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DominicX's avatar

What do people mean when they say a parent is a "friend"?

Asked by DominicX (28762points) March 8th, 2010

This is always used negatively. But I am not exactly sure what is meant by this when it is used. People seem to act like your parents were either your friends (bad parents) or they were not (good parents).

To me, it always meant that a parent is trying too hard to be a friend to their child in that they are afraid to contradict their child or upset them, so they always give in and are afraid to exact any kind of authority or discipline. That would be the correct usage of the term, correct?

But then I hear things like “a parent should never ever be a friend!”. So, when my mom and I went to open houses together and had friendly conversations, that was her being a bad parent? My parents were never afraid to exact authority over me or discipline, but they were/are like friends to me in many ways.

And there’s all that about how parents shouldn’t ever be “cool”. Well, my parents were pretty darn cool. Kids at school knew them and thought they were cool. Is that such a bad thing? Really I think people are thinking of something else when they say that…

Were your parents ever friends to you? Did you ever think they were “cool”? Did they take it too far to the negative side? How do you use these phrases and terms?

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32 Answers

bunnygrl's avatar

I was raised by my grandmother and she was always the one I told all my secrets to, always there to listen if I had problems, and the very first person I ran to when anything exciting or wonderful happened to me. So yes, she really was my friend. losing her was the most painful thing. So, I suppose I’ve always thought that for a parent to be your friend, just meant that they were always in your corner, no matter what. To love you unconditionally. Of course, if you’re very lucky, you’ll grow up and have a partner who’ll do the same thing. Thats what happened with me, and I am so grateful for it. My life hasn’t been perfect, I haven’t coped at all at times, but I always had My Gran and later Hubby. so I know I’ve been blessed.
hugs honey xx

Vunessuh's avatar

Here are a few definitions of what a friend is:
1) A person whom one knows, likes and trusts.
2) A person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
3) A person who gives assistance; patron; supporter.

A parent should be all of these things and more.
What’s missing, is the discipline factor.
When a parent can’t enforce rules or guidelines, especially to keep their child safe, because they want to avoid the confrontation and inconvenience, then that’s when it’s frowned upon. The relationship between Lindsay Lohan and her mother is a perfect example.

I would personally consider my mom my friend. We shoot the shit all the time. We go shopping, we cook, (actually, she cooks and I watch), we joke, we laugh, we confide, we cry.
When I was growing up, she disciplined me as needed, raised me to understand the difference between right and wrong and practically prepared me with knowing the basics of living out on my own. She never smothered me or was overprotective though. She understood there were things I needed to learn on my own and she allowed me to make mistakes and grow from them.

I believe a parent should have a balance of both parenting and befriending their child. Having one without the other could be destructive. However, that also depends on the strength of the child.
I know there are some relationships where the child ends up parenting the parent.

And it’s not a bad thing for your friends to think your parents are cool. Mine thought the same thing and they still do. We just have badass parents. That’s all.

Jewel's avatar

I was so lucky! My mom was, and is, my best friend. She was a good parent and didn’t have any problem telling me “No”, but we have always enjoyed each others company, make each other laugh and supported each other through some really tough stuff.
Sometimes, things are just like they sound. My mom is my best friend. That’s all.

mattbrowne's avatar

There are many human relationships, and there’s an overlap when you compare parents and friends. Same when you compare your relationship with your sister and your girlfriend.

Teenagers need to disagree with their parents from time to time as one means to become more independent and self reliant. Too much harmony can eventually become somewhat counterproductive. I’m a bit unsure about about the coolness part. Does this means the same hobbies, music taste and Internet activities?

nailpolishfanatic's avatar

When I say my parents are my friends I always mean it goodly, because my mom is my bestfriend I tell her everything and I keep secrets that I am not supposed to talk about. hope I helped ;:F

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Many of my friends are shocked that I can talk openly with my parents. I call them friends, and we have always had open communication. They never gave me the illusion of control, but they considered my opinion before making a decision even though it was always their decision in the end. I cannot see how a more distant or more authoritative parental style would be more successful.

partyparty's avatar

My daughter is able to talk to me about anything and everything.
We are friends. I consider this to be a good thing.
She seeks advice about her ‘friends’ so I suppose we must be more than just non-family friends.

Facade's avatar

The word “friend” is usually used to describe parents who are more concerned with their children liking them than they are with correcting and disciplining them.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

When people say their parent is their “friend” it can mean several different things:
1. Parent does things that a reasonable parent would not do, as in provides alcohol for underage parties in an effort to be popular with their child or friend, condones drug usage because the parent uses, buys their children’s way out of problems with money instead of making them do the right thing.
2. I have female friends who say their mother is the best friend, but really it means, “my mom and I get along great as long as I do exactly what she says.” I have friends that will buy shoes, but won’t wear them until her mother gives an opinion on them, won’t go on a houseboat vacation because her mother went on one 45 years ago and had a bad time. They never seem to question that it’s okay to have an opinion of their own.
3. People who have a mutually respectful relationship with their parents, and genuinely like spending time together and have common interests. Usually not everyone agrees, but everyone is listened to, and parents have a better reason for restrictions than “because I said so.”

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

My parents,particularly my father wasn’t concerned about being a “friend” to his kids.I ;liked it that way.Whether it’s true or not,I always thought of parents that try too hard to be a friend or a cool parent to their kids as someone who lets them run amok and is more concerned with bs than the actually raising of their child.

lifeflame's avatar

Disagree, disagree.
I don’t think it is always used negatively. Is this cultural or regionally specific for it to come with a negative connatation?

