“You’re my best friend, Mom,” my 3-year-old tells me with a huge grin on her face. It puts a grin on mine almost as large. Although she’s just learning about friendship and doesn’t completely understand what it means, I know it’s true.
I never thought I’d be a friend to my kids. My mom believed the roles “friend” and “mom” were in opposition to each other. It was one or the other. If she was going to parent me right, she couldn’t be my friend. And for a long time, I thought she was right.
But now I enjoy playing games, watching movies and even joking with my teens and toddler. They confide in me when they’ve made a mistake, and I offer to help them correct it. We talk about their problems and I offer support. I respect them and let them make their own choices, just as I do my grown friends. In most respects, our friendship mirrors the other friendships in my life.
This doesn’t mean I talk to them about my sex life, or relationship problems. I realize that our friendship shouldn’t be balanced, that I need to be more of a friend to them than they are to me. I set healthy boundaries, of course, but I am still their friend.
I didn’t have this type of relationship with my mom. We didn’t have any shared hobbies, nor did we really joke around. For the most part, she was just my mom.
She used to always remind me of this fact. She’d say, “I am not your friend, I’m your mom,” and then she’d set a boundary or make a rule. She was doing what she thought was best for me, even when I’d hate her for it. Being a parent sometimes means not being liked. I guess that’s why my mom thought she couldn’t be my friend.
But my best friends are the ones who tell me when they think I’m on the wrong path. They care more about helping me stay on course than they do about being liked by me at all times. They’re the friends like the ones in high school who told me I should get help when I was cutting myself, instead of being cool with it. They’re the ones who dared to question my choices in men, instead of helping me chase after an asshole because I thought I loved him. They are the ones I’ve hated at least once in my life, but many of them are also the reason I am still alive.
But my mom didn’t think a friend would ever put their likability on the line like that. Maybe that’s why she didn’t spend much time with me once puberty hit; maybe she thought that if I liked her, she would somehow lose her ability to parent.
But she was wrong. The friendship I have with my kids has never prevented me from being a mom. In fact, I think it has actually helped me be a better parent. I have let them get to know and like me. The time we spend just hanging out and having fun is usually the time they tell me the most about themselves and their lives. I have learned to relate to them, despite the age difference, making it easier to offer them the help they actually need to overcome their struggles.
To me, being my kids’ friend is a part of being their mom. It means getting to know them as whole people, looking out for their best interests even if they don’t always like me, and of course, joking around at the table after school. I couldn’t imagine parenting any other way,