I always hear people say, “I’m their parent and not their friend” in regards to their children, and honestly, it makes me a bit sad. For them. For their kids. For the beautiful relationship that they could have if they weren’t on such a power trip.
And I get it. I really do. They most likely were raised the same way. So now that they finally have their own tiny people, it feels good to finally be at the top.
But what if I told you that you could all be at the top?
Now don’t get me wrong; I mess this gig up a lot. I’m not perfect. My parenting isn’t full-proof. I do not know all, and I’m certainly not infallible.
I do believe that kids need some semblance of structure. And I believe in boundaries that are safety issues or could otherwise cause harm to themselves or someone else. But tidy rooms and asking to be excused when they’re finished with dinner are not on those lists. I fall short on them every single day; it’d be utterly ridiculous and unfair of me to expect that of my children.
But more so, it would be damaging to our relationship. It would essentially be me harping on them for every infraction, cementing one brick after another onto the giant wall that would inevitably separate us.
The majority of the people I know who parent this way were also parented this way, and they do not have solid, healthy relationships with their own parents. Most of them claim to have good relationships, but to any outsider looking in, it’s obvious that they don’t: they simply do not know any differently. It’s hard, trust me, I know, to change patterns. But your kids are more than worth it.
I am the mother to three amazing, vivacious, stubborn, strong-willed children. Some days mothering is challenging; knowing when to bend and when to stand firm. But being their friend? That’s always easy.
Think of all the big moments in your life. The challenges, joys, heartaches. I bet you shared all of those with friends. I know I did. But most people didn’t share all of those things with their parents. They just couldn’t wrap their brain around being that intimate with them. Too much fear of shame and being critiqued.
I want my kids to know I will always be here to help them. That’s my job. I want to help them. I want to gently guide them and mold them into being good people, and I know they don’t need a strong armed momma to dole out consequences for any little mishap.
It doesn’t mean I sit passively by while they rule the world. It just means we work together. And I do my job of modeling for them the way I hope they grow to behave. Gentle, kind, patient, self controlled. They absolutely cannot possibly learn these things if I don’t model it for them. Actions speak louder than words; unless of course your words are screaming. But even then.
I can tell my children all day long to say “please” and “thank you” but it’s a moot point if I don’t use those words myself and genuinely mean them. But if they hear me using them and whole-heartedly meaning them, they don’t need me to tell them to say it anyway because they will naturally do so. Now, will they say it every single time they “should”? Probably not. But you’ll only notice it because they’re kids. We rarely notice or care when adults forget to say it. But that’s a whole other essay about childism waiting to happen (can you tell yet I have a lot of beef with childism?).
I can tell my children not to yell when they’re angry, and offer alternatives to find relief for their upset; but if I’m yelling at them when I’m angry it will never matter. They’re learning from me to yell in anger; who cares what I’m telling them when they’re angry?
I want my kids to be so happy and so loved that it’s all they know. And I want them to always be able to say, “of course my mom is my friend!” because they know no one will ever be quite as in love or vested in them as me. And because I don’t understand how I could love someone this immensely and not want so deeply to develop the very closest of friendships with them.
When they break our rules, which are essentially, “treat one another with love and kindness” then we talk about it. We discuss what happened, why it happened, and what we can change in the future. Sometimes we take some time to calm down when they’re particularly upset, typically together, because “in our house we don’t deal with big scary, overwhelming feelings by ourselves” so I always stay nearby. I want them to always, always know that no matter how big, or angry, or sad, or quite frankly, annoying to me at times, those feelings are; they are never too big for me. If I, a grown adult, cannot help them cope with their feelings, how can I expect them, young children, to do so?
And so I try my very best to meet all of the emotions, those moments of utter frustration with them, when they’re purposely gauging and calculating how far they can push, with patience and love. Because I know that those moments are the biggest test of our relationship; they’re looking for the reassurance that I’m not just talk, that I really do love them at their naughtiest, that I really do have the patience and grace for them that they deserve. (And I am not saying that I get this right each time, or that it’s remotely easy: it’s isn’t always!)
I want to build a foundation of friendship now, while they’re still so little, that is so strong that by the time they’re teenagers and things like sex and drugs become very real realities, they don’t hesitate to talk to me about these things; to confide in me, to brainstorm with me, to lament to me, or even to confess to me. Because they know I will always be on their team, even for the big scary mishaps. I won’t judge them or criticize them. I will simply help them. Because that is what friends do. And as their momma, I will always be their friend. My relationship with them is worth far more than any power trip I could ever have by bullying them to be perfect little minions.
I want them to be so secure with themselves, to be so strong and vocal and courageous, which, I dare not say can only happen if they first have a secure and strong relationship with their parents, but I guarantee it will remove a lot of hurdles on their way to feeling confident and secure.
The philosophy J and I have adopted in our marriage when it comes to differences of views is: Will this matter tomorrow? Will it matter next week? Next year? Will this matter 20 years from now?
If the answer to the last question is yes, then we realize it is something that must be addressed. Ask me how many arguments (and this does not mean yelling at each other – neither of us have ever raised our voices at the other actually) we’ve ever had? I can tell you: one. Yep, that’s it. Because we’ve learned super early on that the little stuff just isn’t worth the time or energy micromanaging and worrying over.
And I’ve essentially adopted the same philosophy with our kids.
It is not going to matter in 20 years if our kids happen to forget to say “thank you” once or twice. It will matter in 20 years if I don’t model that etiquette so they learn though. It won’t matter in 20 years if our rule is “toys get picked up before bedtime” and they don’t. I know that it will not sentence them to a lifestyle of unsanitary filth (and besides, it’s a scientific fact that creative people are a bit more messy – so really, it’s probably a win!). It won’t matter in 20 years if they get ice cream after dinner this one time, even though they didn’t eat a single vegetable: they typically do eat veggies so I know they have good, healthful eating habits most of the time (and I’ve had ice cream for dinner as an adult more than I should admit, so there is that). I know that if they scream in excitement and wake the baby from his nap, although frustrating for me in that moment, although they know outside voices are for outside, will not even be an occasion of remembrance in 20 years, thus I’d do better to show them grace and strengthen that relationship, as opposed to getting mad and putting up another brick in the wall.
So, yes. I will always, always, always be my children’s friend. I am their mother, of course; a beautiful and sacred role that is so much deeper than friendship. But I am also a friend; a role that only strengthens our bond for the long term.