Why Some Parents & their Children have Great Friendships.

Via on Jul 25, 2014

vintage dad son family

There are many reasons why some adults get along with their kids better than others.

In this article I will provide a short overview of the common explanations which have emerged whilst professionally mediating the relationship between parents and their children, as well as observations in my personal life and society in general.

There are some physiological factors, such genetic dispositions, and psychological factors, such as mental illness, which might be influential in developing a poor friendship between a child and their parent. But this is the exception and not the rule.

Often a true friendship just hasn’t been established between a parent and their child. A true friendship includes the qualities of respect, equality, trust, honesty, listening and open communication, among many others, but sometimes the standard disciplinary approaches have inhibited these and other characteristics from maturing in the relationship.

At some point along a child’s development, the parenting role must establish an element of friendship. The earlier the better. Many parents feel this shouldn’t occur with their child until they are an adult—but I wholeheartedly disagree.

A friendship can go hand in hand with a type of guidance which has positive and constructive results. Just because a parent wants to inspire the growth of their child, it doesn’t mean that the rules must be drilled into them like a sergeant does for his new army recruits.

Discipline is obviously necessary in a child’s early years because it is the parent’s mandate to ensure the child is kept safe and their well being is looked after. But once they get the basics of safety—don’t run out on the road unless you want to get hit by a car and touching the hotplate ends in a serious burn—-they are able to manage these aspects of their life themselves. This is when a true friendship can begin to properly develop.

But if a parent employs authoritarian disciplinary tactics throughout their entire upbringing, then it simply creates a robotic response and emotionless engagement. There is no room for a friendship here, which is why it isn’t a healthy or holistic approach to parenting.

Once a child is older, if they feel that there is not enough trust in the relationship to discuss the most important issues which arise in their life, then a true friendship has not been formed.

For example, we all know that the teenage years are notorious for a massive split eventuating in the relationship. But this isn’t always the case, so how are some parents able to still maintain a strong relationship with their child during this time?

It usually comes down to communication, acceptance, respect and realistic expectations.

If a parent has been yelling and screaming at their child for years—then the child will not have much respect for them or their views. Even if it is the most genius bit of information that a parent could provide—if the delivery is poor, then it won’t be acknowledged and will not achieve its intended aim.

True friendship has communication which is respectful, fair and balanced. If a child feels that their views are disregarded and their feelings aren’t validated—even if they’re wrong or acting childish—then in return they disregard the views and feelings of their parents.

It is therefore the adult’s responsibility to ensure they create harmony in the relationship because the child is simply still a child.

Acceptance is also integral to creating a true friendship.

This doesn’t mean that the parent has to like or condone everything about who they are, but if they accept them for who and what they are in that moment and embrace them in a manner which doesn’t threaten or push them away, then their bond with the child is stronger and they’ll more likely have a productive influence in their growth.

Ultimately, the goal is to make a child feel respected even if they know that the parent doesn’t agree with them.

In addition, if a parent always expects their child to behave and follow their strict rules—then that is an unrealistic way of operating in the relationship. Kids rebel, it’s in their nature, because it’s how they develop their independence and capacity to make their own free decisions.

So the less they have to rebel against the more connected both parties will be.

Now this doesn’t mean that the parent shouldn’t have rules—they are of course important in maintaining harmony and respect in the home and developing the child in a productive manner. But the rules should be chosen wisely and implemented flexibly so that the child feels safe, comfortable and welcome to face the parent to discuss disagreements they have or the mistakes they have made.

Essentially, an open dialogue might just be what the child needs to efficiently learn the lesson.

A parent should also be above their child’s behaviors and not get sucked into the drama of their life. They should embrace them for the fact that they are children.

Because they are still underdeveloped, such as with their lack of knowledge and behavioral shortcomings, a parent shouldn’t expect their child to be perfect or “get it” immediately. After all, sometimes it takes years to learn a moral or behavioral quality, so if a parent takes issue that they don’t learn it straight away, then it is going to create conflict and divide in the relationship.

Yet if the child feels respected and listened to, the guidance that their parent is offering is more likely to be warmly received. This is even more powerful if they have developed a strong friendship with them in their early years because a child wants to hear their advice.

On the other hand, a strict household creates lies and distrust. If the child knows that they are going to get into serious trouble for something they have done—even though most children in the history of children have done something similar—then of course they’re not going to be honest about it. It makes perfect sense to lie to protect oneself, especially if they disagree with the rule in the first place.

