19 Mar You Only Have One Mother
I recently became reminded of a television show that I watched occasionally in high school. The program centered around a close-knit mother-daughter duo who reside in a small town. Throughout the show, the closeness of their relationship is attributed to the fact that the mother got pregnant in high school and the two have since had to rely exclusively on each other for support.
Through the course of the program’s duration, there are several instances where the mother curbs her motherly instincts and withholds maternal advice for the sake of preserving their friendship. In fact, in one episode the mother explicitly states “We are best friends first, and mother and daughter second”.
In high school, I found this idea fascinating and wished I shared a similar relationship with my mother. My mom and I got along well enough, but our relationship was far from this fictional pair, and I certainly never considered her my best friend. She was my mother, first and foremost.
I remember on one occasion, mentioning to my mother that it would be cool to have the kind of relationship depicted in that show. She considered my statement and then said something to the effect of “You only have one mother”. I didn’t understand what she meant so she elaborated. She pointed out that through the course of my life there would be many people that could fill the position of my best friend, but only one person could ever be my mother. If she gave up that role for the sake of being my best friend, who would be my mother? She finished by stating that I didn’t need another best friend, I needed a mother.
This conversation has stuck with me and I have thought back to it on several occasions, especially recently when it seems like so many parents are adopting this friendship style of parenting. This topic has become very controversial among parenting circles because it is something many people feel strongly about. Those opposed to parent-child friendships generally point to children’s need for structure and discipline in order to become competent people. Those in favor of parent-child friendships usually express a desire for their children to feel comfortable enough to come to them in difficult situations. The truth of the matter is there is no right or wrong way (sorry Mom). It’s all a matter of execution.
There are two fundamental components of parenting: support (responsiveness), which includes warmth, affection, and involvement; and control (demandingness), which includes provision of structure to the environment, limit setting, monitoring, and supervision. Research suggests that the authoritative style of parenting, characterized by high responsiveness and high demandingness, is associated with the most positive child and youth outcomes.
Parent-child friendships tend to get a bad rap because they promote permissive parenting which is characterized by high support/responsiveness and little control/demandingness. Many times these parents are so concerned with ensuring that their children like them, that they surrender their responsibility to set boundaries, reprimand, and discipline their children in the name of preserving their friendship. In a sense, the friendship dissolves the authority structure, and the parent-child relationship becomes egalitarian; with no authority, no rules, and no consequences.
As fun as this may sound to a child, it is not what they need. The role of a parent is to care for and prepare their children for life; to teach, to encourage, and to help foster positive attributes that will help them be successful adults, none of which would be possible without some level of discipline. That is why children of authoritative parents thrive, because the structure in combination with warmth makes them feel safe and gives them a sense of belonging.
However, it is possible to build close, personal relationships with your kids and still remain responsible adults. The key is setting limits. There is no problem with enjoying spending time with your children, taking part in their interests and hobbies, or listening to and sharing in their joys, disappointments, and frustrations. In fact, that is encouraged!
The problem comes when we alter our own needs to appease a child’s demands, try to avoid upsetting a child at all costs, fight our children’s battles for them, and fail to set age appropriate limits or enforce consequences for poor behavior. Such permissiveness may bring them momentary happiness and may even prompt children to tell you all their problems, but parenting with affection and high expectations will give them the tools to handle those problems on their own.
There is a thin line between being your child’s friend and being a push-over parent. It may take a little trial and error to find the balance that works for you. Just remember to be a parent first, and a friend second because over the course of their lifetime your child will likely have many friends, but “you only have one mother.”