Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Problem With I Am Your Parent Not Your Friend

        Over the last few weeks I have felt bothered by the public humiliation of children by their parents.  In a recent interview on the Wendy Williams show, Kelly Ripa proudly proclaimed "that I'm your mom not your friend."  Overwhelmingly she has received an outpouring of praise for her tough parenting stance and setting firm rules for her 13 year old daughter.  I have seen this phenomenon a great deal in social media lately.  The father who made a video destroying his daughter's computer because he did not like what she said about him on Facebook or another social media outlet.  A person in my Facebook feed who took offense at his daughter's choice of outfit telling her "she wasn't going to stripper school" and that a pimp "would make sure she was on time" and that if she walked to school some creepy guy would kidnap and assault her.  In all these cases these "tough parents" receive a great deal of support  and "way to go mom/dad."

     This support for tough parenting is understandable since there seems to be this belief that our children, particularly our youth are out of control, disrespectful and that parents are more concerned about being liked by their children than being strict parents like they had - which of course are the same parents who let us run around freely during daylight hours with no parental supervision, ride the subway alone, and otherwise gave us a childhood of unbridled freedom. What does it say about both friendship and parenthood when we say to our children I am your parent not your friend?

     Well first in terms of friends, it assumes that friends won't tell us the truth, won't stand up to us when we cross the line, mess up.  My deepest and truest friends are the ones who speak the truth to me, tell me when I have messed up and don't just tell me the things I want to hear. My friends are also the ones who I can confide in, talk openly about what is going on, rant and rave with and weep with, and we can laugh and have fun together.  This image of a friend as someone who doesn't tell me the truth or is just seeking my unconditional approval is not a friend.  Let's also look at what it says about parents - I don't care if you are unhappy, your feelings are not important to me, my rules are my rules and you have to accept them without question with total and complete obedience, and by the way I am free to speak out on social media about your worst moments but you had best not say anything negative about me.  In the case of Kelly Ripa she has millions of people not just a few hundred followers to hear about her daughter's worst moments.

     This also comes down to some very troubling assumptions we have about the teenage years. Suddenly when our children become teenagers we tell parents that our children will become unrecognizable, unreasonable monsters who have to be reined in at every moment lest they become out of control sociopaths.  The reality is that the challenge of parenting a teenager is that we can't parent them like they were when they were younger. The "because I said so" if ever appropriate or adequate will truly never work with a teenager. Teenagers are working out their place in the world. In an earlier time they would have been apprenticed to learn a trade.  We have extended childhood and adolescence so now we expect our children in their teenage years to continue to obey us unquestionably like a four or five year old.  Yes our teenagers still need rules, boundaries and they need privacy. They also need to be able to vent about us and about what is going on in their lives. If we shut that down, it only breeds resentment.  Just as sometimes we need to make tough choices or enforce rules knowing that it may cause our children to be unhappy or even angry, we need to learn to let our children have their feelings even if we don't like what they are saying about us. We need to grow up and not take it personally.  I think it is one thing to set a rule about profanity in social media but if all they are doing is saying how mean a parent is or unfair and somehow made you look bad on their social media accounts, just let it go.  When our children are young and they cry or throw a fit we often look to see if they are hungry,or thirsty or tired or just having a bad day. But there is an image of teenagers being out of control and out to ruin our lives.  Teenagers have bad days.  That doesn't mean you don't call them on it but expecting our teenagers to never have a bad day or never make a mistake is not fair.  We all have bad days, we are all going to mess up. It should not mean the end of the world.  Appropriate boundaries and consequences, of course, just like we would face if we had a bad day, made a mistake or hurt another.

     If we want our children, particularly our teenage children, to embrace our values than we have to model them.  We don't want our children trash talking us or others on social media, then we can't do it to our children.  We don't want our most embarrassing or most private moments proclaimed on social media then we can't share our children's.  Just like if we want honest children, we need to demonstrate honesty; if we don't want our children to cheat or steal then we can't cheat or steal. If we want our children to respect us then we have to respect them. Yes, we do need to have rules and set boundaries, our children need and want that but that doesn't mean we are not their friends. I think we need to understand that one part of parenting is modeling relationship ... so rather than seeing parenting and friendship as diametrically opposed, I think we need to understand friendship as one aspect of parenting. If truth be known, there are more than a few of my friends who have parented me on occasion ... given me the hug or the kick and guided me toward my best self. If we want our children to come to us when they are in trouble, then we have to care about their feelings and make ourselves available and trustworthy.  If we want our children to want to be in relationship with us throughout their lives then we need to be their true friends.  The friends that laugh and have fun with you and won't let you get away with things. It is not about our children never being unhappy with us. We need to be honest when our children have crossed the line but that doesn't mean we demean and embarrass them. It does not mean we have the right to slut shame them.  That also means not putting our children's embarrassing and worst movements on social media.  Maybe a good rule of thumb is to think "would I want this posted about me?" If not then don't post it! It means there maybe the need for accountability but not the need for bullying. Perhaps, the biggest difference between friendship and parenting is that we became responsible for growing and guiding a life ... responsibility is not ownership ... and at the end of the day, what does it say about us when we claim that we don't want to be friends with that precious life.

     Let's help our children become their most authentic and true selves. Let's remember they are not our possessions, we have the gift of raising them and then letting them go.  In words of Kahlil Gibran, "Our Children are not our children."  Let's teach our children to respect themselves, us and others by showing them respect, by treating them the way we would want to be treated and loving them, caring for them and seeing them as the unique and amazing individuals that they are.

May it be so!