Be a Parent, Not a Friend
Who doesn’t want to be loved? Isn’t that part of what makes us tick? Perhaps more than anything, we want our children to love us. But as they become teens, they become more independent. Maybe their love for you isn’t shown in the same way as it was when they were four years old. So many of us, in an attempt to stay close to them, want to become their friends. Who doesn’t want to be liked? To be worthy of being a friend. You’re never too old to want to fit in, even with your own child. Being a friend feels like a comfortable fit, especially when outwardly showing love becomes embarrassing to your teen. But being a parent is more important!
Teens Need Parental Guidance
But here’s the problem with being a friend instead of being a parent. There are differences between parents and friends. And while there are plenty of areas where the two may overlap (e.g. you care about each other, you listen with an empathetic ear, you support them when they are feeling bad) there will be many times when being a friend is not enough. Your teen will need a parent. Here are just a few important ways they need you.
1) Set Boundaries
Adolescents need you to set boundaries. They need you to teach and guide them. They need to know there are consequences when they act out of line. Those boundaries and guidance need to come from you as a parent, not from a friend. Some of the toughest moments for you will come when you choose the role of a parent over the role of friend. But try not to worry. If you show love, respect, and care towards them, your parenting will strengthen your relationship while positioning your child to make wise decisions.
2) Maintain Open Communication
A lot of people who didn’t have close relationships with their own parents try to become friends with their children. They often do it in hopes of having a better relationship than they had with their own parents. One who communicates better. “I couldn’t talk much to my dad. That’s why I want you to think of me as a buddy.” But we know that in fact, many kids don’t talk to parents they think of as friends. Why? Because they don’t want to disappoint them. We also know that the best way to monitor teens is for them to choose to disclose to you, even to ask permission for what they hope to do that stretches boundaries. We know that kids do not come for permission or to bounce off ideas off parents they consider buddies. Why would they? They know the answer already. It’s yes.
3) Be Stable
As teens becomes more independent, they need to figure out HOW they are different from you. Some parents dress like their teens and talk like their teens’ peers. Perhaps they feel it’s a way to appear cool and stay connected. This can backfire. Remember that part of adolescent development is achieving independence — figuring out who you are separately from your parents and siblings. This is easier to do when your parent is standing still. When your parent is always moving towards you as you change, you may feel the need to change more dramatically. This is not what you want as a parent. If you look too much like teens or act too much like them, they may push you away. Instead, consider being a lighthouse parent: a stable force your kids can measure themselves against.
4) Remain Present
Remember, there will be plenty of friends that come and go in their lives. But there is only one YOU. You are not going anywhere. You may get angry and need to correct them. By being a parent, they never have to fear losing you or pretend to be anything but what they really are for you. Let them know that.
Write a Letter
How about writing them a letter? It doesn’t have to be long, just heartfelt. Here’s an example of a letter to my daughter.
You’re growing up fast. I want you to know I’m proud of the teenager I see you becoming. You may roll your eyes, but I mean it.
You like to spend most of your time with friends these days. I get it. Friends are important. That makes me wish I was one of them. I want to be as important to you as they seem to be. But as tempting as it is to want you to spend more time with me and see me as one of your “friends,” that won’t work. I’ve been where you are in your life already. I’ve had my turn, now it’s yours. Being a parent to you now is important.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be involved in your life. That also doesn’t mean we can’t ever do things together that you might do with your friends. (Like check out what’s on sale at Sephora?)
So, as much as I know you may cringe at the thought, I won’t promise not to chaperone at your school dance. But I will arrange to be the parent that stands outside the gym as it takes place, rather than be inside.
I will attend the school play if you’re in it. But I will promise not to get there early and sit in the front row.
I may peek over your shoulder when you’re doing homework or ask you about your classes. But I won’t make a big deal if you don’t get a good grade. I will remind you that it’s okay to fail, as long as you tried. Hopefully, I can help you learn from your mistakes.
One of the greatest pleasures in my life is watching you grow up. I want you to thrive and be able to take care of yourself.
I love you. Not like a friend. Like a mother. Your mother. I’d give anything to make sure you’re happy. You’ve got plenty of time to learn lots of amazing things. I’m here for you when you need me. But I’ll also be around when you think you don’t. That’s what caring parents do sometimes.
Express Your Love
Now it’s your turn. Take some time and write your teen a letter. What do you want them to know? Maybe you never show it to them, but instead, choose to keep it tucked inside your bedside drawer as a reminder or a source of inspiration. Maybe you do send it to them or read it to them so it can begin an important, open conversation. Perhaps you write a series of letters or notes as issues arise. If what you’ve written comes from a place of love, you’ll realize that being a parent is a greater lasting gift than being a friend.