BFF or parent? How to navigate parent-child friendships

BFF, or best friends forever, qualities – sharing secrets, overprotection, blurry boundaries – can create problems in the parent-child relationship, but that doesn't mean parents can't be friends with their kids.

P. Solomon Banda/AP
BFF parents take friendship too far, but it's OK for parents to be friends with their kids, which may include sharing opinions and being honest. In this June 2012 photo, Trish Nixon, left, stands with her 21-year-old daughter, Krista Nixon, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Trish Nixon talked to her daughter about challenges she has faced over the years with marijuana.

Are you trying to be your child's "best friend forever"? Or are you a friend to your child? All kinds of strings are attached to BFFs, but a true friend should involve no strings whatsoever. Maybe it's the qualities of a BFF parent that make us think that friendship should not enter the parent/child relationship.

All the "experts" say you shouldn't be your child's friend. Why not? I have a hard time understanding that point of view. Is it because we want to be able to punish, reprimand, and control our children? Is it because we want more power over them than a friend would have? I want to examine this friendship idea.

What is a friend? Someone you can count on; someone who is loyal, honest, and trustworthy; someone you really like and even love; someone you want in your life for a very long time; someone you empathize with who can empathize with you; someone who gives you a shoulder to cry on, listens, and understands your problems without fixing them or giving unwanted advice; someone who doesn't talk about you behind your back but instead has your back; someone you really like being with because you can be yourself. Wouldn't you like to be that for your child?

Are you afraid that being your child's friend means not being able to hold him accountable because your authority would be undermined? Don't you hold your friends accountable for their behavior? Good friendships are lost over less. When we can't say no to our friends, hold them accountable for certain behavior, or speak honestly, it indicates poor boundaries – not a great foundation for friendship.

I see no reason we cannot be friends with our children. But there is a difference between being friends and being a BFF parent.

The BFF Parent:

– Alters own needs to suit child's demands
– Does anything to avoid child's upset
– Is dishonest to protect child from the "big, bad world"
– Avoids loneliness by sharing inappropriate information
– Demands loyalty and companionship through attached strings
– Tries to fix child's problems to gain love and appreciation
– Asks child to keep secrets
– Uses child as confidante for own problems
– Holds back feelings to be nice, yet can blow-up in a rage
– Insists that child has similar tastes, values, and opinions

The Parent who is also a friend:

– Enjoys spending time, hanging out with, and just being with the child
– Shares ideas, opinions, stories and encourages the same
– Learns what activities child enjoys and becomes familiar with them
– Listens and acknowledges feelings but does not take responsibility for child's problems, upsets, or disappointments
– Shows respect and consideration in all communication and never speaks disrespectfully, hurtfully, or abusively
– Laughs a lot and tells jokes
– Encourages child to find own way, follow own path, develop own values and opinions
– Is willing to speak honestly, trusting the relationship will remain strong
– Behaves in way that does not betray trust
– Expresses anger and deals with child's anger
– Argues and negotiates
– Is also the authority figure – someone the child looks up to, learns from, and emulates because of the preceding attributes

I wonder if the qualities of friendship restrict parents too much from speaking disrespectfully and doling out whatever critical, labeling, or punitive reactions arise in the heat of the moment. I wonder if being a friend to your child requires accountability that most parents don't want to be held to. Are we afraid that our children won't respect us if we are their friends? Don't you respect your friends?

In the parent-child relationship, we are more than friends. We are teachers and guides; we provide for them and are responsible for their care and upbringing, but this does not preclude friendship as well. Problems arise when we try to be "best friends forever". Or when we are not their friends.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Bonnie Harris blogs at Connective Parenting.

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