children’s lives, time spent with children is a commodity, so they substitute quality time with friendship. This creates problems for children and translates into greater problems as they grow into adulthood. However make your children aware that you are there for issues to be discussed; sometimes parents are too hard on their children and they may go to their friends for advice and not their parents.

Barbara Harvey, executive director of Parents, Teacher and Advocates in Atlanta, which helps parents become better at parenting said, “Children want and need boundaries. They depend on parents to set the parameters and keep them safe.” (Star.com, March 27, 2018)

Experts agree that structure provides children with a sense of safety, well-being and belonging. Moreover, it gives them a point of reference and sets their limits to give them a better handle on facing life’s challenges as they grow.

But here is an even bigger problem for parents who treat their children as friends. In doing so, the parents are saying to their children that they are their peers, and that they have equal power to solve problems, and make decisions or judgement calls. In some cases, a bond of friendship with one parent makes it difficult for the child to have a relationship with the other parent.

Then, as children develop into adolescence, it is important for them to exert their individuality and separate a bit from the parent. This can be a hard on a parent. But the separation is needed for the child to grow. Kids who are not able to do this often become rebellious in later years, or they go in a different direction and never leave home because they cannot function on their own, or in our current world, can’t afford their independence.

Just like my own parents, the time I spent with my parents growing up meant the world to me because I was in their loving embrace and care. Their guidance showed me right from wrong, and taught me kindness and tolerance. I was their child, and proud of it.

As a father and grandfather, I followed my parents’ lead and have been a parent first.

And like with my parents, friendship came later, when we became best friends.