Visiting family can create a number of feelings, thoughts and emotions, but the one consideration that stuck with me on this occasion was, “Can you be a parent and a friend?” Two sets of children in the same living room with representative parents present. One set of children being allowed free run of the living room, the other constantly being reminded to consider the property of the grandmother to whom the living room belongs. On the one hand being seen as the ‘cool’ parent, prioritising fun and laughter at the expense of the comfort of relatives was the focus, whereas on the other, limits and boundaries being clearly defined and upheld allowed for apparently less fun than the other children were having and resulted in those parents being seen as the ‘fun police’.
In his post on Empowering Parents, James Lehman, MSW, says that there is a stage where parenting becomes a functional role, not just an emotional role and one without the other can lead to disaster. This means that you cannot be a friend without being a parent and vice versa. It is potentially harmful to try to be one or the other as both are complementary of each other. Whilst the narrative seems to disagree with the statement that you can be a friend to your child, the context actually seems to say the opposite and paraphrases the sentiment of Joanne Stern Ph.D. By saying that you need to be a parent AND a friend, it highlights Joanne Stern’s point that there’s no conflict between being a parent and a friend. By being approachable, accessible and having your children’s best interests at heart, it develops a close bond between you and that can be called a friendship. With any friendship you are able to set boundaries and have effective discipline because your kids respect you enough to obey you.
Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. explains the difference between this style of friendship and an egalitarian friendship by comparing the relationship between a child and their parent as being similar to that which some adults manage to have with authority figures like senior colleagues, supervisors, mentors, community leaders, or religious advisors. This point is based on the fact that both parties respect each other, can have meaningful conversations and they enjoy each other’s company in informal settings but there are constraints. The dominant party has to keep some information to himself and there are times when the dominant party must exercise their authority.
All of this seems completely emotionless though. I have a large number of people that work for me, but I would not go to the same lengths to protect them as I would my son or daughter. I wouldn’t get so emotionally involved in their hardships as I would my own children’s and I certainly wouldn’t get choked up by the marriage of one of my colleagues, whereas at my daughter’s wedding I can almost certainly say that I will be heartbroken. Maybe this is James Lehman’s point. All of these emotional factors need me to have a rationale that supersedes them in order to ensure that my children have the best opportunity in life. As most things in life, it seems that it all comes down to balance. As Joanne Stern says, you don’t want to become permissive, but you do need to put boundaries in place without becoming too controlling. You need to give your children freedom to make their own choices and learn from their failings and mistakes but don’t become too distant and aloof. Conversely you shouldn’t become a helicopter parent by hovering over them making every decision at the first sign of difficulty.
For me I think I will continue to work hard to find this balance, but if you believe in Morris Massey’s value acquisition model I only have 1 and a bit years left to imprint what I believe are the principles of right and wrong into my eldest’s instinctual values, but I won’t sacrifice having fun, playing and laughing and generally being there for because that in itself is a value that needs to be held on to.
What do you think, should you be a parent or a friend, or can you be effective at both simultaneously?