How healthy is it for parents to be friends with their children?

Establishing boundaries is key.

Harper's Bazaar India

Parents always want the best for their children. They want to be there for them and be a lot of things to them. However, as the children grow up, parents realise their kids spend more time with other people (friends, colleagues, and partners) and don't give them the time and attention they crave or need. With the wish to stay connected with their young ones, they often try being a friend to their kids.

But is this the right way to go about it? Two leading psychologists tell us the dos and don'ts of parent- children relationship in their growing up years.

The pros 

It isn’t wrong for a parent to want to be their kid’s friend. After all, it will foster a strong emotional bond and create a safe and supportive environment for the kid to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences. It also encourages open and honest communication where the child, who now views their folks as their friend becomes more inclined to share their innermost feelings. This builds immense trust and plays an instrumental role in helping the child develop healthy relationships as they grow older. 

The cons

The most obvious drawback of a parent being their child’s friend is that it blurs boundaries. By befriending their kid, parents may struggle to establish ground rules and probably have trouble in providing them a direction or guidance when needed. Additionally, it hinders the child’s autonomy as they may not get enough opportunities to be independent. When parents prioritise being the children's friend, they might become their kids' go-to person, thus leaving no scope for the child to form strong bonds outside (with freinds etc) or be independent.  

And as far as parents are concerned, being a child’s friend can be an emotional burden as they now have to meet extra needs due to being a friend (as well). 

Is it the right way to bridge the generation gap?

Sometimes, it’s unhealthy to bridge generation gap as the kid will treat their parent as one, and in the equation, it is important for parents to respect their children and give them respect and age-appropriate independence. Parents have always played the role of being the guide, mentor, and the ones who set guidelines. If they treat the children as a friend, the child might find it difficult to anchor themselves. Parenting does not mean being aggressive or angry, it means being assertive and compassionate.  

Parent’s personal experiences may play a role in the equation 

The need for parents to be their kid's friend could probably stem from their experience of neglect or solitude. They probably wished their parents understood them and were their friends when they were growing up, and if it didn't pan out that way, they didn't want their children to go through the same. Even as parents they can have an open line to communicate and build a safe space for the child to feel comfortable enough to open up. 

Balancing the equation is imperative

The parent-child relationship is a foundational relationship in an individual’s life. It should be nurturing and supporting where the parents are the kid’s close confidants and encourage their development. Parents need to ensure they don’t fall adopt either of the two extremes styles of parenting—neither too friendly nor too authoritative). Most people don't feel comfortable talking to their parents about a lot of things, but if parents are able create a safe space in the growing up years, they will form deeper bond with their children. Striking that balance between being a friend and a parent is important. 

The ultimate don'ts

Parents can’t be the only friend that the child has. It’s a huge problem when the kid doesn’t feel closer to anyone but their parents. Children need to be around people of their age to grow in life. While parents always want the best for their kid, there is absolutely no need to mollycoddle them to such an extent that they never think of leaving the nest. Some birds do come back only to fly again. 

Inputs by Sherene Aftab, founder of Serene Hour Counselling & Career Advice Consultancy, and Mehezabin Dordi, clinical psychologist, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai