Have you ever heard people say: ‘Kids need parents to be parents, not friends!’?
I definitely have. I know the thinking behind this…that somehow, treating our children in the same way as we treat our friends will be detrimental to their upbringing and that our children will miss out in some way. In this context, friendship with our kids – especially our young kids – somehow implies parental *weakness*. That we will be sacrificing good parenting – discipline, boundaries, consequences, punishments – if we choose to treat our children in the same way as we treat our friends. We may become popular with them, but at what expense? And anyway, kids won’t thank us for this later. At best we can hope for a friendship of sorts once they have passed through the teenage years, and come out the other side. But before then, it’s best to create a parental relationship based on hierarchy and learning by example, so everyone knows where they stand. Apparently.
Ok so let’s flip this around. Think about a *really* good friend for a moment. I’m going to use my mate Karen as an example here. She’s my friend and I love her. We have so much fun together, its brilliant. We have loads in common, and yet lead very different lives. Somehow we have formed a closeness which transcends our very different situations. She is girly, fashionable, athletic and takes very good care of herself. I am none of those things. We find solace in each other through the difficult times, and know each other well enough to give some pretty good advice (which is even sometimes taken!). There have been times (not many) when we’ve annoyed each other, and we are comfortable enough to either let this go or face it head on. We are honest with each other, and each of us pride ourselves with cutting the crap and telling each other things as they really are. We care for each other deeply and have become entwined in each other’s existence to a point where it’s difficult for me to imagine life without her.
That’s our friendship, and it’s a beautiful and flawed thing.
If Karen is having a bad day, she tells me and I cut her slack, and vice versa. I don’t have unrealistic expectations of her, because she is a human being doing her best to survive in an often-inhospitable world.
If she feels ill, I tell her to rest.
If she says she doesn’t want to talk, that’s ok.
If I sense she’s having a tough week, I accept this and don’t expect too much from her – but I make sure she knows I’m there if she needs me.
If one of us makes a decision which the other doesn’t agree with, we support each other nonetheless.
We are each on our own path through life, but that doesn’t mean we have to walk alone.
What I’ve described here is something millions and millions of people in the world enjoy every day with their friends. Unconditional love, respect, understanding and support. So then tell me, why is thinking of our children as our friends a bad or unhealthy state of mind?
For TOO long, we have been conditioned to believe that our young children are not our friends and therefore we hold them to different standards. And for our PDA kids especially, who struggle to retain that sense of control and autonomy over themselves, this is an incredibly detrimental way of thinking.
Do we allow our kids to have bad days and support them unconditionally as we would our friends, or for some mysterious reason do we hold them to higher standards?
Do we enthusiastically show our kids’ latest special interest as much attention as we would if it were our friend, and not a child?
Would we castigate a friend for not feeling like they are able to attend their job, as they are traumatised from bad experiences, are tired and burned out and need time to rest and recuperate? Or would we say ‘this is clearly the wrong job for you, it’s making you ill, you need to leave, you’re worth more than this!’?
Would you walk in to a room and tell your friend to stop watching their favourite Netflix boxset immediately, and then be surprised and angry when they were upset?
Would we expect our friend to eat food they didn’t like, and that made them feel sick, or would we support them in their food choices?
Would we expect our friends to wear clothes which made them physically uncomfortable, or we would we say ‘for God’s sake, just wear whatever makes you feel good!’
I think it’s ok to treat our children, our precious, amazingly neurodivergent children, as our very best friends. And with PDA kids, thinking of them as friends can really help us to remember to afford them the respect and autonomy they so desperately need. How can offering them the same understanding and unconditionality as we do our friends be wrong? Take a step back, and give yourself some head space. If we wouldn’t be comfortable saying something to our friend, maybe we shouldn’t be saying it to our children.