Why It’s More Than OK to Be Friends With Your Teen (and Not Just Their Mom)

Last night my youngest wanted to hang out with his friends at the local strip mall. “We want to eat at Wendy’s and walk around Target. Everyone is meeting at 5 and I HAVE to go.”

I reminded him that he’s been a bit lippy lately. He snuck his phone into his room, and the night before when he emptied his dinner plate into the trash he let the remnants of his dinner stay on the floor for two days refusing to clean them up. I had to pick up the croutons myself because I know how fast ants like to invade my home.

“Sorry, but your attitude hasn’t been good enough to hang out with your friends. Clean up the attitude and we can try next time,” I said.

We all know how this goes. When you parent like this suddenly you become “the worst parent ever” and before you know it you are trying to convince your very stubborn child why they don’t deserve to hang with their squad. They never see your point of course, and things can often spiral downward.

mom with son
Sometimes you need to be a parent and sometimes a friend (klovestorun via Twenty20)

I know it’s the end of the year and my son who is navigating his way through puberty is going through so many changes that with each new sunrise he’s more confused about who he is. He’s been acting like a lightning bolt trapped in a bottle and I was parenting the crap out him. It would have been much easier to revert to the cool mom, to let him live it up with his friends for the evening, and hope that he would be grateful enough to me for letting him go that his attitude would improve.

But I know better.

A few years ago, when my oldest was going through the same thing, only on steroids no amount of discipline I  dished out worked. He became angrier, more defiant, and he was taking it up with his friends and teachers at school.

I realized that what I was doing was not working for him when he said, “Everything I do is wrong. You are all over me about everything,” and he was right. Maybe I was over-parenting. Perhaps I was being too strict and he felt that I was squeezing the life out of him. “You punish me for everything and I feel like I have nothing else to lose.”

We Need to Be Friends With Our Kids, Too

I looked at my son sitting next to me in the car and decided to back down. I also decided he needed a friend at that exact moment and that friend was going to be me. I asked him what he needed. We had a good talk and I told him that he could always come to me with anything and we could talk it out.

That moment changed our relationship and it almost didn’t happen. I was so afraid of friend-zoning my teenagers that I was pushing them away. I wanted to maintain my role as their parent. I was didn’t want to be their friend because I’d heard that when the poop hits the fan, you get taken advantage of.

But I learned that I can be their friend without getting taken advantage of. We all have boundaries with our friends, right? We already know what to look for.

Something I’ve learned while parenting, and friending my three children, is that there is a time and a place to be a parent. Generally we are in a leader role and we need to hang onto the reins even though we’d rather pass the torch to someone else, rip off our Spanx, and hide under a weighted blanket for the evening. But there have also been times in my kids’ lives when backing down from being a mom and choosing to be a friend instead has been a better decision.

How many times have you felt lost, needed a friend and reached out to someone, who instead of validating you,  gave you a lecture or made you feel like your feelings were trivial or wrong. It’s a crappy feeling and only cements your insecurities and in the long run, you probably won’t go to that person any longer.

There is a time and a place to be the friend your kids need. My kids don’t need me to parent them when they get their heart broken. They need a friend. They don’t need me to parent them when they are struggling with a friendship, they need someone who is compassionate, supportive, and understanding.

I find myself weaving in and out of being my kids’ friend and being their parent. We all want to keep the door open to our kids, especially when they are teens. And we can do this by sliding into whatever role is appropriate at the time in order to build a strong foundation for a lasting relationship with them.

And honestly, that will look different for all of us–we know our kids better than anyone else–we know when to take it down a notch and take a break from being the disciplinarian because in that moment being a sounding board for our child will be more beneficial.

I don’t want my kids to think, “I could never talk to her about the stuff that’s was tearing me up because she would just punish me.” If I see my kids acting defiant, or struggling with something, and it seems like they need a friend more than a parent at that moment, I’m happy to oblige.

And that flexibility has truly been what has solidified my relationships with my teenagers.

You Might Also Like to Read: 

Note to Self: On Parenting Teens

About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

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