Over the last two years, I have been on numerous podcasts to espouse my views on citizenship, children’s advocacy, parenting and community improvement. The back-and-forth exchanges have been very much a learning experience for me – learning what others think about those topics, learning how I can best express my ideas to be impactful, and learning about the feedback from my ideas. This series of revelations has been most helpful in my own evolution of thought.
Often this discussion leads to the issue of discipline. I explain that discipline should not equate with punishment. The root word for discipline is ‘disciple’ – one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another; i.e. a teacher. Therefore, as parents are dealing with behavioral problems in children, they should seek to make these exchanges a teaching experience. If punishment is used (restriction of privileges), it should be remembered that corporal punishment is not indicated.1
It is interesting that often at this point in the conversation, the podcast host will relate episodes in their own parenting experience. And then they add a familiar line – “I remind my child that I am their parent, not their friend.” Their intent with this statement would appear to be that they will do what needs to be done to make their point heard and reinforced and that they are not there to act as a friend. They are not there to reinforce what the child is doing instead of being the responsible parent. In slang parlance, they will not be their buddy.
While I understand the intent of this statement, I think that it creates a false dichotomy. To imply that you are either a friend to a child or a parent for a child means that there is no overlap. I would disagree and let me explain why.
- A good friend is someone who is willing to listen to your concerns and share feedback.
- A good friend seeks to understand you over the course of the friendship
- A good friend shares your vulnerability and helps you navigate that vulnerability in a relationship built on trust
- A good friend, in my estimation, should not condone behavior that is out of bounds or unacceptable and should be willing to share such an honest assessment with their friend.
- A parent is someone who is willing to listen to a child’s concerns, sharing feedback, and doing so in the midst of a safe, stable nurturing relationship (SSNR).2
- A parent seeks to engage with their child in the context of an SSNR to encourage positive behaviors and provide loving instruction for those that need improvement, i.e. effective discipline.
- A parent should not be a bully if dealing with behaviors needing correction.
- A parent definitely seeks to share a child’s vulnerability and continue to nurture their children through the ups-and-downs of childhood.
- A friend is not the “good cop” and a parent is not the “bad cop” when it comes to dealing with behavior issues.
- People often imply that parents not willing to be effective disciplinarians are trying to be friends with their children. I think it’s more likely that they need assistance with parenting, not advice on how to be a better friend.
- People often imply that friends will never honestly assess behavior issues. I would not consider such folks valued friends.
Given all the bullet points above, you can see that I intermingle the concept of friend and parent and emphasize that parents can be friends of their children. I actually hope that they will. People are often inclined to share intimate or very personal thoughts with friends but not their parents. Parents and children that are able to share close thoughts in many ways epitomize the result of a safe, stable nurturing relationship. Trust is critical here and based on a history of truthful exchanges with reliable outcomes.
Now as children age and seek their early adulthood path, they might start to not share some intimate thoughts. But the ability to share as they see fit is so important. If a parent is seen also as a friend, these interactions are more easily facilitated. If a friend is also a parent, this also makes it easier for young parents to seek the advice of a trusted friend (their own parent) as they embark on their young parenting journey.
Parents can be a friend for their children. These two concepts mix together quite nicely when executed in good faith. It is a false dichotomy that one has to be either a parent or a friend of their child. The nurturing supplied by parents and the sound advice that should be supplied by friends overlap with the concept of trust and empathy in the context of SSNRs. The advice isn’t always greeted with enthusiasm when the children disagree. But that is the job of being a parent and a friend. We can be both and be true disciples.