Why You Shouldn't Be Your Child's Best Friend

The Case Against Parenting Your Children as Though You Were Equals

Learn how to relate well without being your child's best friend. © Compassionate Eye Foundation/Getty Images

You love your kids with all your heart. But being so close that you're "best buds" can compromise your parenting authority. Here's what that could be a bad idea, and what to do about it:

  1. Your child needs you to be an authority figure, not a peer. 
    Being peers means being at (or close to) the same stage of emotional and cognitive development. In other words, being equals. At home, your child needs to know that you hold the authority. More than needs it, she craves it! It's reassuring to know that you create the rules and have the last word. That doesn't mean that you should ignore your child's point of view or make decisions without considering her feelings. But it does mean that you have the authority—and the responsibility—to make the tough decisions. When you parent as though you were best buds, you erode your own authority by placing yourself on the same footing with your child and her peers. And that's not where you belong.
  2. Pretending that you're equals makes it hard to discipline your child. 
    Of course your daughter enjoys being with her friends! They never remind here that there's homework to do, or dishes, or anything else that might feel unpleasant. And when you take a "we're equals" approach to parenting, you create a situation where your child expects you to act like a buddy. And the moment you don't—because you're asking her to do something or holding her accountable with sound discipline strategies—you become the enemy. This leads to erratic relational patterns that make it difficult for you to feel grounded in your role as the parent.
  3. Your child needs to have other relationships where challenges, hopes, and dreams can be shared.
    It's healthy for your child to establish relationships with her own peers. You can help to facilitate this type of personal growth by encouraging your child to bring friends home and advising her on how to develop and maintain healthy friendships. But you shouldn't try to be a replacement for those relationships. You might be a stand-in for a time, but you shouldn't try to hold that position for the long term. Instead, give your child the skills and the emotional freedom to branch out and develop friendships of her own.
  4. Likewise, your child needs you to turn to adult relationships for support. 
    Your child may know details about your life that others don't and may offer you more unconditional love than you've ever experienced. But when you allow that intimacy to become your strongest source of support and encouragement, you place a huge burden on your child. Free him from that responsibility by forcing yourself to develop supportive relationships with other adults you trust. It won't be easy at first, but meeting new people and developing new friendships truly will help you thrive as a parent and as an individual.
  5. Your child needs to learn from his own life experiences (and mistakes). 
    What you've gone through has taught you a thing or two—or 10,000! But it's unreasonable to expect that your child should operate from the same base of experience-earned wisdom just because he's listened to stories from your own childhood. Most kids need to learn from their own mistakes for the biggest life lessons to sink in. In those times, he'll need to know that you're there to provide comfort, reassurance, and stability in a way that's different from the support his same-age friends can offer. 

Raising your child is a huge privilege and a responsibility. Instead of being your child's best friend, aim for developing a relational parenting approach, where you make decisions based on what you know about your child. This allows you to respect who she is and consider her feelings without compromising your parenting authority.