“Parenting is Not Friendship!” (Let’s Deconstruct This)

youre-not-their-parentThere’s a saying: “I think the biggest problem is parents are so concerned with being friends with their kids. You’re not their friend. You’re their parent.” made by Charles Barkley, during a 2002 CNN interview where Barkley talked about his insights on role models and parenting.

Now this guy has done a ton of work with and for kids, giving to his community, building houses, speaking, leading, and I’m certain he can still dunk a basketball. He’s about a million times richer and more useful to the world than I am, and probably a better dad, but this Father’s Day, I’m gonna go ahead and disagree with him on this.

The sentiment sounds quaint, but over the years it has turned into something far more sinister. People now have ready access to immediate online commentary, on everything ranging from kids getting away from mom at the zoo, to freak animal attacks at amusement parks. You’ve probably shared an opinion or two on these incidents, and maybe, just maybe, you did some parent-bashing along the lines of “watch your kids” or “too many people try to be friends with their kids.” “Your Child is Not Your Friend” hector the online experts.

I don’t know if the idea originated with Barkley, but it has become more than just commentary. It’s become the driving force behind public child-shaming incidents, like making kids hold a sandwich board or shooting a daughter’s computer with a gun. An alarming number of people cheer these parents, as if they’re bringing a new wave of “Dirty Harry” style of parenting. Mom as Judge Judy. Dad as Chuck Norris. The imperious and harsh dictator of the manse. The vengeful Old Testament parent.

To me, this kind of thing only makes sense if you’re not emotionally developed much beyond a four-year-old yourself. It’s not parent as parent. It’s parent as chief-tantrum-thrower. It’s probably got a great deal in common with the trend toward authoritarianism and backlash populism that drives ever more aggressive political rhetoric.

Is it working? Or is it just a moronic escalation of aggression?

I’m not going the other way either. A lot of people rail against the ‘helicopter moms’ who ‘hover’ over their kids while they fill out homework assignments and apply for colleges. Much of this is total bullshit hyperbole at best, and it is, like the concerns over ‘friendship parenting’, based on the fact that most people really don’t want to know each others’ details. They just want to judge.

There is no rise in kids who are totally inept at everything in life because they got timeouts instead of a belt buckle. No studies have revealed that, though you’ll get the college recruiters and corporate HR professionals who give you anecdotes about applicants they’ve found wanting. I suspect that when they look at the bottom of the barrel, what they’re seeing is not new.

So if you can’t go back to the days of the woodshed, and you get frowns if you dare offer rewards or timeouts, how does the world expect parents to behave? Should we go the route Barkley and so many others have stammered about? Is it always my way or the highway?

I say screw it. I’m their friend.

After all, these kids are by far the two most important people in my life. How far? Well, if everyone else fell off the edge of the planet, it wouldn’t matter, as long as the kids are still with me. That’s the truth. My wife would say the same from her perspective.

It’s been a very long time since I raised a beer with friends down at the… It’s been forever since I rode the bike trails with the guys at the… Remember those late night sessions spinning business ideas at the… And didn’t we have fun jamming on stage with the boys at the… And how about after work, those dinners over at the…

None of that happens anymore. It’s unfortunate but also inevitable. There is no blame. We’ve all got our own things going on. Me, I’ve got the two closest people I’ve ever been with, to jump in lakes, ride bikes, shoot hoops, camp out, play video games. True, they’re kinda captive. They get some say in our adventures, while I get quite a lot. But they’re getting more input every day, and branching out a lot more with their interests.

Will they play music? Will they play baseball or soccer? Will they be dancers or gymnasts? Will they draw? Will they want to be architects? Scientists? Teachers? Will I have any influence at all? Someday I’ll lose them. They’ll have their own friends, and the bulk of their days won’t involve me anymore.

What then? I have no idea. Until that happens, there is really only one thing I can do, and that is to be their friend. Maybe the problem is that we define ‘friend’ incorrectly. I’m sure we agree we should enjoy hanging out with friends, sharing interests, and maintaining the capacity to understand each other when we don’t quite agree.