But if they feel close enough to their parent that they want to listen to the advice they give, they are going to be more truthful in their communication. If they feel like an equal party, like their opinion is respected, then they will engage in a more open and responsive way.

mom daughter

Another source of conflict are the different eras we grow up in.

Kids think they know everything and of course we know that isn’t true, but sometimes they are actually aware of something that their parents are not.

All parents want to distill proper values in their children and they want them to believe things that they also believe. But this is unlikely to comprehensively happen—every person is different and although there may be similarities, there are always going to areas where they disagree.

For example, the world is changing and with that so does social values, beliefs and practices. There is always going to be a generation gap if the parent doesn’t evolve with the changing times. So the old saying “respect your elders” won’t be well received by a child who doesn’t agree with the way an elder expects their fundamental principles and practices to be adhered to.

In this case, it is important to “agree to disagree” so that the respect of the friendship can be maintained. We do this with our friends all the time—we don’t force them to think and act the way we do, so why should we expect our kids to, especially when they are growing into their independent adult selves.

If the learning strategies we employ with our children don’t work and create a poor friendship, then we’re doing it wrong. We should aim to build a true friendship where our guidance is sought after and respected, not disregarded and disrespected.

Some great news is that it’s never too late for a parent to create a true friendship with their child. All it takes is some mutual respect, open communication, active listening, fair judgement and pure love. The parent should embrace their child for all their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the ways in which they agree and disagree.

The key is to simply treat them exactly like we would want to be treated.


Relephant reads:

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Teenager. 

A Guide to Buddhist Parenting.



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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photos: Michael 1952/Flickr, Carolynn Primeau/Flickr

About Phil Watt

Phil Watt lives in Sydney, Australia. He has long focused on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of himself and aims to share that with others. His mantra is to 'Have a Crack at Life'. Follow him on Facebook or visit his website.


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15 Responses to “Why Some Parents & their Children have Great Friendships.”

  1. Lor says:

    I have always felt so amazingly lucky to have raised two kids 19 and 22 who are amongst my very favorite people to spend time with! I remember saying to someone who had a very different parenting style and scoffed at my asking ," how does that make you feel?" That while they were " my kids- they were really just little people" My husband had a very different upbringing and is now so grateful to have raised these two little people, two real friends…

  2. Desiree Martinez says:

    I really liked this article. This is something I really want to keep in mind, while raising my kids. I was raised in a very strict home, so I for sure understand what you mean when you talk about the consequences of that. I want my kids to trust to come to me no matter what.

  3. Angela says:

    My 14-year old daughter and have a fabulous, open relationship that I truly enjoy. Everyone keeps telling me "Just wait, your time will come" in regard to raising a willful teen. I don't think that is going to happen as I have actively pursued a friendship with my daughter while maintaining authority and discipline. It is a very fine line to walk and not always easy but the effort is extremely worthwhile.

  4. Kirsten says:

    I agree with the author that respect for the child is so crucial to the relationship. I have sadly watched parents for years turn tiny things into emotional abuse and ruin a child's sense of spiritual safety. I have a new baby girl and already feel that we are great friends.

  5. englishthistle says:

    Goodness, I wish my family had read this when I was growing up. The paragraphs detailing screaming and yelling and refusal to accept your child really hit home. My parents spent so much time and energy forcing me into being someone I wasn't because they didn't like who I was and making sure I knew exactly how unacceptable I was. The level of verbal and emotional abuse was phenomenal. We have a good relationship today (mostly because I live overseas) but the damage was done and it can't be undone. I love them, but I don't trust them and I don't respect them.

  6. stalia says:

    genetic dispositions and psychological factors are not catalysts since there is will… there are many great examples around us! Love and affection finds everyone who seeks for them!

  7. Shinystuff says:

    This sounds all great, all hunky-dory, but the reality is very different. This may be a good thing to keep in mind in general, and what parent doesn't want a respectful and loving relationship with their child?, but the reality of parenting cannot be summed up in one short article neither can every relationship be established the same way.

  8. Twila Zephier says:

    I have raised 10 children, 7 of my own and 3 of my sister's young boys. I had raised them all with a lot of love and respect. I was told by my mother, "when you have children without a father/mother, they need double time with you so that they know they are loved. They feel that lonliness the same as you do when you are grieving a loss. I was always with my children. I kept them close to me, looked for them if they were gone too long. Made sure they were home when the sun went down. I loved caring for them..cooking, cleaning, watching games, attending all their school activities. It was an awesome experience. Now they are all adults and raising their own children, and they are doing wonderful. They are wonderful loving parents. I am so glad I don't have to worry. They know who they are and how important their children are. They have also been taught how to pray..that is the one thing I am so happy about. They know where to go when they need spiritual guidance. So I am relaxed and happy ..I'm a proud grandmother of 22 and a great grandmother of 1. I did my job as a mother, now as a grandmother.

