“I hate you!” – hearing your child scream this at you is not a rite of passage as a parent so why do many parents wear it as a badge of pride?
We are friends with our sons – against much of the published advice, we made a conscious decision to be friends with our children. As parents of young children, well-meaning people were filled with advice and much of it sounded like this “They don’t need more friends – what they need are parents” (why is this mutually exclusive I would wonder), “When they scream ‘I hate you’ you’ll know you’re doing a good job” (really, because this does not sound like praise), and “You don’t need them to like you; you need them to obey you” (if they just obey me, how will they ever think for themselves).
Wow – don’t be their friend, be proud if they say they hate you and make them obey you. When we took our marriage vows, we omitted the common one that talks about “obeying”. I’m not obeying anyone and don’t expect anyone to obey me. This was not the type relationship we wanted with each other or our children. We’ve all heard variations of this type of advice – isn’t this fostering adversarial relationships and not healthy ones?
Look, I get their good intentions – I think they were trying to teach us to raise children who respect us and listen to us. I’m all for that but we also have to respect and listen to them – for us, it was all about the relationship being mutual. You may be able to control what people do when you have all the power but you cannot control how they feel.
Here’s the thing – our children will live with us for about 18 years and then we will likely continue an adult relationship with them for another 40 or 50 years. Lifelong relationships are built on love, trust, respect, and openness – not “do as I say and not as I do”, “because I said so”, “just shut up – I don’t have to explain myself to you”, yelling, screaming, belittling, shaming, humiliating and extreme punishment. Merriam-Webster defines a friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem”, “one that is not hostile”, and “a favored companion”. Given these definitions, hell yes, I want to be my children’s friend. I do not want to be their enemy or opponent.
You cannot spend 18 years bossing someone around – not caring if they hate you – and then expect to have a different relationship when they are adults who are out of your house and no longer have to obey your rules.
Aren’t we here to help our child navigate life – their life – not what we want for their life? How can they be successful and happy if we only tell them what to do – if we don’t allow them to question the rules, have a different opinion and speak up respectfully? When you’re tired and overwhelmed, it can certainly be easier to snap at them and let things get to a boiling point where you find yourself yelling and screaming at them but let’s be honest, how do you react when someone treats you this way? You shut down and you resent them. You close off and protect yourself from their hurt. You would likely not remain friends with them.
There is a better, more peaceful way, and it’s worth the effort because when you can control your knee jerk reaction, listen, talk and work through things – like friends do, the result is an open, mutual friendship.
The effort pays off – as adults they will seek your insight and speak to you openly and freely because that’s what they’ve done their entire lives. They will talk to you about their dreams, their fears, their successes and failings because they know you won’t belittle or humiliate them. When you are open to their views being different from yours they can teach you so much about yourself and about life because they know you so well and yet when they’re allowed to think for themselves, their perspective is different. We have had some of the best conversations with our adult children – we have laughed until we cried, shared our deepest feelings, cried over loses, and celebrated successes – theirs and ours.
So when asked, I will tell parents of young children this…treat them like your closest friends. Tell them you love them all the time – they will say this to you as well. They don’t need to “hate you” for you to know that you are a good parent. You are a good parent when you listen, when you are not hostile, when you don’t judge, when you encourage them – when you are being a good friend.
Do they need boundaries when they are young, yes but they should be reasonable and consistent with room to morph as they mature. Do they need to understand there are consequences for their decisions and actions – yes, but that doesn’t require you to yell and excessively punish “just to make a point”. Do they need love, kindness and support, yes unconditionally. A healthy lifelong relationship starts at the very beginning and must be nurtured. You may have all the power when they are young – but use your power for good not evil – when they are older you will not have all the power and then what are you going to do? You cannot force someone to like you and who likes someone who has been overbearing and controlling their whole lives?
Parenting is the ultimate friendship – you will always be bound by DNA to have a relationship but friendship is choice. Your children will reach an age when they can decide independently what type of relationship they want to have with you. If you’ve fostered a friendship their entire lives, there will be no decision to make – the friendship will continue to grow for the rest of your lives. It’s never too late to make amends with your children – to say, I did my best but I was wrong. My intentions were good but my execution went astray. I want to be your friend – and I want to change how we interact, how we treat each other. I want us to love each other unconditionally, and I’m willing to work at that and earn your friendship.
We need to be friends – parents and children. Friends – those who love each other fiercely, who support and protect, who are kind in words and actions, who are understanding and gentle, who love unconditionally without judgement, who are loyal and steadfast, who can disagree without bitterness. Friendship – a deep relationship built on love, trust and respect.
Yes, we choose to be friends with our sons – and they are the very best friends we could possibly ask for.
When our sons were both home for Christmas we stayed up late talking and laughing. I went to sleep that night, thinking “Our best friends are home. All is right with the world!”