Parenting Styles: Is Friendship Too Much of a Good Thing?

“It’s better to leave your children self-sufficient than to leave them on the mercy of others.” -Prophet Muhammad (Tirmidhi)

Today’s parents are struggling to balance the fine line of being best friends with their children while at the same time setting limits and enforcing rules.  Due to the “therapization” of society, many parents today feel a deep sense of inadequacy in their role as parents and are unsure about the best way to raise their children.  They understand the negative consequences of using physical punishment to deal with inappropriate behavior but are unsure about the best way to raise a well disciplined child while at the same time being emotionally close to their children.  Some parents do not like how their own parents treated them growing up and want a different experience for their children. These parents recognize the old methods of parenting were too rigid and not in favor of building a close relationship with their children.  Other parents have targeted specific issues from the way they were raised, like not feeling validated as children and how their voices were not heard, so they try and spare their children the same experience.   They want a more meaningful connection with their children, they want disciplined and happy children who have a good sense of themselves, and want children who are well adjusted.  All of this can be very overwhelming, especially for a new parent.  Many parents believe the best way to reach this goal is by becoming best friends with their children (i.e. dressing like them, enjoying the same music, liking the same movies, playing video games, etc).  This mindset oftentimes means parents are afraid of making their children angry at them if they set limits or enforce rules, so as a result, they don’t.  The line between parent and child becomes blurred and children do not have a guide to steer them in the right direction.


The positive side of this is parents are more interested in having a real relationship with their children rather than demanding complete obedience and having total control of their children.  Today’s parents want to talk to their children about their feelings and pursue a deeper connection. Many believe if they have a close relationship with their children at a young age, that connection will carry over to the teenage and adult years.  Empowering children and validating them will lead to a more self confident child with great self esteem. Really listening to children and respecting them as individuals will lead to a better sense of self which in turn leads to respect and understanding of parents.


Who’s The Parent?


The negative aspect of being best friends with your children is the lack of clarity regarding parental roles.  Parents who are opposed to the authoritarian model of parenting have difficulty determining when to allow children to make independent decisions and when to set limits and enforce their parental control.  Discipline begins to take a back seat and parents become unsure of when to enforce rules and discipline their children for inappropriate behavior. Another negative aspect is the blurred line between parent and child. Sometimes being too close to your children can lead to enmeshment, where the lines between the child’s needs and parents needs become blurred.  Parents end up not seeing the children as individuals but rather as extensions of themselves and want their children to live their dreams or spare them experiences because they themselves did not like it.  Similarly, many parents today get too involved in their children’s activities, going as far as spending hours playing video games with their children and neglecting their duties as parents. Recently I heard about a study on the radio where 1 out of 5 women are leaving their men due to excessive video games .  I’ve also heard personal acquaintances complaining about their husbands excessive video game playing to the detriment of their children.  Although initially the intended goal was to spend time with the children by joining them to play video games, parents become addicted themselves and as a result, neglect their duties as parents or preferring being their child’s best friend and playmate to taking on the parental role.  The question then becomes if everyone is a best friend, who is in charge?  This blurring of parental/child relationship leads to confusion in the child.  Many end up either running the household or becoming the mini-parents to the adults in their lives.


Setting the Boundaries


As Muslims we have general instructions from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as to when to discipline children in relation to their spiritual development, “Order your children for salat (prayer) when they are seven, discipline them for it when they are ten and separate their beds.” [Abu Daud]. Yet, many parents are still unsure about how to discipline them in other matters, which is why we need to increase awareness and encourage dialogue about this critical issue in our community.


Although children need to have rational, open minded, and loving parents,  they also need parents who can set limits, be willing to be unpopular, and say no.  They need to realize that the 4 year old kicking and screaming today because he didn’t get his way will not resent them into adulthood.  Research has shown children will thrive in environments where clear boundaries exist between children and parents and parental roles are clearly defined.  When parents are not willing to assume the parental role, children become anxious and feel lost.  When parents do too much for their children and hold their hand for every activity, it teaches kids they are not capable of making good choices.  Children become fearful of making decisions on their own and become more dependent.


So how to balance the goal of having well adjusted and disciplined children who also have a deep connection with their parents based on love and respect?  It is possible for parents to fulfill their role as the authority figure without taking away from their connection with their children.  A relationship built on mutual respect rather than friendship is best for the parent as well as the child.  Parents can provide opportunities for their children to express their opinions and really listen to what their children are saying, they can respect their children’s feelings and be open to their child’s input, yet still be firm and set boundaries.  Parents can begin by treating their children the way they want to be treated.  Parents can teach their children to be kind, generous, and respectful by being kind, generous, and respectful to their children. Many parents view respect as one sided but kids need to learn what respect feels like and looks like before they can give it back.


‘Playing’ by the Rules


Parents can also be playful with their children within limits.  Children must be able to be playful one minute and set limits the next if need be.  If you are playing with your children and the game gets out of control, you should feel comfortable in  stopping the game and setting limits in order to teach appropriate lessons.  It’s very important as a parent to follow through on threats.  Consistency is key to building reliability and respect in a relationship.  If you say you will go home if the inappropriate behavior continues, you must be willing to go home despite your child’s protests.  You can also teach many lessons to your children while playing games.  For example, you can teach social skills, turn taking skills, empathy, and friendship building skills all while you and your child are playing with your child’s toys.  You can set up scenarios where learning a specific skill such as making a friend is taught all while playing with the toys.  Since the toys are learning the skill, it’s easier for your child to hear the lesson.  It’s much more effective than lecturing your child or simply telling them.


Overall, it’s a great goal to build closer connections with your child.  You and your child will benefit from the close relationship.  However it’s important to recognize the importance of your role as the parental figure as well as the authority figure.  School age children need parents to act like parents.  When your children are adults, your relationship will then obviously involve less parenting and more friendship.


Adapted from the Logical Psyche @ 

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