  9. J says:

    I am so envious of this type of relationship. My parents were both cool and detached as well as authoritarian and emotionally abusive. There was no room for friendship or being authentic, only unquestioning obedience and punishment when expectations were not met.

    My son is 7 and we are very close; our relationship looks nothing like mine with my own parents and I am grateful for this. I do wonder sometimes, though, what it would be like to grow up in a loving environment that felt safe enough to be able to talk to your own parents. For those of you who have this with your own parents, please be very grateful!

  10. Jaina says:

    I am so envious of this type of relationship. My parents were both cool and detached as well as authoritarian and emotionally abusive. There was no room for friendship or being authentic, only unquestioning obedience and punishment when expectations were not met.

    My son is 7 and we are very close; our relationship looks nothing like mine with my own parents and I am grateful for this. I do wonder sometimes, though, what it would be like to grow up in a loving environment that felt safe enough to be able to talk to your own parents. For those of you who have this with your own parents, please be very grateful!

  11. Richard Curtis says:

    I think the article confuses the fruit for the method. For those blessed with the right combination of temperaments, opportunity, and good fortune, it’s tautological. For most of the rest of the world, this is of little instructive value. I work as a therapist with affluent teens, young adults and their parents. About half are in the straits they are in because the parents have striven to be friends first and be the source of harmony in their family. The parents have always been afraid of discord and ‘not being liked.’ The approach of the article is not really explained beyond niceties, though I’ve seen good intentions such as these played out in the worst ways. It takes much more grit and struggle; and when we can just laugh and play, that is pure joy. When I die I hope my kids don’t think of me as their friend, but that I was their Dad: imperfect, passionate, and, above all, loving. Thanks for your consideration.

    • Phil W. says:

      Hi RC, thanks for your comment.

      You may have mistakenly assumed that building a great friendship with your child means that you're great at guiding them. I highly doubt that they're 'in the straits' because they tried to be friends with them; more likely it is because they had their own dysfunction and a lack of skills which influenced their parenting techniques and therefore their children.

      Authoritarianism simply does not work; it creates emotional distance and rebellious responses, potentially endangering the children. In contrast, being too casual without being challenging, educational, motivating and inspiring will also not have great outcomes either. A healthy balance is therefore required.

      I strongly disagree with you that this article has little instructive value for the rest of the world. Most of the readers would not be 'well-off' and they overwhelmingly relate to it, regardless of whether they had this type of relationship with their parents, or the opposite. Obviously building strong family relationships/friendships is even more essential the further money accessibility and life opportunities are diminished, because the more people rely on their support mechanisms to 'get by'. All your comment really illustrates is that spoiling your kids and 'trying to be cool' is not necessarily healthy or conducive for their productive development into adulthood.

      Building friendships with our children obviously develops over time and should become entirely equal once they reach adulthood. I encourage every parent to fulfill not just the guidance they need, but the emotional support they require too. And the only way to ensure that is with mutual respect, something that is inherent in any true friendship.

      I wish you the best of luck gaining positive outcomes with your families! :)

  12. Eleanor says:

    I respectfully disagree with the premise of this article, or at least the author’s definition of friendship. Certainly there should be a great deal of love, respect, opennes, and communication in a parent-child relationship, but there remains a hierarchy. Without that hierarchy, how can a parent discipline their child? I love my parents fiercely. We have a strong relationship built on mutual respect and trust and shared values. But they are my elders, not my friends. Friends are equals. A friend cannot discipline a friend, though they can give counsel. A child needs discipline – not abuse, not shouting, but a guiding hand (or 80). I think this growing trend for parent-child “friendship” is leading to an awful lot of spoiled, directionless kids whose parents let go the rope in order to be better “liked.”

  13. Andrea Utley says:

    I firmly agree with everything you’ve said in this article. Growing up, my mom was not receptive to any of these kinds of behaviours towards me; she even told me that we were NOT friends. My response to her? Rebellion and disregard for everything she said, did, etc. Her lack of respect for me as an individual ruined my childhood.. and still continues today. It is unfortunate when we don’t recognize our children’s voices. They deserve respect and honest communication just as any other person. Even more so, in my opinion, because they NEED to be heard in order to develop fully into mature and strong adults.

    Thank you for writing this and hopefully opening minds into what a truly fabulous child/adult relationship looks like. (My daughter would firmly agree with you as well. ;) )

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