You often hear this advice offered to parents, advice repeated almost without a thought: You are not your child’s friend; you are your child’s parent. As if this mad, chaotic parenting experience could be defined and delineated by margins and frames. I’m not daft- I know my children need me to be a parent to them, but they’re closer to me than any friends I could ever hope to have.
They can cheer me up and inspire me to be a better person. They amuse me and challenge my capacity when it comes to giving of myself. I’m the parent, and yet they have taught me more than I can express.
Parenting: if you are anything like me you go into it with a little trepidation but still thinking you’re the boss. When you get into the family factory, though, you discover you are more like a labourer sweating out your days on an assembly line than a supervisor barking out orders to orderly workers. Labours of love. There are so many acts of service in between the so-called “quality-time” moments. Perhaps the acts of service are where a lot of the real parenting takes place.
I can’t claim to follow my own advice, either. When I’ve suggested glibly that it’s important to keep the lines of communication open, you may be forgiven for having pictured me sitting around a table with my kids passing an honesty cushion to each other as we share heartfelt experiences. The reality is that we actually share more while we’re in traffic, sandwiched between an SUV labelled MOM’S TAXI and an actual taxi. And the sharing is accidental. While in conversation I learn how to listen to what they are saying, and we discover more about each other. But then we’re more likely to be shouting out the chorus to a song on the radio and dancing in our seats with as much abandon as our seatbelts will allow.
They aren’t friends in the sense that I’d unburden myself on them, so the relationship is a bit one-sided. They do intuit when I’m tired, stressed or ill (or I may tell them), but they don’t always need to know the details. I know some parents who do talk to their kids about absolutely everything, and that works for them and other families where conversation is minimal.
Like true friends we have our off-days, too. After a particularly rough time we may need to give each other space, cool off a little. Fortunately this inevitably ends up with that slightly-sheepish “I’m sorry” moment that leads to the warm feeling of forgiveness and reconciliation.
If you observe your children with their actual friends, you’ll quickly realise that they aren’t your buddies in the way they are with their peers. As equals, they play, chat and hang out in a different way altogether.
Friends? No, what we have is way better.
What are your conversation- starting tips?
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