Hannah is 17, and a mature, responsible, 17 at that. I’m not certain when it happened, but somewhere along the line we became friends. I can just hear all the naysayers screaming that moms shouldn’t be friends with their teenage daughters.
“Kids have many friends and only one mom. Be her mom, not her friend!”
That, my friend, is what I call a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is defined as:
“When only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes. False dilemmas are usually characterized by “either this or that” language, but can also be characterized by omissions of choices. Another variety is the false trilemma, which is when three choices are presented when more exist.”
I grappled with this situation for years, fearing that I had been failing my child by considering her a friend, but after stewing over it and watching my own situation play out in reality, I no longer believe that. I effectively fill the roles of both mom and friend, it’s just not an egalitarian friendship, and that’s where the false dilemma occurs.
When I became friends with my supervisor at work, we were both expected to maintain an effective and appropriate work relationship in which she assigned me tasks, held me accountable, and even disciplined me when necessary, and nobody batted an eye. So why is it problematic in a different scenario where I have a similar relationship with my daughter, in which we can go out for coffee and establish a trusting relationship while I still effectively raise and discipline her as my child.
It’s a balance to create an effective parent/child friendship, and not without pitfalls. If I fail to keep her accountable, over-confide, or lose perspective of my primary function as her mother, I am failing to do my first and most important job. But with a mindful consideration of my parenting role, we can, and do, have a beautiful friendship. As Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. states in her article “Should Parents Be Friends With Their Kids?”:
“Consider the parent who enforces limits and avoids worrying her kids with detailed accounts of her adult personal problems. She is first and foremost a mother to her kids. But she might also see herself as a friend because she and her kids share a sense of mutual loyalty, trust, and respect.”
It’s important to make the disclaimer that not every parent-child relationship is suited to establishing a friendship during the teenage years. If there are repeated disciplinary concerns it’s crucial to take a step back from the friendship role and ensure that you are giving your child adequate parental supervision and discipline. There are some teens who simply don’t care to be friends with their parents, and parents who don’t care to be friends with their teens. And that’s perfectly normal and healthy.
Just please, don’t assume I’m dropping my parenting ball when I manage a close friendship with my teenage daughter. I’m aware of the pitfalls, and though they can be tricky to navigate, for the most part I do well to avoid them. And I’m ever so thankful for a daughter who not only loves me, but likes me, and wants to talk to me.