This morning I barked the words “I am not your friend!” to my children.
The words nearly came out of my mouth in slow motion as I heard myself morph into my own parents. They are words that are not new to me and I’m pretty sure were a mainstream part of the parenting philosophy in the 1970s and 1980s.
It always struck me as odd that parents were advised not to be friends with their kids, but now that I’m driving this mangled, wonky parenting bus, I get it clearly now.
Man, I would love to be my kids’ friend. I would love to let them have their way all the time and not correct them when they’re attacking me with self-entitled bossiness and disrespect. It would be lovely to not have to be the bad cop who enforces punishments and see their faces crinkle up in sadness because I had to impose such penalties.
It's hard to be friends with miniature people who wake you up at 5 in the morning to ask what's for dinner that night and in the same breath want to know why he can't have a piece of gum. I'm usually not friends with people like that anyway.
Real friends don’t let their friends wear the same pair of underwear for 4 days straight, right?
The best kind of friends hold you accountable and don’t put up with your garbage because they know you can do better.
A good friend would shoot you straight if you were bossing her around and leaving a hot mess in her house every day.
So I guess in a sense I am being a friend—a really honest, no filter friend—who talks through gritted teeth and clenched fists at times.
Parenting is a confusing mix of "I love these creatures who have hijacked my soul and make my life so full!" followed by "Whoa, who are these mannerless little jerkwads who care only about themselves?”
And those thoughts come in the matter of minutes from each other on a typical day.
It’s hard to walk this fine line of wanting them to fear me but also wanting them to respect me and do the right thing because their morals guided them to do so.
Until those morals kick in, a sprinkling of fear seems to work okay, and I have to go with what works for me. I’m looking down the road to when they are adults, and a little bit of fear is woven into life. There’s a touch of fear of your boss; a fear of not getting food on the table; a fear of all the unknowns in life.
Fear is not necessarily a trait I want to hide from them, and if they can see they can fear me at times while knowing I am the first person who will lay down my life for them, then they will start to comprehend that love and life are not always clean, tidy comprehensible packages.
Like most parents, I try to take the calm, cool road at first with my kids, but only a saint can withstand constant tormenting and disregard before she breaks. And when my kids see that their behavior causes Mama to snap, they can see how their poor behavior will affect other real people in the real world, and that Mama, in fact, is not a servant robot devoid of emotions.
These are valuable lessons that would not be offered if I were always their friend.
Some things just aren't up for discussion, and I do have to be the one in charge. Yes, it’s annoying for them not to have a mother who kneels patiently by their side asking for their input, but this is not a democracy, much like their day job one day will not be a democracy.
Each day it's a balancing act of being their teacher, mentor, and example-setter mixed in with drill sergeant, and each day truly brings me pause and gratitude for this ridiculousness of parenthood.
One day I can certainly be their friend, enjoying a glass of wine with them as we laugh about the past, and I watch them battle their kids who are being a bag of sass.