Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Parenting: The Perils of Friendly Negotiations


Originally posted on Live Journal: Suburban Eschatology Part Two (March 15, 2011 2:07 PM)

The following was written after reading an article on, “Experiencing Teen Drama Overload? Blame Biology” by Patti Neighmond.


Really excellent article.  I think the section on girls has some good information about being a mother, regardless if they have a son or a daughter (still, thank God I have boys), and I really liked the section about boys.  I already see these some of these patterns emerging in my eleven year old, though he is a lot more sensitive than a lot of boys his age. 

One of the real keys I've found as a parent, so far, and the first few paragraphs of the article reminded me of this, is how important it is to remember that we must be parents first, friends second.  This does not mean that we cannot be friends, or friendly, but that if we focus too much on being friends, it becomes really difficult to be the parent.  It can be confusing, difficult, and painful for both the parent and for the child when we have to suddenly stop being a friend and switch over into the parent role, making and enforcing rules or imposing discipline.  If this foundation within the family is laid wrong, if the priorities are misaligned and healthy family roles are not established, then suddenly, when we have to act as a parent, not as a friend, it feels like a betrayal, to both parent and child, and complicates difficult situations immensely.   

However, I find, when this foundation has been laid properly, we are actually able to be better friends with our kids.  When we are friends before parents, when we do, inevitably, have to take on the parent role and these feelings of betrayal come into play, our set family roles are shattered and trust is destroyed.  But when our roles in the family are built on healthy models, we can go back and forth between the roles of parent and friend much easier, and the trust is always there. 

Also, when we are parents first and friends second, there is a level of respect between the parent and child that actually helps reduce the number of conflicts that arise between the two.  When a friend tells a friend to, say, go clean his room, it seems silly and unimportant.  Then we get frustrated when the child does not take our instructions seriously, and the child gets frustrated when we enforce our demands.  We think, "Why do we have to tell him to do this three or four times and finally have to threaten discipline to get the kid to do anything?"  Meanwhile, the kid is thinking, "What's the big deal and why is Mom or Dad suddenly making a big deal out of it?" 

One thing I think about a lot regarding this issue is that relationships between friends are essentially based on negotiation, as in, "let's play the game I want to play first, then we can play the game you want to play," while in parent-child relationships, negotiation must play a lesser role, and when it comes to the child's health and safety, there is often no room for any negotiation at all.  I notice that parents whose balance between friend and parent is out of whack often get very frustrated because too much of what they ask or tell their child to do ends up being some great negotiation, spanning the distance between the kid saying, "I'll do it later," through to, "I'll do it only if you…" - the big, "what's in it for me" deal.  Bickering, arguing, and fighting often ensues.  These stresses then go on to actually undermine the friendship between a parent and child.  This is another way that, by trying to be a friend first and a parent second, we actually make it harder to be a friend to our children.

Of course, all of these things are going to happen from time to time between parents and children even if our balance is properly maintained.  The issues discussed in the article and the excerpt are always going to pop up- it is all part of growing up, both as a child and as a parent.  In the end, though, because of the challenges we face moving into the tween and teen years, I do believe that it is vitally important to have our family roles properly in place for when these issues arise.  Every little thing we can do to smooth out these challenging years for our kids works towards keeping the tough times from becoming disastrous times.

August 17, 2010

Revised: March 15, 2011

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