Are you trying to be your child’s “best friend forever”? Or are you a friend to your child? All kinds of strings are attached to BFFs, but a true friend should involve no strings whatsoever. Maybe it’s the qualities of a BFF parent that make us think that friendship should not enter the relationship.
All the “experts” say, “Don’t be your child’s friend.” Why not? I have a hard time understanding that point of view. Is it because we want to be able to punish, reprimand, and restrict our children? Is it because we want more power over them than a friend would have? I want to examine this friendship idea.
What is a friend? Someone you can count on; someone who is loyal, honest, and trustworthy; someone you really like and even love; someone you want in your life for a very long time; someone you empathize with who can empathize with you; someone who gives you a shoulder to cry on, listens, and understands your problems without fixing them or giving unwanted advice; someone who doesn’t talk about you behind your back but instead has your back; someone you really like being with because you can be yourself. Wouldn’t you like those qualities in a parent?
Afraid that being your child’s friend means not being able to hold him accountable because your authority would be undermined? Don’t you hold your friends accountable for their behavior? When we can’t say no to our friends, hold them accountable for certain behavior, or speak honestly, it indicates poor boundaries—not a great foundation for friendship.
The BFF Parent:
- Alters own needs to suite child’s demands
- Does anything to avoid child’s upset
- Is dishonest to protect child from the “big, bad world”
- Avoids loneliness by sharing inappropriate information
- Demands loyalty and companionship through attached strings
- Tries to fix child’s problems to gain love and appreciation
- Asks child to keep secrets
- Uses child as confidante for own problems
- Holds back feelings to be nice, yet might blow-up in a rage
- Insists that child has similar tastes, values, and opinions
The Parent who is also a friend:
- Enjoys spending time, hanging out with, and just being with the child
- Shares ideas, opinions, stories and encourages the same
- Learns what activities child enjoys and becomes familiar with them
- Listens and acknowledges feelings but does not take responsibility for child’s problems, upsets, or disappointments
- Shows respect and consideration in all communication and never, ever speaks disrespectfully, hurtfully, or abusively
- Laughs a lot and tells jokes
- Encourages child to find own way, follow own path, develop own values and opinions
- Is willing to speak honestly trusting the relationship will remain strong
- Behaves in way that does not betray trust
- Expresses anger and deals with child’s anger
- Is also the authority figure—someone the child looks up to, learns from and emulates because of the preceding attributes
I wonder if the qualities of friendship restrict parents too much from speaking disrespectfully and doling out whatever critical, labeling or punitive reactions arise in the heat of the moment. I wonder if being a friend to your child requires accountability that most parents don’t want to be held to. Are we afraid that our children won’t respect us if we are their friends? Don’t you respect your friends?
In the parent-child relationship, we are more than friends. We are teachers and guides; we provide for them and are responsible for their care and upbringing, but this does not preclude friendship as well. Problems arise when we try to be “best friends forever”. Or when we are not their friends.
“If only I could stay calm…” “I just react….I can’t help it!”
Every success story I have ever received from a parent includes, I was able to stay calm. Okay, easier said than done, I know. Human beings are reactive. When we feel threatened, we automatically retaliate. It takes self-awareness and consciousness to intervene before that retaliation. Mostly we gain that self-control in the growing up process, but when our buttons get pushed, old stuff gets triggered self-control feels out of reach.
Without going into the old stuff here, suffice it to say that the amygdala section of the limbic system in the brain gets triggered when a button gets pushed, and we go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Especially when a button gets pushed, we need to gain some perspective so we don’t fly off the handle and react in ways we soon regret. To learn more about what happens in your brain at this time, read this. http://www.bonnieharris.com/your-brain-on-button-pushing.html
Our reactions have very little reason attached to them. They are pure emotion and carrying through means at best we are ineffective in teaching our child anything and at worst, can be damaging. All effective teaching happens when both you and your child are calm and can be reasonable.
Here is the 10 second rule to stop an emotional reaction from occurring.
