Have We Become Too Chummy with Our Kids?

By Melissa Stefanec

Being the parent of young children means being on the end of societal criticism.

I have to imagine this is nothing new. There are members of every generation who rejoice in finding fault in the younger generations. It’s is one of the few universal pastimes of humankind. There are many refrains regarding the ineptitude of today’s parents, but one of the most common refrains I come across is parents today make the mistake of trying to be friends with their children.

Allegedly, instead of being an authoritarian and clear leader, today’s parents blur the lines of the hierarchy by trying to be liked by their children.

I find this concept extremely interesting.

First, I have to ask myself if I think it’s true. Do I see this strategy playing out in my daily life and in the lives of parents around me? Second, if it’s true, is it a bad thing?

To answer the first question, I have to avoid another common pitfall of intergenerational politics; I have to consider the other side may have a valid point. If handing down criticism of younger generations is the national pastime of older folks, then surely the younguns’’ ignoring or dismissing the criticism is an equally practiced sport. Most of us irrationally think we know better than others, and we would be wise to give the other side an honest consideration.

Do parents today think it’s more important to be a friend than a parent?

So, do I think today’s parents place a higher value on being friends with their kids than on properly raising their kids? On the whole, I don’t. Sure, there are parents out there who don’t want to upset their kids and will do anything to ensure their children remain placated. However, I don’t think this is anything new or some sort of modern invention. Most of the parents I know have standards of conduct they expect their children to follow. When their children don’t follow those rules, there are consequences. What I think has changed is what sort of behavior warrants a consequence or redirection. That concept could fill another article, but it’s why I think there’s a perception that today’s parents are more interested in being friends with their kids than raising their kids. We believe our children should be seen, heard and understood. For some, that means we are striving to be friends with our kids. To me, that seems like some people have their empathy and friendship wires crossed.

Let’s agree to disagree

So, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that today’s parents are far too concerned with being liked by their children. Is this really the way the world finally falls apart? Maybe it is; only time will tell. However, there is one thing I am certain of: being a dictator never got anyone anywhere worth being.

I know so many people my age who have strained relationships with or alienations from their parents. In many cases, this is due to parents being cruel, cold, abusive, selfish or unlikable people. Some parents never cared much about having a real, honest and kind relationship with their children; they were just there to tolerate their kids and lay down the law. I’ve seen the damage; this style of parenting reeks, and I think my generation is smart to want nothing to do with it. However, that reactionary style could pull things too far in the other direction. I think my generation needs to keep a critical eye on their parenting style to make sure it has the right balance of guidance, support and tough love.

The compromise

There was a time when Elvis Presley was going to corrupt young people. Now, many people consider Elvis and his music to be a class act (or not even noticed by younger generations and, thus, inconsequential). Every generation has a way of endorsing their own ideas, while remaining cautious or dismissive of those ideas that came before them and the ideas that come after them.

Perhaps this is because each generation has an element of rebellion against the preceding generation; we are all trying to avoid the mistakes of the past, while hesitant to acknowledge the mistakes of our present. Once our present becomes the past, we tend to become nostalgic about it and whitewash the more sordid details. This is human nature, and we are all guilty of it.

If we can embrace that concept, members of each generation can agree on something: no one did it 100% correctly. We all made judgment calls that time revealed to be the wrong ones. We all made mistakes that we wish we could take back. Previous generations had some great parenting solutions and approaches, but some really bad ones too. I can’t wait for my children to call out mine as they become adults. Things have a way of coming full circle.

Even if generations don’t agree on how chummy parents should be with their kids, I think most parents love their kids unconditionally, and they are doing the best with the skills and knowledge they have. That includes today’s parents. Kindly cut us some slack.