“Are You Their Parent, or Their Friend?” Coffee and Conversation for June 26

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own.

The title question is bandied about in mainstream society to the point where it’s accepted, almost without question, that there’s no way to be both, and “the parent” is the only acceptable response. Seriously, 223,000,000 responses to that search, and not a one on the first page that suggests being friends to your children could possibly be a good idea.

I’ve been asked this question, more than once, usually in a derisive tone by someone who has seen or read about the way we live, in our family. But I have certain deep-seated mistrusts, issues – with the either/or paradigm. Too often, it sets up an unnatural or even false dichotomy.family.

Something I’ve noticed about those who advocate “being the parents” is that their definition of what a parent is, and, for that matter, what a friend is, differ significantly from my own.

Google offers these definitions:




a father or mother.

“the parents of the bride”


mother, father, birth/biological parent, progenitor; More



be or act as a mother or father to (someone).

“the warmth and attention that are the hallmarks of good parenting”


raise, bring up, look after, take care of, rear;


“those who parent young children”





a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.


companion, soul mate, intimate, confidante, confidant, familiar, alter ego, second self, playmate, playfellow, classmate, schoolmate,workmate; More



befriend (someone).

I find ‘typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.’ interesting. In this age of ‘friends with benefits’, the sexual component can coexist with more platonic elements. It also seems to imply that, if you’re related to someone, you can’t be friends…

But my Accomplice and I were friends before we dated. As a matter of fact, I’ve been friends with most of my lovers, first – one for a decade! With many of them, the friendship outlasted the fleeting sexual relationship.

Over eighteen years ago, we made the decision to become a legal family. On the day we married, did we stop being ‘companions, soul mates, intimates, confidants, playmates, playfellows, and workmates?’

There’s a reason I call him my Accomplice. We’re still friends. Becoming husband and wife didn’t change the fact that, we ENJOY one another’s company. We learn and grow, separately and together. We honor each other’s being, listen to hopes and dreams and problems. We agree, and we disagree. We get mad at each other, sometimes, and we work it out. The fact that we share a home, a marriage contract, children t, a bed and lots of fun stuff we can do in it (besides sleep, which is also pretty fun!) doesn’t stop us from being what we began as – friends.

Our children are friends, too. Each has their own room, and enjoys time alone in it, and yet, nearly every day, they also hang out in one of their rooms together. They watch DVDs and YouTube, play Minecraft, read fanfiction, and invent games. They go for walks. They have their own inside jokes, and usually resolve their own conflicts. Even with the choice to be away from each other, they still choose to connect on a daily basis.

Maybe the confusion about it being a bad idea for parents to be their kids’ friends comes from this ‘family exclusivity’ –

Friendship can be silly!

Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s how people see parents and friends.

To me, being a parent is NOT about:

  • control
  • rules
  • punishments
  • chores
  • bedtimes
  • getting them out the door to school on time
  • making sure they eat their vegetables
  • forcing them practice the piano
  • allowing them less than an hour a day on the dreaded screen time
  • badgering them to brush their teeth…
Friendship can be birthday dinner to celebrate a new teen – with an onion ring tower as a centerpiece.

For me, being their parent IS about:

  • sharing information and my experiences
  • knowing theirs won’t be the same
  • giving advice or opinions when they’re wanted, or when not giving them might mean disaster
  • providing a safe and nurturing environment
  • answering their questions
  • sharing hopes, dreams, and passions
  • opening up possibilities and horizons
  • being OK if they choose not to explore them
  • helping them achieve their goals, not ones I impose on them
  • helping them navigate growing up and getting along with others
  • trusting them to figure some things out
  • making room for what’s important to them
  • exercising the parental perogative only when it’s the only tool left
  • being patient – growing up isn’t consistent or tidy
  • being willing to change plans
  • making their happiness, security, and joy priorities in my life
  • liberating them to make their own choices
  • supporting them as they organize their lives
  • helping them deal with mistakes without making them feel badly about having not been perfect

It’s about being with them- not as a supervisor, a drill sergeant,

or even as a benevolent despot – but as human beings.

And isn’t that what a friend really is?

So, to that question, “Are you their parent or their friend?” I proudly answer, “Both.”

What are your thoughts? Can parents be their childrens’ friends? Should they be? Were your parents your friends? If you have children, are you their friend, their parent, or both?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – anyone up for a refill, while we chat?

Friendship in every moment – even the slightly awkward ones!

Friendship in every moment – even the slightly awkward ones!






  1. You know I feel the same way. I’m enjoying my friendships with my children. I don’t believe our role is to control them or make them do arbitrary things simply because I’m parent and they are child. I believe in mutual respect and love. Great post, Shan.

Comments are closed.