STOP – BREATHE – WAIT – THINK
When you feel your blood start to boil or that tightness in your stomach, STOP and count to 10. That is enough time to stop the trigger from activating and for your prefrontal cortex to come back on line so you can reason.
Then BREATHE deeply at least three times.
WAIT by telling yourself you will be far more effective after you calm down.
In that waiting period, THINK. Ask yourself one or more of the following questions. Perhaps print them out and put them in a conspicuous place.
Will I regret this later?
Is this the best time to say what I want?
Do I mean what I am tempted to say?
Am I connecting or disconnecting?
Does this build my child’s trust in me?
Am I widening or narrowing the gap between us?
How would I like hearing what I’m about to say?
Do I need to just lighten up or be firmer with boundaries?
How many times has my child heard what I was about to say?
Do I really need to say it again?
You don’t have to know the “right” thing to do. All you have to do is STOP yourself. When you are fueled, you cannot think reasonably. It is through BREATHING and WAITING that you will be able to THINK about what you want to do. How much time you take to THINK does not matter. You can come back to the situation hours, days, even weeks later. When you are calm, you can say what you mean and mean what you say.
Traditional parenting teaches us that the parent/child relationship is one of teacher to student—but more than that, dictatorial teacher to submissive student. As long as children do what we say, life is good. But what happens when they don’t? How can that be? Children should do what they are told, and I should be able to make that happen.
Tougher measures provoke even more resistance, and we end up in power struggles, often losing control and spiraling in a direction we never expected.
Connective parenting puts a different spin on the relationship. Yes, parents are teachers but are also students of their children as well. Parent and child are in a relationship, and relationships must always look both ways. Reciprocal learning is constant.
Do you want your children to have the following traits?
- learn accountability for their actions
- take responsibility for themselves
- be respectful and kind
- learn appropriate behavior from the world around them
- contribute to the world from a strong foundation of self-confidence
Most parents want the same things for their children’s futures. Ironically our traditional parenting methods send them in the opposite direction. We are a society of the walking wounded, but we refuse to connect the dots to see where the problems really begin.
- Unconditional acceptance of the child provides a strong foundation for self-confidence. Connective parents understand that children come into the world whole and ready to absorb—but on their own time schedule and with their unique way of learning. Parents gain the greatest understanding of their children by listening and watching each child’s developmental process. It is in this place that children thrive and parental influence is strongest.
- Respect teaches respect. The connected parent acknowledges and is considerate of the child’s agenda and sees that it is just as important to her child as her agenda is to her. Emotions and desires are always acceptable and acknowledged even when they are not specifically allowed.
- All children want to do the right thing and will do so as long as they can. If the child is not in a receptive state, she will not learn. In other words, she must want to learn and hear what is being taught. It should never be assumed that just because she is your child, she will do what you want. Resistance means that she is having a problem, not being a problem. There is an obstacle in her way of doing what she knows is right. It is that obstacle that must be addressed in order for behavior to change.
- Behavior provides clues for the adult to understand what is going on with the child; what it is that provokes the behavior. There is an underlying need that results in unwanted behavior. If only the behavior is addressed with rewards or punishments, that need is not addressed and the behavior must get louder and more dramatic in an attempt to be heard. Behavior should never be taken at face value.
- Punishment is never effective. Even consequences, the “pc” word for punishment, are usually threats and lay conditions on behavior….”If you don’t do…, you can’t do….” Connective parenting relies on problem solving and conflict resolution to truly hold a child accountable and responsible. When threats and blame are not used, defensive behavior is unnecessary and the child is free to see the true consequences of his behavior, state his side of the story and work out a compromise that works for all involved. Again, it is about the relationship. If your spouse speaks rudely or ignores you, you wouldn’t threaten him by saying, “If you don’t stop that, you’re not going to the party with me this weekend.” You would attend to the relationship.
A connected relationship with your child does not rely on the easy methods of parenting—the old standbys. It requires accountability on the part of adults to understand why both they and their children react the way they do and put in the work necessary to maintain a strong, respectful relationship.