I have two friends raising teenage daughters alongside me right now. Their daughters are a couple of years behind mine but watching them raise their girls has been a joy and full of lessons. I’ve watched them cuddling, texting and enjoying their baby girls all while appearing settled and sure about the relationship they are curating. The relationship they will have through adulthood is goals. I’ve watched and wanted and felt envious of the way they confidently and with ease established their relationship with their girls. Feeling like I was close but not quite achieving the type of…what was it… it’s like friendship…that’s it, FRIENDSHIP… with my girl that they were so clearly engaged in with theirs.
Quick side note: This is one of the beautiful things about solid adult friendships. We learn and grow and adjust together. For and with each other. We make mistakes and learn to correct ourselves within the context of friendship. It’s okay to want to learn and figure out what others are doing well at and make it your own. The first people I call when there’s joy to share, grief to hold, or things to sort are my friends. Without my friendships I would be a hollow version of myself.
Chatting with one of these girl moms a few years ago about parenting and the things I would like to make adjustments on, I was running my mouth about how I couldn’t understand when people called their daughters their best friends. Ugh! I just don’t get it. Surely that’s not real. This pal graciously put me in my place by casually responding, with all sincerity mind you, “my daughter is my best friend.”
In the past, when I’ve seen or heard a mom on social media refer to her four year old as her little bestie, best friend!, or worse- ride or die, my eyes would roll right out of my head out of the room and down the road. How can a recently graduated toddler possibly help you navigate life, pick up groceries when you’re too busy to think, encourage you to keep going in a marathon/marriage/job/on a Tuesday? Have they even wiped their own ass yet? NO. *eyeroll* That’s no best friend. That’s the person you spend the most time with. A time suck. That’s a person you have power over. You’re in charge of them. You worry about the time you lost it and yelled at them and you want to go wake them up from their long awaited slumber, apologize, and put them right back to bed. This person is your responsibility NOT your bestie.
But but but this buddy’s daughter was older, cusping on her teenage years. Knowing them combined with her genuine “my daughter is my best friend” had me take a big ol’ pause. I couldn’t dismiss it this time. This was real. I saw her spending and enjoying real time with her daughter alongside the regular parenting strains of raising a young woman. All the personality, capabilities and woes that are along for the ride. BOTH. These pals of mine were parenting AND forming friendships with their girls! Could our babes possibly be our responsibility AND our best buds? I felt intrigued.
Intriguing because the message I got growing up was that parents are NOT to be their kids’ friends. I’m wondering if this thinking came from a church environment and/or some not great parts of religion. Parents are not friends and if they choose the friendship path their kids are jail bound, drug prone, and headed straight into teenage pregnancy. If your parenting friends jumped off a cliff would you jump too? So many things we were conditioned to be ashamed and afraid of, most of them ended up simply creating fear and false control. No way was I going to pursue friendship with my kiddies. Not me! Nope. I will be respected, maintain power over, they will fall in line. My parenting will remain winterized, closed up/covered/shut off/unexposed/nothing left vulnerable lest these children get frozen up and choose the dark side. Its all for their well being, right?
It’s been super interesting sorting these perceptions of mine. What’s so scary about being in a friendship with my daughter (kids) while I parent her? Why does friendship with my kid put them on a path to incarceration? My adult friendships are lovely, life giving, joy and lesson filled. My first call when I have news to share. There’s fun and heartache endured together. Not because we are related, because we choose to go at it with each other. Hmmmmm….why wouldn’t I want my baby dumpling(s) to choose to do those things with me too? Can I not direct/guide/mentor them while we establish trust/safety/openness/boundaries TOGETHER? Why wouldn’t I want to create an environment that encourages MUTUAL respect, MUTUAL care, MUTUAL responsibility with my daughter just like my friendships? Ummmmm, that sounds way better than requiring unquestioning obedience then hoping she wants to come to visit during the holidays as an adult.
It’s been a solid three years of this both/and approach to parenting. Parentship? Frienting? Or maybe this is simply parenting and I’m super late to the game. It’s still pretty foreign to me when my 16 year old asks me to ride along/come with/cuddle up. She graciously reads my face (like a best friend would) and says “I want you to come mom. You’re included.” And I still want to say “Are you sure?”
This parentship provides a front row seat to those fears I was conditioned to pretend I could control with a heavy hand and a distant approach. Some of them could very well happen and you know what? There is not anything I want more than to be the closest, safest, first call, my kids make when scary or phenomenal stuff comes close. Call me! Call momma. I’m your safest and most loving lifeline. You know that because I’m also your friend and we have had fun, messed up, regrouped, and lived life together. Call me.