Let's drop the bullshit
that you can't be both
You cannot be a parent and a friend - i call bullshit on this!
There is this theory of parenting teens that really riles me: the notion that you should not and/or cannot be a friend to your teen. To me, it just seems absurd! A ‘hang on’ from the authoritarian style parenting of the Edwardian era (seen but not heard shit we threw out the window decades ago for our younger children). Why on earth would you not want to be friends with your teens? I am not referring to the go out and get drunk, pick up or get tattoos type friend – they probably have that covered. The media and headlines on how to parent would like you to think that the ‘party parent friend’ is the only way you can be a friend, which I think is confusing parents and damaging relationships. Let me assure you, you can be a true friend to your teen and still be a parent.
There is no shortage of parenting styles over the history of parenting, no shortage of ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ on how to parent correctly. I would like to think that in today’s day and age we have a better understanding of the causes and effects of parenting styles and the probable outcomes of certain methods and so hope that trends are reflective of that greater understanding. Unfortunately, there are still platforms, such as the media, that would like to enforce some untruths as ‘rules’ and perpetuate social beliefs that are destructive and damaging to the relationship between parent and teen.
Unfair perception of our kids
How much does our media and society like to reinforce the ‘petulant teen’, the ‘surly back answering teen’, the ‘rebellious teen’; the ‘lazy, socially inept screen-loving teen’? The message is loud and clear to parents “BE WARE of the TEEN STAGE!” The messages we have hammered to us would have us all believe that our children are going to be too hard to handle, they will lie and do things without our permission, and give us just cause to not trust them. They become creatures we have to fear, fight and control – for their own good. What a crock of shit.
A ‘good parent’ of a teen it seems is one that is encouraged to do everything we can to keep our teens safe from all the dangers out there. Yes, that is the mandate of all parents – to keep our kids safe, but there are options in the way we do this. One is driven by fear and control, (derived from love mainly), and the other through education, support, and trust. A parent of teens needs to hold the space for their teen, a concept that is often misunderstood.
Holding the space - prison or pool?
Let’s look at the concept of holding the space in a metaphoric way: you, as the parent, are the structure that encompasses the space in which your teen is growing, learning and experiencing life.
You can be a prison, with high walls, barbed wire, strict rules and one-way (your way) communication. No space. No room for growth. No opportunity to learn or explore. No safe space to make mistakes. Not a space to encourage trust and communication. You are the parent. You know best. Your rules are solid. It seems this is the style of parenting teens that we being encouraged to do to keep our teens safe from all the dangers out there! Yes, they will be safe from the dangers outside, but what damage are you causing in the process?
One of the best metaphors for what I feel the role of a parent of teens was from Lisa Damour, in her book Untangled. To paraphrase, we are the sides of a swimming pool. At first, our teens may cling to the sides and nervously splash about in the shallows, not far from our reach if we need to pull them out of danger. But as they get more confident and adventurous they venture further away from us into deeper water. They will more often than not come back to tell us how much fun they are having, what they have learned, and also to seek comfort and consolidation after they swallowed some water and were scared for a second there. We are there for them. They know that. There is no need for either parent or teen to panic because there are trust and protection. We need to be OK with them growing their strength in swimming so they can be confident adults.
What we can control the size of the pool to a degree, but unless we want them to go seek a bigger pool, it is wise to allow the pool you supervise to grow to your teen's needs (not your fears!). In real life, we start them off in the wading pool, then move to the larger pools when they have outgrown the pool they are currently playing in. Make sure you allow them to move to the bigger pool when they are ready, not just when you are ready. Grow with them.
What are those memes really saying?
Those memes and articles that circulate saying: “I am not your friend, I am your mom”, I feel simply miss the point. Yes, their messages are meant to mean well, but the concept that ‘good parenting’ is all about rules and regulations. “I will stalk you, lecture you, drive you crazy, hunt you down when you need to be home, I will be your worst nightmare – because I am your parent and I love you” What the hell kinda love is that! Just think about what these memes and articles are actually saying. Protecting someone you love is a natural instinct, but as parents, our roles are not to ‘keep’ them. That is the sure way of losing them.
Sod what the media says about not being friends with my teens. I am their friend because I am their parent. My husband is my best friend – that is why he is my husband. Please do not let society or the media dictate to you that a parent friend is one that is irresponsible, and will result in your teen going off the rails. A friend is, by definition, someone you can trust, rely on, talk to, have fun with, laugh with, enjoy life with, and know will have your back at all times. I don’t know about you, but that is the sort of parent I am happy to be.