First I’d like to say a huge thank you to my readers for the kind words from my tribute to my brother upon his passing. I greatly appreciate the support and ability to take the time and space to grieve. As I move forward I’ll be looking to get back on track with posting regularly. The following is a guest post from my good friend and business partner, Jason Boes, M.Ed., LPC, NCC who has 15+ years of experience as a child & family therapist.
Parent or Friend – Navigating the Gray
“I can’t be my child’s friend, I need to be their parent!“
Parents often struggle to determine how to best relate to their children while also maintaining a clear line of authority between who is the parent and who is the child. But do we need to choose between being a friend to our kids and being a good parent? Can a good parent also be a friend to their kids? Are parents who are “friends” with their kids dropping the ball when it comes to discipline?
What are we as parents to do???
We enter the task of parenting with a host of expectations. Our perceptions tend to be shaped from the thoughts of others, media portrayals, extended family influences, and mostly from our own preconceived notions of what a parent is supposed to be and how a parent is supposed to act (our parenting default). Usually, our default parenting style comes from our own parents, whether good or bad: “I turned out ok so my parent’s way must be best” OR “I’m a mess, and I can’t let my kids experience what I did.“
These experiences frequently lead to two of the most common types of parenting styles – Authoritarian Parenting and Permissive Parenting, identified by psychologist and researcher, Diana Baumrind.
Authoritarian Parenting is often what is thought of as “being their parent, not their friend.” It is characterized by strict rules and expectations, obedience to parental requests, and limited choices or options. It generally lacks much warmth or nurturing, and values compliance above all else. I like to refer to it as the “second best type of parenting” since that is what most longitudinal research on the topic has concluded. Children raised with authoritarian parents are typically well adjusted, do well in school, and are adept at following rules, yet may lack the self-discipline to do this on their own outside of an authoritarian setting. They have been told how to behave but have not learned the skill of behaving themselves. As a result, this style may result in lower self-esteem and an increased risk for anxiety and depression. Those growing up in this environment may also have less advanced emotional awareness and moral reasoning skills.
Permissive Parenting is often seen as the opposite of Authoritarian and is often viewed as the “being their friend” type of parent. Permissive parents are typically very nurturing and loving toward their children but have few rules or expectations. Where rules do exist, they are often reluctantly and inconsistently enforced. The outcomes for this type of parenting are generally worse than Authoritarian parenting with children frequently lacking self-discipline, having poor social skills, being overly demanding and self-involved, and feeling insecure. This type of parenting has been linked to risk-taking behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse and other types of misconduct. It’s no wonder that parents say “I can’t be my child’s friend.” If this is what being a friend means, then we are doing them no favors.
Both Authoritarian and Permissive parenting styles carry risks to the overall wellbeing of children. But what about the gray, the middle ground, the best of both? Diana Baumrind called this Authoritative Parenting, a style characterized both by high warmth (friendship) and high expectations (parenting). It is the parenting style that years of longitudinal research concludes has the best and most positive outcomes on our children – and why not???. Allow yourself to empathize with your inner 7-year-old child for a moment. How would you like to be parented? How would you feel most secure? Which style would lead to the best relationship with your parents? Which would most likely lead to a healthy mindset?
Have you ever heard anyone seriously say, “my parents were just too warm and caring toward me”? No, more commonly, people (children included!) lament either the harshness or the lack of limits and boundaries by their parents. These are the characteristics of both extremes of parenting, permissive and authoritarian, styles characterized by an imbalance between “being the parent” and “being a friend.” The black and white mindset of thinking that you MUST choose between being a good parent OR friend leaves out the gray, which includes the essential nutrients most needed for children to thrive – Warmth and High Expectations.
In my counseling experiences with children, I’ve discovered some commonalities of things that children and adolescents say they need and things they report to hate. Authoritative Parenting (high warmth + high expectations) effectively provides for these areas:
Kids say they need:
Quality time spent with parents
Secure relationships with caregivers
Rules and limits! (It helps them feel secure and in control of their lives)
Kids say they hate:
Being yelled at
Not having choices
Not being heard or listened to
So what are we to do?? The encouraging news is that you can be both a good parent AND be your child’s friend:
Be a PARENT: in the way of teaching, correcting, and setting consistent limits and boundaries
Be a FRIEND: in the way of listening, enjoying quality time together, trusting each other, and having fun together.
Both are essential nutrients to growing healthy children.
A few years ago, I attended a parenting seminar from author and parenting professional, Chap Clark. A question arose from a concerned parent in the audience expressing deep concern about parents who befriend their children. The response was simple and powerful…he responded, “If you can’t be your child’s friend, then you’ve already lost them.”
The common goal of all parenting is to produce children that are productive and contributing members of society AND to have an ongoing relationship with them in the future. Authoritative parenting is the sweet spot of parenting that best targets these goals.
So be your child’s parent AND be their friend, too.
Your kids will thank you for it!