Parent or Friend? Can You Be Both to Your Child?

Parent Friend

“Kids don’t need us to be their friends, they need us to be their parents!” The dad huffed, frustrated that I had suggested his teen daughter might be seeing her mom and dad more as enemies than allies. So what are we to be for our kids? A parent? Or a friend?

It’s not “Parent OR Friend,” it’s “Parent AND Friend”

At Connected Families we say: they need you to be bothWhy not parent and friend?

Kids need parents who are both friends AND who hold kids accountable. 

Many parents adhere to a philosophy that implores them to “demand respect and require obedience” from their children at all times. That’s what it means to “Be the parent.

The longer I read the Bible and work with families, the less helpful I believe this teaching to be. It tends to lead parents to be dominant in their enforcement of rules at the expense of relationship with their kids.

Exercise parental authority and demonstrate loving friendship

On the other hand, kids also won’t benefit if parents don’t keep them accountable. Parents who need their kids’ friendship, out of some fashion of insecurity, tend to relinquish their God-given position of authority with their kids. 

The key to being the kind of parent your child needs is to set goals about the kind of parent you want to be: a parent who is able to be both friendly and parental at the same time

Parental friendship provides a buffer in adolescence

When parents find ways to stay friends with their kids through the turbulent adolescent years, those children tend to grow up more confident, responsible, and ready to face the world.

For example, when a parent demands their child be respectful as the primary goal, it pits child against parent. Each time this happens the child loses a bit of respect for the parent, because the parent doesn’t seem to know how to be respectful either!

But… if the primary goal is to firmly but kindly help your child learn respectfulness, you will recognize the child’s struggle as an amazing opportunity to teach.

The opportunity in disrespect

You get to invite your child to try again in a more respectful way, in order to set the child up to succeed. If defiance continues you might simply say, “You’re having a hard time right now. Do you want to continue this way and have me issue some consequences to help you learn? Or do you want to take a break and try again more respectfully?”

Your child gets to choose. This puts the ball of responsibility in your child’s court while still enforcing that it’s not okay to talk this way.

(Notice how I do not recommend using the actual phrase, “It’s not okay to talk this way!”)

When you address disrespect in a more friendly way you are essentially modeling for your children how to be respectful.  And they will notice.

parent or friend

If you want your kids to listen, work to keep “LIKE” alive in your relationship

We want our kids to listen to us and we believe they should listen to us because we are their parents! We love them and want what’s best for them. But kids don’t listen when they feel unsafe or unloved.

In order to be a parent your child will listen to, and learn from, there must be a sense of “liking” each other firmly in place in your relationship. This comes from learning to be safe around them and making sure they know they are loved no matter what, and that you enjoy them. If your kids don’t like you because they’re scared of you, then even if they listen to you it will be out of fear, not true respect.  

So how do you become a friend to your children?

  • Start by listening to your children. Want a good listener? Work on showing them what one looks like. 🙂  Read more here.
  • Be safe for them. Instead of big and loud, try coming into conflict slow and low. Get down on their level and speak/move more slowly. Read more here.
  • Show them they are loved…especially when they are misbehaving. Read more here.

Kids don’t listen to people they don’t like. So, if you want your kids to really listen to you, be sure they like you. 

Connected Families loves to equip you to be safe for your kids, so they just might grow up knowing you are both their parent and their friend.  Check our all of our free resources to help you in your parenting journey.


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