Friday, March 25, 2011

Parenting is Not about Being the BFF

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Your job is not to be your child’s “best-friend” or “sibling.” Parents using this style tend to view a child as a confidante, which typically means giving too much information.

Experience tells us children become easily burdened by parental financial and relationship problems. Likewise, playing the best friend means it is more difficult to correct or make decisions that are displeasing to your child.

As a parent you will say no to your child and you will make her angry. While it’s hard to say no, it’s even more difficult to say no to your best friend.

One day your relationship may develop along the lines of friendship, but during adolescence it is better to be comfortable—as comfortable as you can be—not being the friend. Your child will be better served if you are authoritative instead.

An authoritative parent is one who is warm and caring, but is also highly structured. Authoritative parents have rules and high expectations for their children.

An episode from Grey’s Anatomy helped me see the big picture. Physician Addison Montgomery has a pregnant patient who demands to have a non-surgical birthing. After practicing ‘natural’ childbirth, the patient refuses to accept anything else. She believes doctors push too early to perform C-sections, and she will not agree to the procedure Dr. Montgomery feels is necessary.

Because a past trauma has made her question her own decisions, Dr. Montgomery acts more like an indulgent parent than an experienced and authoritative physician. Under the onslaught of her patient’s tempestuous demands, Dr. Montgomery abandons the position she knows to be necessary.

Another doctor helps Montgomery to realize her responsibility is to be the competent, knowledgeable physician she is, not a woman vying for first place in a Miss Congeniality contest.

Dr. Montgomery returns to the pregnant woman’s room. She has to order the patient to shut up to get her to listen. “I have to make a decision that will save your life,” the doctor says. “It’s important and I’m the one who has to make it. Not you. Not now. Discussion closed.”

Only when the doctor is sure of her own position can the patient who is desperate for another outcome respect the doctor’s authority.

Our goal as parents is to be our powerful selves and to evaluate what’s before us. When we make a decision in the best interest of our children, we must hold our ground and say, “Not you. Not now. Discussion closed.”

One mother who listened to a stranger desperately trying to reason with a howling toddler finally remarked to a friend, “That kid and the rest of us will all feel a lot better if Daddy just says no. There’s a reason parents are made bigger than the kids.” I believe it is important to talk and explain your decisions if the child is old enough to understand, but there are also times when it’s necessary to be authoritative, to be more like Dr. Montgomery.

Author Cheryl Dellasega reminds us, “Holding fast to our standards and allowing our children to hate us, on occasion, is mature and responsible, and provides the opportunity to stay firm in our loving, despite the wrath of our progeny.

What better way for a child to learn that a human can dislike or censor another’s behavior while maintaining affection for that person? Could this be the true test of a loving parent: to love a kid—and herself—enough to be, temporarily, despised by that child?”

As children mature, they will have different best friends. Parents provide them with boundaries they need to grow and learn.

Allyn Evans
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