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Should Parents Be Friends With Their Kids? 5 Reasons Experts Say No

As a longtime teacher, Ms. Meyers has seen the tragic effects when moms and dads strive to be their children’s friends, not their parents.

Moms and dads need some distance from their kids to see them as-is, not as some idealized version that fuels their parental egos.

Moms and dads need some distance from their kids to see them as-is, not as some idealized version that fuels their parental egos.

5 Reasons Why Parents Shouldn't Be Friends

  1. It stops them from rearing an independent adult.
  2. It blocks them from viewing their children as teachers.
  3. It keeps them from seeing their kids objectively.
  4. It lets them avoid working on themselves.
  5. It leads them to praise their kids excessively, creating the "selfie culture."

1. It Stops Them From Rearing an Independent Adult

Anna Freud was not only the daughter of Sigmund Freud but a brilliant psychoanalyst in her own right. Her focus was on young people with many considering her the founder of psychoanalytic child psychology. When it comes to whether or not parents should be friends with their kids, she left behind some critical, eye-opening words of guidance by stating succinctly: “A mother’s job is to be left.”

While specifically addressing moms, Freud’s advice is applicable to fathers as well. She believed that parents should be like mother birds, pushing their babies out of the nest so they can learn to fly and live independently. She didn't see a healthy parent-child bond as being one between friends but as one in which the mom and dad are mindfully moving their child step-by-step toward self-sufficiency.

This process starts early on for mothers when they wean their babies. It continues when they take their children to nursery school, send them to summer camp, let them go on sleepovers, watch them get their driver’s license, beam with pride when they get their first job, and ready them to go off to college. Moms and dads who have a clear goal of rearing independent adults never imagine being buddy-buddy with their kids. Instead, they model healthy behaviors for their youngsters by maintaining their own adult friends and enjoying their own grown-up hobbies. They see themselves as having a much more far-reaching and consequential role than being their child’s pal.

2. It Blocks Them From Viewing Their Children as Teachers

Dr. Shefali Tsabary, a clinical psychologist and author of The Conscious Parent, offers a revolutionary perspective on how moms and dads should rear their kids. She recommends a new paradigm in which moms and dads see youngsters as their guides on the parenting journey. This requires them to let go of control and become hyper aware of what their children are teaching them. When doing this, they come to realize that their youngsters want to be seen as-is and not as some idealized versions of themselves. They want their parents to know that they were placed in this world to thrive in their own lives, not to fix theirs.

Sadly, we all know moms and dads who parent unconsciously and develop buddy-buddy relationships with their kids to repair problems in their past or present. There’s the mother who invites her kids to sleep in the marital bed to avoid having sex with her husband. There’s the dad who shares intimate details about his dating life with his teen daughter because he’s too insecure to build adult friendships. There’s the couple who allow their 25-year-old son to continue living in their home, fearful that if he were to move out they’d need to confront the loneliness in their marriage. Conscious parents, though, don’t make these mistakes because they’re alert to what their children need, not what they need.

In this video, Dr. Shefali says that kids don't need a life of structured adult-led activities with a focus on doing, doing, doing.

3. It Keeps Them From Seeing Their Kids Objectively

Moms and dads who befriend their kids often don’t know themselves, let alone their youngsters. Like so many people today, they define themselves by what they do rather than who they are. As such, they must stay busy-busy to justify their place in the world. If they were to slow down and reflect on their life, they’d be engulfed by its overwhelming emptiness. Therefore, they blindly plow ahead and over-program their kids with structured activities: music lessons, Spanish tutoring, soccer teams, yoga classes, and computer camps. Instead of working on themselves and developing adult friendships, they put all their energies into building the perfect resume for their kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, has warned about the deleterious effects on kids when parents sign them up for too many extracurricular activities. Educators, developmental psychologists, and doctors contend that over-programming can cause kids to struggle with maladies that were once reserved for grownups. These include depression, anxiety, obesity, fatigue, narcissism, irritability, suicidal thoughts, and a decline in creativity.

When moms and dads act as parents and not friends, they can take a step back and really get to know their children. They can see little people who need time to play with their peers, explore by themselves, use their imaginations, be outdoors in nature, and have lots of downtime. They can appreciate that their kids don’t need to be shuffled from one activity to another with adults—teachers, coaches, and tutors—controlling the agenda and telling them what to do. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, the renowned pediatrician and author, sums it up best by saying: “Children need what I call 'space out time'—the chance to dream and play, to work out their fantasies.”

4. It Lets Them Avoid Working on Themselves

In How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims writes about the disturbing changes that she witnessed while working as the Dean of Freshman at Stanford University. Near the end of her decades-long tenure there, she became alarmed by the surge of moms and dads who were overly involved in the lives of their college-aged kids. These so-called "helicopter parents" were a new phenomenon on the Stanford campus, popping up to talk with professors about their adult children's grades, schedules, and internships. They were going to the housing office on behalf of their kids to request a roommate change or demand a quieter floor in their dormitory. Having always been buddy-buddy with their youngsters—boosting their self-esteem, sheltering them from failure and hardship, and sharing in their successes—these parents were unable to cut the cord.

Moms and dads who haven’t been pals to their kids don’t experience separation anxiety, depression, loneliness, a lack of purpose, or empty nest syndrome when their kids leave home. Because they’ve maintained their own separate identities and interests, they’re ready for the next chapter in their lives. Moreover, they’re confident that they kids are well prepared for an independent existence. They didn't let them live in a privileged bubble where their only responsibilities were to study and bring home good grades. Instead, these parents gave their children real-world experiences by assigning them household chores and expecting them to have part-time jobs.

Julie Lythcott-Haims says that kids benefit more from having household chores than from being over-programmed with structured activities.

5. It Led Them to Praise Their Kids Excessively, Creating the "Selfie Culture"

Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. W. Keith Campbell are professors of psychology and co-authors of The Narcissism Epidemic. In their book, they argue that moms and dads who befriend their children instead of parenting them are largely responsible for today’s "selfie culture.” Lavishing their kids with praise and lauding their every accomplishment, they produced entitled grownups with inflated opinions of themselves.Their preoccupation with boosting their children's self-esteem resulted in young adults who need constant affirmation from their employers and who are dubbed "snowflakes" by society for their inability to handle adversity.

Dr. Twenge argues that these parents who were hell-bent on affirming their kids created a generation of self-absorbed souls. She writes: 'Just be yourself' sounds like good advice at first, but what if you’re a jerk? What if you’re a serial killer? Maybe you should be someone else. 'Believe in yourself' is fine, but 'anything is possible'? No, it’s not. Expressing yourself, respecting yourself, and being honest with yourself are somewhat tautological but not usually directly harmful. But 'you have to love yourself first' has a crucial flaw: people who really love themselves are called narcissists.”

What Do You Think?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 McKenna Meyers

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