But don’t friends do much more than that? Don’t friends try to fill in the blank spots in our lives with their interpretation of what we need, whether we know it or not? Shouldn’t friends know exactly when to impose ideas, and when to hold off? Aren’t friends the people we can always turn to, no matter what, who will, with degrees of difficulty, drop everything and listen? Aren’t friends the ones we confide in with our darkest worries, yet knowing when not to burden them with our problems?

Doesn’t friendship mean absolute, unconditional understanding, if not agreement, knowing when to share and when to borrow? Doesn’t it mean doing everything we can to inspire each other to be better, to push harder? To lead when we should, and follow when we must? To be a foundation rooting each other to the soil, in a bond that will never, ever break?

Or did I just define parenting?

If friendship means being there to hold others up, to see them through their worst times and cheer them on through their best, then dammit, I’ll be the best friend they’ve ever had.

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Moms, Dads, & Kids Are Going To Occupy Your World: Deal With It #sorrynotsorry

Kids Are Going To Occupy Your World: Deal With ItUPDATE – In light of this article about a diner owner in Maine who snapped at a baby girl, this needs to be repeated:

We’re going to be in your malls. We’re going to be in your restaurants. We’re going to be in front of you (and behind you) at the supermarket. We’re going to be in your way. You may have to wait while we find keys, a wallet, or buckle in before backing out of our parking space.

You’re going to have to learn not to vulture a family with kids in a busy parking lot. Not sorry.

We’re going to annoy you on your morning jog, at the beach, on a mountaintop, at your favorite spot by the ocean, at the bandstand, at the campground. You’re going to have to hear us at the post office, at the bank, at the ballgame. Sometimes you might smell something, too.

You’re not going to like what we do or don’t do regarding discipline. You’re not going to like the way we use technology, pharmaceuticals, and promises. You may think you know better. You don’t. You may think we need your advice. We don’t.

You’re not going to agree with how old or young our kids are before we let them do things you’d never allow. You can rant all you want about how it was when you were a kid. You can rant all you want about how parenting is a lost art and kids these days are wilder than ever.

You can judge all you want. Parents know the first gift they’ll receive is the judgment of others. The judgment of the ignorant.

Even parents will judge each other, oblivious that the parents they harshly judged at CVS will be judging them at Dunkin’ Donuts minutes later. Their kids are not your kids. Their family is not your family. Their situation is not your situation, yet everybody thinks they’re more expert than everyone else.

That’s why you’re going to have to deal with it.

It’s not like parents always know exactly what they’re doing. It’s not like parents don’t judge themselves and second-guess their own decisions. But we’re way ahead of the situation compared to you.

And no, we’re not ‘just going home’. We’re not keeping the kids indoors until they’re 21. We, like you, need to shop for groceries. We, like you, need to visit a department store. We, like you, need to get fresh air and enjoy nice weather. We, like you, need to appreciate art and culture. And we’re going to do it during business hours.

Sometimes we let the kids stay up too late. Sometimes we let them play video games and watch TV. Sometimes we let them eat Oreos for breakfast. And sometimes we let them run wild at the playground.

Sometimes we pick them up and soothe every scrape, bump and bruise. Sometimes we tell them to toughen up. Sometimes we teach them manners when their soccer ball invades your picnic. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we notice your furrowed brow. Sometimes we ignore you purposely.

Sometimes they’ll interfere with your dog. Sometimes they’ll wreck something you value. Sometimes they’ll actually do something that harms you or yours. Sometimes we’ll know what to do when that happens. Sometimes not.

That’s your opportunity to make your judgment known, so go ahead. We’ll take it under advisement.

But too loud at the park? In your way at a supermarket? Too slow in a mall? Too much time on an iPad? Too wild at the beach? Too ungrateful? Too forgetful? Too impolite? Too sensitive? Too sure of themselves?

That’s what they are. They haven’t been here very long yet. They’re kids, and they’re just learning how to share their world with you.

Oh, you thought it was yours?

It’s not. You’re just going to have to deal with it.