Don’t Be Their Friend

With the world population closing in on seven billion, let’s assume that your child has plenty of people to choose from when looking for friends. You are not one of them. It is, perhaps, one of the necessary tragedies of parenthood that you are—or should be—precluded from being your children’s pal. Instead, you get to be the rain on their parade, the wet blanket at their party, the fly in their ointment. Someone has to tell a child “no.” Out of the billions, you’re elected. It’s easier to cope with this unfortunate reality if you remember one of the cardinal truths about parenting little kids: It’s a role. You can’t just ”be yourself” and succeed as a parent. We all have many different selves—including the one that still thinks and feels like a child and would just as soon always be first, leave the crackers and cheese on the sofa, let someone else put away the Barbies, and stay up all night doing whatever wild, outrageous, and perhaps illegal things we did before becoming parents. Then there’s our responsible, sacrificing, reliable, nurturing side. It’s clear which of those two “yous” should be on display in front of your kids. For children to grow into reasonable adults they need their parents to act like, well, parents!

Being playful with your kids is part of effective parenting. But the parent act also entails making unpopular decisions. The best way to draw the critical line between being friendly and being friends is to remain aware of your own motivations. Before saying “yes” to the ice cream cone ask yourself if you’re agreeing because it’s a good time for a treat or because you don’t want to be the bad guy. If it’s the latter, your child is better off hearing you say, “not today. If life with your little one resembles a buddy movie, it’s time to toughen your act.