Skip to content

Parenting: Disciplinarian or Friend?

Don't Be Afraid to Parent Your Child

Throughout the past several decades, familial relationship patterns have shifted from a defined parent/child hierarchy, to a more equal relationship where parents and children treat each other as friends.

While there are advantages to a close and friendly relationship with your children, it does leave room for blurred boundaries and confusing expectations. This could lead you down a slippery slope with no control, but it doesn't have to. Here's how you can discipline your child while still maintaining a primarily happy and healthy relationship together.

Thinking beyond emotions when parenting

I really like the way James Lehman, MSW frames the parent-child relationship . He writes, “Parents and children are genetically geared to love each other, and it's a beautiful thing to behold. But there's a stage where parenting becomes a functional role, not just an emotional role.”

Essentially, you must accept that, as a parent to a child, you also have to fulfill certain functions in your child's life. They require love and affection, but they also need rules, boundaries, and guidance to support their mental and behavioral development.

Why children need boundaries

Boundaries are healthy, and as a parent you should feel empowered to set them. Giving your child limits isn't mean, it's what they need.

Boundaries help young humans learn how to interact with the world. They learn what's safe and what isn't, what is appropriate and what's not, how to manage responsibilities and accept the consequences of their actions, how to cope with disappointment, and so much more.

If you treat your child more like a friend than anything else, you're telling them that they're an equal partner in life's decisions. That simply isn't true — is an 8 year old really developmentally ready to call the shots? No, absolutely not.

Can you still be a friend to your child?

If you want to be a friend to your child, or friendlier with your child, you can still do that… just think about what it means to be a friend and a parent.

When someone says, “Be a parent, not a friend,” what do they mean by “parent” and “friend”? Try thinking about what each job entails, and then do the parts that make you feel empowered and confident in how you relate to your kids.

For example, a friend isn't just someone you have fun and blow off responsibilities with. Genuine, caring friends are also:

  • Trustworthy

  • Reliable

  • Able to hold you accountable

  • Loving

  • Honest, even if you don't want to hear the hard truth

You can incorporate all of those things into your parenting without blurring boundaries. Similarly, being a parent isn't just about discipline. Successful parenting also has a lot of those friend traits we just talked about, meaning you can discipline your children when necessary, while also maintaining a more lighthearted relationship when appropriate.