Judge Judy’s got a point ! Why it’s important to be your child’s parent NOT their friend.
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I think parents often make the mistake of making their child their confidante, particularly during a divorce, but a child is not morally, emotionally, socially, intellectually or mature enough to play that role. As a parent you are not there to be liked all the time. I believe you are there to guide, nurture, protect and teach your child. As your child grows, matures and becomes a teenager, or an adult, your relationship changes but there are still boundaries and topics that as parents you don’t always need to know and visa versa. – Sue Atkins
I’ve recently been working with a lovely Mum who was struggling to put boundaries around what she talked to her daughter about.
She lacks confidence and wants her child to ‘like’ her. But being a parent is not the same as being a friend, pal, or mate, and sometimes this is a hard lesson for parents who want to be their child’s ‘best friend’ to learn.
I think our job as parents is to guide, nurture, protect and teach our kids and to set appropriate limits with our children. Limit and boundary setting is a very healthy function. It’s how kids learn to work out what’s safe and what’s not safe. What’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. Of course our role changes as our child grows. With a one-year-old, it involves changing nappies. With an seven -year-old, our role involves getting homework done & going to bed on time. With a fifteen-year-old, it involves enforcing a responsible time to come home, and ways to stay safe.
Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Make Your Child Your Confidante
I think parents often make the mistake of making their child their confidante, particularly during a divorce, or time of change. So when they say, “I want to be her friend, and I want her to be my friend,” what they’re really saying is “I want be his/ her confidante.” And that just does not fit with your role as a parent.
It’s a very well-meaning trap that many parents fall into. They want to share with their child how they really feel about their ex husband, mother- in law, sister, next door neighbour or their child’s teacher. But it’s inappropriate because their child is not morally, emotionally, socially, intellectually or mature enough to take on that role. If you’re in your fifties and you want a confidante, find another fifty-year-old, or find a therapist ! But don’t look to your fifteen -year-old for advice or support.
Children are learning from you all the time and you don’t want them feeling responsible for you, or sorry for you.
That’s not appropriate.
It’s not always easy but it’s important.
When you make your child your confidante, you are saying that you and your child are equal and that you are co-decision makers. But the fact is, you and your child are not co-decision makers in any realistic way.
Your children can offer you their opinion. They can tell you what they like and dislike. But certainly decisions, especially important ones, or even some minor ones, have to be made by you, the parent. Children have to understand that your family functions as a unit and the adults make the decisions.
It’s all about the language you use and your intention.
Just have a think about the difference between ‘We can’t afford that.’ which is a factual statement that explains your circumstances to ”I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent this month.”
Can you see the difference ?
What messages would your kids be picking up & learning from you around each of those statements ?
Let’s be honest kids would watch T.V all day, eat sweets, never brush their teeth or go to bed at a reasonable hour.
Is that what you want for them ?
Of course not so it’s a balance !
The goal of becoming a teenager is becoming a person in their own right, separate and individual from you as a parent. That means that your child is going to explore and find their own beliefs and rules and will challenge your belief systems and ways of being for awhile.
I remember smiling when my son came home from school at the age of 15 and told me about a boy who had ‘ found God’ as his parents were both staunch atheists. What better way to wind his parents up and discover what he believed in.
You need to know that it’s not a a bad thing for your kids to develop their own set of friends and their own values that maybe slightly different from yours. If you have been present in your child’s life and actively teaching them your strong values, beliefs and ways of living, your child may explore but they’ll take on those strong values at some point despite testing them out and trying on new ones for awhile.
My son has different political views to me but that doesn’t make him a bad person in fact he is incredibly empathetic, altruistic and caring.
Many parents see their teenagers need to become independent as a threat, and they feel abandoned by their child. But that is the parent’s issue, not the child’s.
Some parents I work with feel a remarkable sense of loss, particularly after a divorce, and they sometimes see their child’s growing independence as another part of their grief and loss so they compensate for it by blaming their child.
Being A Friend But NOT A Confidante.
I get on famously with my daughter and always have, particularly now she is a young woman of 21 , and we chat about adult issues so you can be your child’s friend—just not their confidante. This for me is key is having a responsible friendship with your child.
Sometimes there are things that I’d like to share with her about how I still feel about going through my divorce after 22 years, but really they are not her problem. So I seek out my reliable, wise friends and go for a cuppa or a dog walk.
How to Stop Being Your Child’s Confidante Now
If you’ve “shared” too much with your child and not set the kind of limits they need, for whatever reason, it’s OK – there’s no need to beat yourself up.
Just pause to ponder some new ways, just for this week, that you can step back and change direction in what you say and how much you confide.
If You’re Divorced
Parents in divorced families will often both try to be their child’s confidante, and the child, regardless of their age, gets stuck painfully in the middle. The mum’s starts telling their child what the father’s like, what he’s doing wrong, how angry she is and how she can’t stand his new girlfriend and how he doesn’t pay her enough money. The dad’s talks about what mum is like, how angry she is, how controlling she is, how pathetic she is as she’s not moved on quickly enough.
This is really unhelpful as a child feels like a pawn in a game that they don’t understand.
Also they are genetically half of the parent being slagged off and criticised so they feel that you are actually criticising them too at an unconscious level.
It’s not wise.
So just for this week ‘Pause To Ponder’ how you speak to your children and if you don’t like what you discover, simply decide to make some small changes that will be of benefit to all of you in the long run.