“It’s not fair! You just don’t want me to have any fun, you’re not my friend at all!” My seven-year old shouted that over her shoulder as she stomped away, having just lost another argument about sleepovers. It’s a frequent argument in our house, as more and more of her friends host and/or attend sleepovers, and she gets her fair share of invitations. As a kid, I loved sleeping over at my friend’s homes. As a mom? It’s not a road I’m ready to cross any time soon. So, every couple of weeks, I get to be the “bad guy," my daughter claims that I’m not her “friend," lather, rinse, repeat.
My girls spend plenty of time away from me. They stay weekends with their dad; they sleepover with their grandma and aunts and cousins. But family is one thing. Sleeping over at a home I’m not intimately familiar with, with parents and kids I may not know very well, is one of my hard passes. This last time, when my girl told me I wasn’t her friend, it got me thinking: since when did she think I WAS her friend? When, and how badly, had that line been blurred?
Raising kids is equal parts joy and terror, calm and calamity, fun and unpleasant. Our job is to keep them healthy, safe, and secure. We need to educate them, feed them, nurture them, and guide them. As parents, our responsibility and priority is to raise kind, empathetic, smart humans. Having fun is a nice bonus, but it feels like it’s becoming the focus more and more. Do I want my kid to hate me? Obviously not. Do I care if she likes me, particularly when I make a decision in her best interests that she doesn’t like? Not even a little bit!
I wanted to find out from other parents if they struggle with the friend/parent dilemma, so I asked a few moms in my circle. And lo and behold, it’s not just me. One mom recalled a story about the time her daughter forgot her homework and lost privileges at school. Rather than run home and grab the homework to save the day, mom stood down and let her child see the consequences of her own actions. Another friend says her battles stem mainly from her daughter wanting to dress like her friends; when your kid wants fake nails like her peers (but seriously, who is putting fake nails on their seven-year old?!), and you say no, you’ve got one unhappy kiddo on your hands.
Then there’s the matter of your child’s safety. Kids are, by nature, impulsive and shortsighted. They don’t consider the consequences of an action before doing it, and sometimes those actions can endanger their lives. I know parents who refuse to allow their sons to play football, or get to be “the bad guy” and say no to something like water skiing for their five-year old. It can be hard for kids to understand where we’re coming from, especially when all their friends are doing the thing they want to do. But we know our kids, right? And presumably, we know their physical limits, and must protect them from potential harm. That’s not to say that most parents don’t take risks and allow their kids to do the same. My oldest is a dancer and acro tumbler, and she does some dangerous tricks. A lot of parents see her flying through the air and think, nope! I totally get that. But I also know that my kid has been training for years and understands the mechanics of what she does, and I am confident that she’s going to land on her feet (most of the time!). It’s about picking our battles, and picking the ones we’re most comfortable with.
“But so-and-so has a phone!” Well, that’s great for so-and-so, more power to her. “But all my friends wear crop tops!” That’s interesting, I’m sure their moms have their reasons. “You don’t let me do anything fun!” Yes, we have no fun at all, I am a monster, SO SORRY. These are the conversations we’ll likely have with our kids for many, many years. It’s a fine line between wanting our kids to fit in with their peers, and deciding when and how fitting in takes a backseat to keeping them safe and staying true to our goals as parents. But as our kids get older, and their actions have the potential for more serious consequences, being a parent and not a friend is vital.
I always imagined being good friends with my girls, but at the ages they are now, it’s just not a priority. I’ll take the tears and tantrums and fights if it means I’m doing what I think is best for them, and they’ll just have to deal with it. One day, they’ll thank me for saying no and choosing their safety or well-being over their happiness on occasion. And when they have their own kids, and are facing these same dilemmas, I’ll make sure to sit them down and tell them all the stories of when they were kids and I was the mean mom who ruined their lives on a seemingly daily basis. They’ll have hundreds of friends throughout their lives, but they will always only have one mom, and sometimes those roles are mutually exclusive.
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This piece was originally published by Jayme Kennedy on Mommy Nearest. Jayme gave up the fast life of the city for the sleepy suburbs of the Inland Empire. She's a mom of two girls, ages 6 and 2, who keep her on her toes!