My 18-year-old plops down on the couch beside me, slips her arm through mine, and rests her head on my shoulder. It’s a familiar moment, one that’s played out in various ways over the years. I can tell by her body language and energy that she’s not feeling distressed today—she just wants to connect with me. And I am grateful.
She might sit there for a bit before telling me about something that happened during her day. I might show her a silly animal video that came through my Facebook feed. She may ask if I’d heard about something that happened in the news. Or we might just sit in silence for a few minutes and enjoy the stillness together.
I know people complain about the difficulties of raising teenagers. I have two of them, and I recognize that it’s not always easy. But at the same time, I absolutely love this age. I love that my role as a parent is transitioning so clearly from authority to mentorship. I love seeing the seeds of my parenting labor over the years finally bearing real fruit. I love that I can finally—finally—start seeing my children as friends.
I know, I know. I’m their parent, not their friend. That’s what people say when they need to apply tough love in tough situations. But I don’t think that our relationships with our children need to be defined in such black-and-white terms. I can be my kids’ parent and their friend at the same time, and definitely see that becoming more and more the reality as they get older.
A friend isn’t someone who lets you get away with behavior that’s unhealthy; a true friend will try to protect you and help steer you in a direction that’s good for you. A friend is someone with whom you share common interests, common values, and common experiences. A friend is someone you can laugh with, cry with, put your trust in. A friend offers advice when it’s needed and words of warning when necessary.
All of these things are true for me and my teenagers. Of course, I do have a parent role as well. I get on them for forgetting chores. I give them reasonable rules and expect them to be followed. They look to me for guidance. But my job as they phase from childhood to adulthood is to make sure they will be able to take responsibility for themselves and help them understand how to weigh the real and natural consequences of their choices.
Every family dynamic is different, of course. But in my experience with my teens, those important lessons haven’t required a heavy hand, but rather an open, honest, and loving line of communication. And through those conversations, we’re getting to know one another on another level.
I enjoy talking to my teens more and more as they get smarter and wiser. I love that we can discuss the nuances and intricacies of movies and books and shows we share. I like that they can understand everything I say and that I don’t have to try to simplify my language in order to help them through a challenge. I love that they ask intriguing questions and make me think about my own thoughts and beliefs on a deeper level.
I love that we can talk about societal issues and interpersonal relationships and psychological theories and spiritual mysteries, and that they have valuable contributions to make to those conversations. I love that I can take my daughter out to coffee and chat like old friends.
Of course, there are some personal things I don’t think are appropriate to talk to my teens about, but mostly because of their age and inexperience. They aren’t my peers, after all, and there are elements of adult mid-life that they simply wouldn’t be able to relate to. But friends don’t have to be peers, and friends don’t have to share everything.
On a most basic level, friends are people you like to hang out with, and I love hanging out with my teens—playing games, discussing important issues, or just being goofy. Teenagers are full of fun energy. Their senses of humor have finally matured to the point where they are genuinely witty and funny. We laugh together, a lot. Sometimes to the point of tears—like friends do.
This mom-friend role that is emerging feels like the reward for the years of intensive parenting it took to get to this point. Our relationship has evolved to a point where I am their parent and their friend, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Annie Reneau is a writer, wife, and mother of three with a penchant for coffee, wanderlust, and practical idealism. On good days, she enjoys the beautiful struggle of maintaining a well-balanced life. On bad days, she binges on chocolate and dreams of traveling the world alone. Her writing can be found on Upworthy and Scary Mommy, in O Magazine, and in a big ol’ slush pile inside her head. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.