The truth is that there are a lot of joyful moments in parenting.
And there are challenges too. You are constantly caught between trying to win a friend in your child, while trying to set up structures that should serve as guidelines.
Louise Kathure, shares that the most important lesson she has learned in her parenting journey is that children always try to push set boundaries.
“Children can be manipulative. And they will look at you when doing wrong just to see how far is too far. I think it is possible to be both a parent and friend. It’s not easy, but you have to find balance, otherwise you will lose yourself in the process. I believe the key is understanding and communication, and again, when there is true friendship you are able to work out the differences that will keep popping up. If it’s either your way or the highway, they will never trust you enough to tell you anything,” she shares.
While speaking on the same, Eloise Nzara intimates that raising a child requires one to be psychologically prepared all the time. Many a times, how one was brought up determines how one parents his/her children too.
“As long as you have accepted that you are a parent, you keep an open mind to every uncertainties that are to arise — you will learn as you go. Implementing my parents’ parenting styles is what worked for me. At the same time my circle was tight. The only influences my son had until preteen was me, his dad and my parents,” shares Eloise.
Going through rough patches that later led to divorce, she intimates, had a lot of influence on her son, but after counselling, he went back on track.
“When we went to a psychologist and he opened up, I was so surprised that he had bottled up anger that because of the environment he was in. That is when I really decided to leave because I could not continue harming him. Also, being a half Arab boy growing in a community where children who look like him are assumed to be in gangs was hard. I never stop worrying, looking out for who his friends are. Directing him to avoid hanging out in those large groups. Disciplining never stops. He is 22 now and I am still big on discipline where necessary. He knows I am a no non-sense mum,” she shares.
As psychologist Faith Mutegi shares, it is not impossible to be both a friend and parent, but it is important to understand how to balance to avoid a collapse of both.
“You need to know how to navigate being a parent and friend to your child. You need to keep in mind and internalise what your child’s immediate needs are. Do they need a parent or a friend or a mixture of both? What does my child need if they are two years or 15 years, or at any given age? You cannot always be a friend to your child. Especially in their teen years you have to be a parent rather than a friend. Because you have certain goals that you need to pass on to your child. By the time you are giving them a phone, you must have internalised and figured that they really need it,” shares the child expert.
While parenting takes the lead…friendship is the icing on the cake. “An eight-year-old does not need a friend at that age, they need a structure in the family. They need to know how things go, be it in school or church and what is done in these different places.
The child knows what to do and how to do it right. How do we act when around other people? So are you providing a structure that they will have a feel of belonging. While parents start worrying about tantrums in supermarkets… if the child is tired and cranky don’t bring them to the supermarket. If they like to cause tantrums let them not go when they are hungry,” she adds.
While it is important to maintain discipline, she warns parents to have limits and bend the rules when need be.
“Don’t go military! About 80 per cent of the time, your role is to provide structure and routine. Is there a conversation that needs to happen? This is because children have a lot of questions. Understand that you may not be the most important person in your child’s life moving forward from pre-teens. They start valuing other people’s opinions more than you. So, make the most of the ages before and at preteens. You need to impart life skills, to serve as guide reels. As time goes, keep reminding yourself what your child’s immediate need is,” shares Faith.
Analysing what friendship means
Still, experts say the question of whether you should be friends with your child depends on what friendship means to you. To some people, friendship means “nobody is in charge.” Neither partner exercises any authority over the other. If this is what you mean by “friendship,” then the question seems to be about the effects of permissive (or even neglectful) parenting.
“Friendship” may also cause problems if it means “treating a child as an adult therapist. In fact, one study found that when divorced mums shared personal information with their daughters such as financial details or negative thoughts about their ex-spouse, that it didn’t bring the two closer. Instead, it caused psychological distress for the daughters,” she adds.
However, parents can build close, personal relationships with their children and still remain responsible adults. Not every friendship is based on sharing equal status.