There’s an oft-repeated mantra among my parent-friends: “I’m your MOTHER, not your FRIEND.” I get what they’re saying; it’s important to keep our roles in perspective when it comes time to make decisions that will be unpopular with our kids. But you guys, I WANT to be my kids’ friend. And I don’t think there is a thing in the world wrong with that. After all… what makes a friend?
First and foremost is love. Friends have a genuine love for each other that is enduring, through the disagreements and the quiet times and over time and distance.
This kind of love is certainly one of the major aspects of parenting, too. Even when your toddler is throwing a tantrum in the middle of Target, or your teenager cannot BELIEVE how lame you are, you love them and they love you, and your love for each other means you’ll work it out somehow.
Friends enjoy each other’s company. They share interests and have a good time when they’re together, whether they’re doing something specific or absolutely nothing. Mundane or downright unpleasant tasks become more fun when a friend helps me complete them!
I can honestly say that I enjoy spending time with my twins. It’s fun to watch them explore and learn, and their personalities are just really blossoming right now. My son is a ham, and loves to laugh and make silly faces. My daughter has a beautiful smile, too, but you have to earn it while she studies you and everything around her intently. I hope we always enjoy our time together, especially as they grow and start exploring interests and hobbies. I hope someone likes to throw impromptu dance parties with me and someone wants to geek out over cookbooks and pretty desserts together.
Friends are confidants and advisers. I know I can go to them with some of the uglier thoughts I have and I’ll find unconditional acceptance and wise counsel. When we were still in the thick of our fertility struggle, I had two friends in particular that I would text when I was discouraged or hurting, and they would listen patiently, letting me vent and reassuring me that I was normal to feel the way I did. As part of that wise counsel, sometimes they had to give me some tough love. “Katie, it sounds like you want it both ways, but it doesn’t work like that. I’ll help you decide what you want to do, but it’s going to require you to compromise.” Or sometimes, “Yes, actually, that dress does make your butt look kind of big.”
Aren’t we supposed to be our kids’ first and most trusted advisers and confidants? I hope my kids always feel like I’m a safe space to confess their private hurts and struggles, to bounce new ideas off of somebody, and to seek guidance on life’s tough issues.
Friends root for each other. I can be a dreamer. I set big goals that some people (myself included) would consider overly ambitious, pie-in-the-sky dreams. But I have friends that I can text out of the blue and say, “Hey! I’m going to try to become a HuffPost contributor!” or “Guess what!? I’m going to make a business selling [insert any of my numerous failed business concepts here]!” and I know I’ll hear nothing but encouragement and cheer-leading from them. They all believe in me so much more unconditionally than I believe in myself.
Similarly, I am my twins’ biggest fan. They are brilliant and beautiful, and there is not a thing in this world that either one of them cannot accomplish. It is my joy to encourage them and cheer them on as they learn and try new things. As I sit with my laptop, I’m watching them play. I just watched my daughter pull up to kneeling in front of her activity walker, reach for the handle, put one foot under her, and try so hard to stand. I put my computer aside and just cheered her on. She didn’t make it this time, but we had a fun, exciting moment while she tried!
A friend is also an ally, a teammate in all of life’s little and big battles. They will drop everything to lend a hand for one of your projects, to calm you down when it’s 2:00 in the morning and you need to talk about that internet troll who hurt your feelings, or to come hold your babies when you just want some warm food. Your needs are at least as important as their own.
I want to be that kind of parent and friend for my kids. I hope they know, even when they’re grown, that my phone will always be on and I will always take their calls. I hope they can count on me to listen to their crazy ideas and respond with an enthusiastic, “Let’s get started!” And I hope they know that I am always on their side.
Try as I might, I can’t think of a single aspect of a functional friendship that is inappropriate in a mother-child relationship. When people say they want to be a parent instead of a friend, I think they are conceptualizing a friend as more of a “yes-man,” and while I will not be a yes-woman for my kids, I also won’t be that for my friends. I love them too much for that.
So, parents, if you want to be your children’s best friends, do it! Be their biggest fan, most trusted confidant, and someone with whom they love to spend time!