You’ve undoubtedly seen the memes that circle around social media. “I’m your parent not your friend” they say, and thousands of parents give their approving thumbs up. It’s also become a popular hashtag. Another thing I’ve seen around the web are people saying things like, “When my child says he hates me, I know I’m doing my job as a parent.”
I can understand these sentiments and don’t entirely disagree. I am not my kid’s third grade recess buddy. Certainly my role as a mother requires a bit more than saving him a seat beside me at the table.
And as much as it pains me to admit it, I too have been on the receiving end of one or two I hate you tirades from my precious offspring, and yes, it was because I held a limit he didn’t like, which is, in fact, doing my “job” as a parent.
Still, the undercurrent of these statements is polarizing and even dangerous.
These “I’m not your friend” and “you’re supposed to hate me” statements normalize a giant gap in the parent-child relationship, foster a “me against you” mentality and completely disregard the crucial attachment bond that gives us real influence.
When we view parenting through the “I’m not your friend” lens, I’m afraid we lose sight of the value of connection. Listen, I know that “soft parenting” has been shamed to death in our culture. We don’t want to look like the ones raising those disrespectful kids we hear so much about, so we harden. We tout ourselves as “tough” parents and get praised for it. Praise feels good. It’s validating. In a world that is constantly telling us how we are screwing up as parents, what little praise we can gather feels like oxygen.
Here’s the bottom line: This isn’t an either/or deal. I don’t feel that I have to choose between being a parent and being a friend.
To me, a friend loves at all times.
To me, a friend is someone I can turn to, someone I confide in.
To me, a friend accepts me, flaws and all.
To me, a friend is someone I feel safe with.
To me, a friend is someone I can be myself around.
To me, a friend is someone I can count on to have my back.
All of those qualities feel like good parental qualities to me. I want my kids to turn to me and confide in me because if they don’t, if I’ve pushed them to go elsewhere because “I’m not their friend”—then who knows what direction they’ll be steered in.
I want my kids to feel accepted by me because if they don’t, you can bet they’ll go find acceptance elsewhere. I hope they feel safe with me and are free to be themselves because kids who feel they need to hide and pretend often suffer mental and emotional repercussions.
Of course I have their backs, because we are family. I am absolutely my kids’ friend.
I’m also their mother, however. Our relationship is unique.
I don’t think any of my son’s friends will stay up and check his fever through the night, remind him to pick up his towel, or bake cookies for homework hour. I don’t envision any of them limiting my son’s screen time or teaching him how to respect women. If my kid’s friends are having conversations with him about sex and drugs, it’s probably not the same conversation I’ve had with him. And I’d better hope in those moments that my voice and influence trump his friend’s. If I’ve blacklisted myself from his friend’s list, I don’t even have a chance.
If your child says she hates you, then maybe it is because you’re doing a good job. Maybe that means you’ve set a boundary or held a limit that was in her best interest even if she doesn’t understand that yet. Or maybe it means you’re being unreasonable, mean, or hurtful. Hearing “I hate you” isn’t instant validation for good parenting, so let’s please not make this a measure.
I read a sentence years ago that stuck with me,“Your child will have lots of friends throughout their life but only one mother.” So to my sons, if you want to go to the park and shoot some hoops, call your friends. If you need someone who has loved you unconditionally from the very moment you came into existence and who wants nothing less than the very best for you always, call your mother. I’ll be here.