When my girl was younger, she and my husband spent a lot of time playing Barbies together. I thought it was sweet that he did this and felt she was a lucky girl to have such a devoted papa. My mother-in-law, however, felt differently. After observing several hours of Barbie-playing during one of her visits, she warned my husband that he was crossing the line from parent to friend and this was not a good thing.
I still think playing Barbies with her was a wonderful bonding experience for both of them, but I do get what she was worrying about. We all want to have close relationships with our children, but there is such a thing as too close. And according to child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, parents who treat their kids as equals and buddy around with them as if they were pals are swimming in “dangerous waters.”
“I think in a lot of families there’s a lot more in common. Kids are watching the same shows as their parents, listening to the same music. But as a result, there’s this really fine line that’s being crossed. It’s good to be friends with your kids, but the best friend — being involved in everything — it’s a little dangerous.”
So, how do you know if you’ve become more friend and less parent? Other than a dad who shares a beer with his 15-year-old, Hartstein doesn’t offer any clear-cut examples of a parent who has crossed the line. But she does suggest that if you are concerned about it, you might examine your own motivation by asking yourself some questions: “Why am I wanting to be my child’s friend? Why do I want this friendship? Do I need something from my child? Is it giving me more than it’s giving them?”
Based on my own experiences, I know one sure-fire way to totally obliterate the line between parent and friend: Tell your kid your problems. My own mother did this and not only did it make me very uncomfortable at times, it exposed to me adult situations and issues that I was nowhere near old enough to understand.
But more than anything, it made me see her as less in control, less strong and ultimately less able to help me with my own problems. While it is clear that she was motivated by her need to talk to somebody, I would have rather she played Barbies with me.
Do you worry that you are too friendly with your children? How do you stay close without being too close?
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