Lots of parenting articles and books admonish parents - Be a parent, don't be your kid's friend. And when I see this I recall the following Biblical sources usually cited when discussing the parent –child relationship.
In this week's Parasha-portion Genesis 31:46, we read how Jacob- Ya'akov instructs his BROTHERS to gather stones and form a mound. This mound was to be a monument and a witness to the treaty between and Laban and Jacob. The obvious question is that he had only one brother Esau and he was not around. Rashi answers that Jacob referred to his sons as ' brothers' because they identified with his struggle and were committed to him. The relationship between Jacob and his sons could be described as an older brother-sibling relationship.
Further on in the Book of Genesis 45:8 , Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and he says that G-d has placed him as an Av= father to Pharaoh. Rashi explains that the word Av=father as being a friend and a patron = from the Latin/greek 'pater'. The word patron means a benefactor and protector.
Traditionally kids show respect to their parents by addressing them with the words my father- mother, my teacher. So from these sources the relationship could be described as one of an older brother, friend or mentor.
It is pretty obvious that a parent should not make her kid her confidant and burden her child emotionally with all her troubles and that she doesn't share everything. But being a friend of your kid helps the parent to be a ' real, genuine and authentic person'. Alfie Kohn Alfie Kohn reminds us that your child needs a human being – flawed, caring and vulnerable – more than he or she needs someone pretending to be a crisply competent Perfect Parent. If parents don't share with kids things they enjoy or hate, or their needs that they have, kids will never be able to empathy with parents, and see that they are real people who also have needs. Real people are not perfect, screw up and make mistakes. Apologizing to kids not only models how that should be done, but shows that it is possible to acknowledge to ourselves and others that we make mistakes and that things are sometimes our fault, without losing face or feeling hopelessly inadequate. But apologizing exposes our fallibility and vulnerability and makes us feel a little unsafe when we stand on the perfect parent pedestal, a position of ultimate and unquestionable authority. Even saying thank you to your child in a sincere and genuine way, that without their help you would have been lost exposes your vulnerability. There is nothing to fear because it is when we expose our vulnerability, we create connection and facilitate learning opportunities. Brene Brown teaches that it is vulnerability that creates great business leaders and when you shut off vulnerability, you shut off opportunity. If vulnerability is good for business leaders, how much more is it so for parents!
Another reason why parents fear developing a genuine and warm relationship with kids is that it will compromise their ability to set limits , impose their authority and control them.
In fact the opposite is true. Do you ever wonder why parents and teachers are the last to know when kids screw up or act in an inappropriate way? When kids feel that they are unconditionally accepted and loved by their parents for who they are , and trust them to be their guides and help, kids will come to parents for help. It is our healthy attachments with kids that allow us to be their guides and mentors.
We can set limits in a unilateral way and demand compliance or we can let kids participate in setting limits using the CPS – collaborative problem solving approach. When our concerns and expectations are addressed by the agreed solutions, we are in fact setting a limit together with the child.
As parents and educators we really want our kids to learn to set limits. Instead of giving a list of rules and consequences we can offer them principles and guidelines to help them navigate the world. We want kids to derive limits and guidelines on how to act from the situation itself and what other people need .If so, then our coming up with limits, and especially specific behavioral limits and imposing them on kids makes it less likely that kids will become moral people who say that the situation decrees a kind of a boundary for appropriate ways to act.
Parents should be friends with their kids, but it is not a friendship of equals but similar to the trust, respect and caring that a mentor shows for his student.
Barbara Coloroso was once asked to help parents with their young teenager. When he was a pre-teen he was such a good kid, he always listened to us. Now he no longer listens to us, just to his teenage friends. She answered the parents that nothing has changed – he used to listen to you, now he is listening to them. When a parent is a friend and a mentor the child is not being compliant but self determined and acts in an autonomous way giving expression to the values he acquired from parents and teachers and has made his own.