How to know when to speak as the parent and when to love like a friend

Allison Moore

As my daughter ages, it’s genuinely exciting to watch her mature and start looking more like an adult than a child. I have to hold back tears when I realize that I'm raising one of my best friends.

It’s hard to be enjoying the company of your growing kid one moment, only to have to play the parent card the next. It’s as if I’m trying to will her to be the adult she’s growing into when she’s still so in need of a mama to guide her. I'm constantly evaluating when to talk to her as the child she is and when to guide her to the truth her growing years require.

It’s a constant battle to know when to talk to her as the child she is and when to guide her to the truth her growing years require.

How do we decide when to parent and when to friend?  

We know there should be a transition, but how do we navigate such murky waters?

4 Times We Have to Be the Parent

1. When your child is too immature to make solid decisions

Once the opposite sex enters your child’s radar, this becomes tricky. We want our kids to have fun, and we dread being the bad guy, but a tween or early teen doesn’t have the capacity to understand hormones’ effect on our defenses and ability to reason. We have to safeguard and set boundaries for them until they learn to avoid those compromising situations (Proverbs 22:6).

2. When love means letting them experience the natural consequences of their mistakes

As parents, we have to fight the urge to bail our kids out of the results of bad choices. Natural consequences can be the most powerful discipline, because we don’t have to come up with a punishment to fit the crime (Galatians 6:8).

3. When they need discipline

Just as the Lord disciplines us, we, too, must discipline our children (Hebrews 12:7-11). It may feel mean or just plain exhausting to be consistent in training our kids, but with the right heart, absence of anger, and real love, discipline can be done in a redemptive way.

4. When they need someone to rescue them from a bad situation

Being willing to pick your child up from a bad situation and tabling the lecture until they are calm is a really big deal. This includes defending your kid when they need it or being the bad guy for them when they need an out. We should encourage our kids to fight their own battles as we walk alongside them, but we also need to let them know we have their back if it comes down to it (Ecclesiastes 4:9).

3 Times When It’s OK to Speak as a Friend

1. When you’re having a regular conversation

Asking about their day doesn’t always have to jump to giving advice or judgment. When your kids start sharing, discover the art of listening and asking questions that will lead them to better decisions. We still want to instruct them in the way they should go, but as they get older they should start being able to find better solutions and recognize poor choices in this process. Work on your poker face, and be a safe place for them to ask anything without judgment (Proverbs 17:17).

2. When you’re comforting them after a heartbreak

This is not the time to lecture but listen, love, and bring the chocolate. As adults, we know relationships are hard. Don’t be flippant or dismissive when matters of the heart are in the balance. If we choose not to hold them in these most delicate situations, they will find someone else who will (Romans 12:15).

3. When they begin to age out of childish things  

As children get older, we have to make the transition to a friend who gives solid advice and loves unconditionally. If we want to grow in our relationships with our kids, we have to let the dynamic of parent and child decrease and allow friendship to increase as they mature.

We’ll need to expand our definition of parenting to include friendship if we want to strengthen our bonds beyond childhood.

It’s not as if they won’t need us to put on the parent hat at times, but those times will fade. We’ll need to expand our definition of parenting to include friendship if we want to strengthen the bond to last beyond childhood (Proverbs 13:20).

I hate to admit I thought parenting a teenager would be easier than parenting a toddler, but I was so wrong! It takes a lot more brain power, planning, and personal spiritual health to parent a teenager than it ever took to parent a toddler. I had to keep my toddler alive to be successful, but I need to train the teenager how to be a loving, responsible adult who loves Jesus.

This job is not for the faint of heart, but if we’ve had parents successfully make that transition with us, we know it’s totally worth our time and energy to do the same with our kids.

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