To the parents out there who want to be their child’s friend, instead of their parent, we would urge you to read this post. Especially parents who have divorced, or in the process of divorcing: do not give in to the urge to become your child’s confidante.
Children need responsible parents, especially in today’s society. If you need a confidante, find a friend or family member to discuss whatever it is that you’re going through. Allow your child the luxury of being a child. They’ll have to grow up all too soon.
Your Child is not your Friend, by James Lehman, MSW
“I think parents often make the mistake of making their child their confidante. So when they say, “I want to be his friend, and I want him to be my friend,” what they’re really saying is “I want be his confidante.” And that just does not fit with the functional role of a parent.
It’s a very well-meaning trap that parents fall into. They want to share with the child how they really feel about their grandmother. How they really feel about their neighbor. How they really feel about their teacher. But it’s ineffective because the child is not morally, emotionally or intellectually prepared to play that role. If you’re forty years old and you want a confidante, find another forty-year-old. Find a fifty-year-old. Find a thirty-five-year old. But don’t look for a ten-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a five-year-old.
If parents think teachers are in error, they should keep that to themselves and their peers and deal with the school directly. If you think the teacher’s an idiot for not letting your child chew gum in the room, you can be your kid’s “best friend” and say, “That’s a stupid rule and that teacher’s a jerk.” Or you can be a functional parent and say, “Boy, I really disliked that rule when I was in school too. But I had to follow the rules.” Two different responses. Both responses empathize with the child, but one makes him a confidante, which is ineffective. The other teaches him the importance of following rules. Remember this: if you punch holes in authority figures, thinking you’re being a confidante with your kid, don’t be surprised when he disrespects that authority figure. And then if you give him consequences for that disrespect, he’s going to look at you as a hypocrite.
When you make your child your confidante, you are saying that you and the child are co-decision makers. But the fact is, you and your child are not co-decision makers in any realistic way. Kids can offer you their opinion. They can tell you what they like and dislike. But certainly decisions, especially important ones but even certain minor ones, have to be made by you, the parent. Kids have to understand that the family moves as a unit and the adults make the decisions.
I think you can certainly share some things with a child without turning him into a confidante. One of the things you can share with a child is the statement, “We can’t afford that.” It’s a factual statement that explains the limits under which you must live. What you shouldn’t share with the child is, ”I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent this month.” It’s something that the child is not prepared for, and it develops in him a way of looking at the world that is unhealthy and not realistic.
If you have a tendency to treat your child as a “friend,” you should understand this important interpretation of friendship: friends are a group of people that have the same notion about ideas and life. The truth is, children and adults have very different notions about what they should be doing. They have entirely different notions about what’s right and wrong. They have very different notions about what they want to do tonight. So I think that you need to be a parent to your child and be loving, caring and responsible. But I think you have to find your confidantes outside of that family structure.”