A popular phrase thrown around in western parenting discussion, intended to mean that a child is to be taught and conditioned by a parent, and not the other way around.
I admit, this was somewhat of a guiding principle for me as a first-time, expectant mother. Swayed by the fear-mongering of the mainstream, I was pretty determined not to become my child’s friend.
And then much to my horror, the second my first son was born, my intellect was forcefully overridden by the commanding orders of my intuition.
Instantly and against the advice of all 653 parenting books I’d read, I knew I was not the boss or teacher of this child, but a student of my experience as a parent, and his forever partner.
The day my son was born, I became my child’s best friend
Close relations with other families with children were pretty rare in early parenthood, and still are to some extent. While today it is more of a conscious choice, back then we laid low for different reasons – the main of them being, I had no idea if we were doing the right thing by partnering with, rather than controlling our child – and if we weren’t, I thought it was probably best kept a secret.
Fast forward to a few years later, I’ve tuned out many of the opinions and recommendations of the masses, and instead become my own independent researcher of our decisions and experiences as a family – all of my findings so far, pointing toward “friendship” between caregivers and children, as a grossly underutilized and immensely powerful tool in helping young people succeed.
Though plenty different, both of our kids share a common assertiveness in getting what they want and going where they’re headed. They aren’t easily deterred or swayed out of their decisions and don’t bend mindlessly at the will of others. They are honest and direct in their expressions and communications – and quick to let anyone know when they feel something is infringing upon their personal space or the choices they feel best serve them.
Most people are astounded when our 16-month-old forcefully puts a hand out and says “No!” to block unwanted physical contact unless it is on his terms. And you might think life would be difficult for the parents of such emphatic children, but really, it’s quite simple – our ability to reach them is strong because they like us and trust us.
Relating and learning: what we’ve gained from the experience
- We think children are born whole and with the cues and patterns best suited to help them survive and thrive.
- We think their cries and visible discomfort are signals of need.
- We think their resistance against external control and manipulation is a protection of their will and authenticity.
And we think when these very signals are responded to mindfully and lovingly, children are in a better position to withstand and succeed in spite of the sometimes stormy currents of the human experience.
But while we do pretty well at meeting them with presence and understanding, reflecting on our lower moments of frustration and control help us to do better.
When we are authentic, present, creative, understanding, and helpful, our children are more open and willing to consider our thoughts, suggestions, and values. When we are irritated, controlling, disconnected, and restrictive, they will either fearfully submit, or go to the lengths needed to stand their ground against our negativity and resistance.
Their submission and opposition have become our signs, not of “something wrong” with them, but of our own fateful missteps. Our children remind us that respect and cooperation and trust are given when respect and cooperation and trust are given.
They show us that the most meaningful learning and success happen in an environment where joy, curiosity, love, and connection exist in abundance. Through their abilities to honor their inner wisdom and love with less condition, they have become our greatest teachers and our closest friends.
And I think the most interesting part about this type of relationship is the fact that we almost always know where their heads are at. It seems when someone loves and accepts you for who you are – the cards mostly stay face-up on the table.
For better or for worse, our kids aren’t afraid to tell us loudly and clearly what they’re thinking and feeling – or to immediately summon our help and participation when they’re in a bind.
And really, I think this is the best we can hope for when they’re out exploring the world – that they can rely on the inner goodness, trust, resilience, and confidence that can be fostered through a more liberated and connected life – that they continue to think we’re reliable sources of information and guidance as they make their own meaningful connections.
Because at some point, I think most children shift from a life of doing what they’re told to a life of doing what they want, even if in private. And it is my suspicion if their needs and wants are lovingly validated, considered, and facilitated when they’re young, they might be a little less sneaky, a little less hurtful, and a little less unhealthy in the process of pursuing their desires as adults.
For they won’t be running from the fearful, yet ultimately feeble construct of control, but rather creating through a more boundless mindset of choice.
Latest posts by Christina Kaminer Yarchin (see all)
- Natural parenting: A Declaration of Peace and Independence - December 4, 2017
- When I Became My Child’s Friend - December 3, 2017
- The Power of Choice: “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” - December 1, 2017