Being Your Kids’ Mom…Not Their Friend

“My mom is my best friend.” How often do you see words like these on social media? You might think it’s sweet and innocent. Maybe you even strive to be your child’s friend. If you do, you’re not alone! But there are some dangers inherent in this dynamic that I think all parents should understand.

The “friend” phenomenon can manifest itself in different ways. In some cases, it’s parents who defer to their child when it comes to decision-making. They take their child to the doctor and ask for the child’s permission before the doctor performs a procedure. In other cases, they don’t discipline their child because they fear the child won’t like them. In still other cases, the parents want to seem young and cool and want to be liked by their kids’ friends. They don’t set limits and boundaries because they’re worried the kids won’t think they’re cool.

Whatever form this takes, the parents are mixing up being a good parent with being a “cool” or “liked” parent. If their child doesn’t like them all the time, they think they aren’t a good parent. As understandable as this approach is, it overlooks something crucial: Sometimes being a good parent means that your child doesn’t like you. (In fact, sometimes when my own kids tell me they’re upset I think, “Oh good, I’m being a good parent”!)

A generation or two ago, most parents didn’t try to be their kids’ friends. They offered love and guidance, yes, but not friendship. Today, however, I’m seeing many parents in my practice who actively seek their child’s friendship. Many of them were indulged when they were kids and told how great they are. Now they want to indulge their kids—and can’t tolerate being rejected by them. What this has created psychologically is parents who are afraid to set boundaries for fear of being disliked—and kids who grow up having no sense of how to cope when their desires are not met, which is a crucial life skill.

The fact is that your kids need you to be a parent much more than they need you to be a friend. My advice on how:

Embrace your role. Your kids can have lots of friends—but there’s only one you. So focus on being a parent, which requires you to guide them in ways they may not like. If you’re focused on being a friend, you will tell them what they want to hear even if it’s not right for them—which is not good parenting.

Embrace theirs. In turn, your kids should be your kids, not your friends. It’s not their job to make you feel liked and cool. If that’s important to you, you should look for it from people your own age. You should not be looking to your kids to feed your ego or boost your self-esteem.

Set boundaries. When you do this, you are helping your child grow into a person who respects himself, respects you, and respects other people. And this, in fact, is what will help you have a close relationship. Your kids will see that you’ve worked very hard to help them become emotionally healthy and they will respect you for it. If you try to be friends and make them happy all the time, they wind up seeing you as weak—and they don’t value that in a friendship.

The Mom Dress Code. I see a lot of moms dressing like their daughters, particularly during the teenage years—another way they’re trying to seem “cool.” But this backfires. The daughters tend to think their mothers are being foolish when they do this. “It’s so embarrassing,” they will say. It makes them think their mothers are insecure. So if you’re thinking this might be a way to bond with your daughter, you may want to rethink that. The daughters don’t see it as bonding. They see it as alienating.