Caleb's father was feeling torn. His ten year old son had been 'grounded' the day before. Caleb had lied about having completed his chores, then snuck out of the house to visit a friend but without telling his parents. In the process, the boy had left the front door open and Hector, the family dog, had wandered away. Now Caleb was pleading to be allowed to attend the birthday party of his best friend later that day. Only two other boys were going to the party. The plan was to go swimming, then off to laser tag, and back home for pizza and cake. After that they would 'camp out' overnight in his friend's tree house.
Caleb had been looking forward to this party for weeks. His father knew that if he did not let his son go it would be crushing - and Caleb would resent him deeply. A struggle was taking place in the father's mind, and he began to think "Maybe it wouldn't hurt to let him go after all. He can always go back to being grounded the minute he gets home. Spending the next week fuming about how unfair I am won't teach him anything."
Many parents today are uncomfortable with not being liked by their children in response to discipline or limit setting. In many ways this is understandable. Wanting your child to like you is a healthy desire. In fact, it is the odd parent who claims not to care whether he, or she, is liked by their child. But for many parents the desire to be liked takes on such importance that it ends up taking priority over being a parent first and foremost. Is this a good idea?
To answer that question, think about what a parent’s primary objective is: to raise a young child into a competent, assured, and productive adult. Can you do this if being liked by your child takes priority over making sound parenting decisions – some of which will cause your child to momentarily be angry with you. (OK, if your child is a teen they may be angry with you nearly all the time - don't worry, they will outgrow this stage!).
Some parents have said “But by being my child’s friend I am even better able to help him/her make good decisions and grow into a strong, healthy adult.”
That turns out to be absolutely false. Don't misunderstand. It is important that your child knows that you deeply and profoundly love him or her. It is not so important, however, that your son or daughter think of you as a terrific friend. If the child knows that a parent loves him/her, and feels a sense of friendship, that's wonderful. But friendship should not take priority over parenting. I know this perspective runs counter to the prevailing thought - but it is true just the same.
Why is it necessary you ask? Because your child will often not understand (nor be able to understand) the reasons for your parental decisions. This lack of comprehension starts early and continues through adolescence. When you insist that your three year old get vacinnated, and she cries in protest, you have her vacinnated anyway. It's for the best. She is angry with you, feels confused and perhaps betrayed, but it is for the best.
When your seven year old storms through the house angry that he cannot stay up with his ten brother to play video games late on a school night you stand firm. Again, he is angry at you, does not think of you as a friend at all, but the decision you made is for the best.
Effective parenting rests on fathers and mothers having authority, whereas most friendships rest on parity within the relationship. It is an unusual friendship, for example, wherein one person has a right to make numerous demands on a friend, but the friend does not share a similar right to make the same demands in return. Instead, real friendship involves a degree of mutual responsibility, and responsiveness, that the parent/child relationship lacks.
Parents can (and should) make demands on their children. Their children, on the other hand, do not have a right to make similar demands on their parents. How often do you hear of a youngster instructing his father to get ready for work, clean up his room, and be sure to mow the lawn before dinner? How often does a child get to instruct his mother to finish what's on her plate before she has dessert, and by way, don't forget to finish that work you brought home from the office. That would be parity. (OK, it would also be hellish, but that's a different story).
The parity that is an essential mark of friendship is missing from the parent/child relationship (until the child becomes an independent adult). As emphasized before, it is important that your children deeply understand that they are loved by you. But this is different than considering you to be their BFF.
Even so, it is normal for mothers and fathers to feel conflicted at times about alienating their children when they exercise their role as parents. Most often these moments of ambivalence will arise as a result of conflict, and then a decision is made (often unconsciously). Shall I be a parent first, and alienate my child, or a friend, and remain on good terms with my child? I encourage you, chose to be a parent first. Your child will thank you (years later, but he or she will thank you).