A few days ago, I was getting my two-year-old daughter ready for bed. Her nightly routine consists of putting Vaseline on her lips when they are dry, and for some reason this time, she decided to lick the Vaseline off of her lips. After I promptly told her that she is not supposed to eat it, she smiled and then we both laughed at how silly the moment was.
Not only was it was a sincere laugh that I couldn’t contain, but it was also a chuckle reminiscent of the ones I hear in my friendships with my girlfriends. I felt like my daughter and I had a moment.
While I had secretly hoped at that moment that we would always have that type of bond, I wondered how close we could be while still allowing me, as her mother, to maintain a clear level authority when she gets older. Can a parent become friends with their children without blurring lines?
According to a study completed by The Family Room LLC, 54 percent of Millennial parents “describe their child(ren) as ‘one of my best friends.’” Researchers for the study noticed the differences between Generation X and Millennials in the area of parent-child relationships.
Even without collecting data, I can see how the distant parent-child relationships of past generations have progressed to something more intimate in the present day. I can recall my grandparents making my mom and her siblings leave a room when “grown folks were talking” when I was growing up. But I can also recall, not too long ago, the mother of a friend riding in a limo to the club…with us. More and more these days, people’s parents are their friends.
I, like any parent, want my children to feel that they can have open and honest communication with me and understand that they won’t be judged or dismissed. I assume having a close relationship, which resembles a friendship, is the best route to that.
However, can a parent be too friendly with their child? University of Rochester’s psychology professor Judith Smetana believes that open communication is great, but a parent sharing inappropriate topics with their child can overstep boundaries. That includes things like discussing money issues or your sex life with your children.
“When parents ignore that one-sidedness and unload too much on their children, it can result in what’s known as enmeshment — where parent and child are so unhealthily close that the boundaries between them blur, making it difficult for the kid to develop into their own independent person,” Smetana said to New York Mag.
I agree with Smetana, and want to ensure that my husband and I are included in our children’s lives, without getting too comfortable.
Smetana mentioned that a parent should have a trusting relationship with their child but make sure that the child’s well-being is taken into account by “pulling rank” and “saying something’s not acceptable, in a way a friend probably wouldn’t or couldn’t do.”
Growing up, I was eager and often encouraged by my mother to invite my friends to our house to simply hang out. She would order pizza, have some sort of dessert available and then head to her room, leaving us to our own devices. This allowed my mom to take part in my social life, be abreast of the people in it, but also give me privacy. In a chat with CBS News, child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein said this is important and offers ways for a parent to have that balance. They include creating a safe space for you to talk to your kids, watching kids’ TV shows with them and having conversations about the shows, as well as knowing who your kids are hanging out with and their friends’ parents.
There comes a time in every parent-child relationship where the nature of that relationship evolves to a more mature level and certain boundaries might be thrown out of the window. For some, it’s being able to speak with their parents about provocative topics, for others, it’s being able to consume alcohol in the presence of their parents.
For me, the first time I realized that my mom was a woman and not just my mom was in college when she forwarded me a joke, via email, that had a sexual undertone. That email let me know that she saw me as an adult and opened the door for more mature conversations and a closer, more lighthearted relationship.
So while I reprimand my toddler from climbing up the stairs alone or throwing a random tantrum, I’ll continue to laugh at silly things and foster a friendship, knowing that we’re setting a solid foundation for a great and life-long relationship.