When I say that I think that my parents have evolved from “parents” to more of “friends” it means that we’ve moved from a hierarchical relationship to one that is more equal. That is to say, we each have our own interests, activities, areas of expertise and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle to share these things.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

To answer your question directly, my father was pretty nonexistent in my life, and my mother wanted me to be her confidante, but wanted to have control over me, so no, I was not friends with my parents. I am friends with my children, or at least I feel I am—I’m invited to socialize with their friends, (but know when it’s time for me to leave) and I try to give good advice, which I don’t expect them to follow. I always take the late night phone calls, and pick them up wherever they are, no questions asked. I don’t bog them down with details of my relationship with their father, and don’t make them choose between us. Now that they are 20+, I treat them with the same courtesy I would extend to a younger coworker.

hug_of_war's avatar

I think parents nowadays are far too concerned with being friends and parents second. In my opinion parents who pride themselves on being friends can’t discipline when their kids when necessary. It isn’t that parents and kids shouldn’t be close but I think being a parent should always come first.

Cruiser's avatar

One of the hardest things of parenting for me is to not give in wanting to be their friend during those difficult moments where your child needs to make their own tough decisions and or experience the full consequences of their decisions.

dpworkin's avatar

On another thread I answered with a brief exegesis of three styles of parenting. Parents who are completely lenient and show no authority are tantamount to being neglectful. Parents who insist on maintaining complete authority and use threats to maintain control are fundamentally abusive. Study after study has shown that these two extremes are maladaptive (although the “My way or the highway” type of parent is least likely to understand how much damage they do, and are most likely to defend their bad behavior.)

It is the Authoritative parent who will have the best results: this style teaches independence and autonomy, picks battles very carefully, tries to say yes unless there is a good reason to say no, but means the “no” when it is time to use it. This parent imposes strict limits when necessary, but extends the limits when it is appropriate. This parent also encourages genuine dialogue and a frank exchange of views on any issue, while maintaining the right to have the last word on an important decision.

In my experience, and I have raised four children, two now adult, and two now 13, this style leads to affectionate, enduring, deep and meaningful friendship, as well as other salutary outcomes.

Just_some_guy's avatar

I think the being their friend is simply meaning that they do not use authority to keep their children controlled. I know people who actually hang out with their kids and their kids friends. Tho this is not a bad thing by itself. These same people allow their teenagers and their friends to drink smoke and are hardly against them having sex. I think if your kid is doing these it is tough to stop them, but to do this with your children and accept it is not good. Therefore being a friend to your children in this way is in my personal opinion. Not being a parent to them.

I feel that my job as a parent is to raise my children to see right from wrong. (Hopefully I see whats right and wrong) To give them the mental and emotional tools to be successful in whatever they chose to do. (hopefully not full time crack dealer) To stand by them when they are in need, and to show them the consequences of doing what is right or what is wrong. In this I will be their best friend and stand by them no matter what they do. I will for the rest of my life let them know my feelings on what they are doing. This last one I do with my friends also, and they do for me.

So I think I am a friend to my child, but I am not their pal. I might be fun to be around, but I am authority in their eyes. To me a person who comes over to share his Blow could be a friend. He just has different views.

Just_Justine's avatar

I am a bit of both to my son. I am very much his mother. But he can talk to me about anything, in other words he feels as comfortable to tell me things, that he may share with a friend. That doesn’t mean I don’t share my opinion on it, in a motherly fashion. I just think he needs parental guidance more than my being a friend. As he has loads of friends already. We can also talk about fashion, latest trends and other ideas as I had him very young. But I do not dress or follow “his” latest trends. As I am in my own age group and have my own peers so to speak.

I make it clear about what is acceptable to me and what is not. In terms of behaviour. I don’t like grass and so he will never smoke it around me, I don’t like booze so he will never drink around me. He is 28 though so is entitled to. But he says he wont out of respect. We also have loads of laughs together and fun times. But I would also not ask opinions of him about my own life like, should I get married again, nor do I share my problems unless they relevant to him.

noyesa's avatar

I’m guilty of overloading the meaning of this myself.

My mom was always far more concerned with being my sister’s friend than being her mother. She would avoid carrying out discipline on her because she worried it might jeopardize her perceived friendship with my sister (my sister was really just milking it for all she could). When someone calls their parent a friend in the negative sense, this is what I usually envision.

In the positive sense, I think calling a parent a friend is saying that not only are they parents (good ones), but friends as well—acting as concerned people who care and don’t simply exist to control or walk over the things their kids bring to them as “little”.

I refer to my parents as friends in the disparaging sense, in that they’re largely fair-weathered friends—they were never there for me as parents or friends, but we’ll still occasionally go out for dinner or the bar, or other activities that make it seem like I know them but honestly I don’t and they don’t know anything about me. The only time I seem to hear from them and they’re not inviting me to the bar it’s because they want something. “Friends” in the least semantic sense.

Val123's avatar

A friend will throw clandestine booze parties for you and all your underage friends. A parent who wants to be their child’s “friend”, rather than their leader, or who wants to be “cool” might do the same thing. That’s when it becomes a problem.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

I wouldn’t say exactly that that’s a bad thing. @dpworkin‘s answer was excellent regarding the different types of parenting. Trying to be a friend during the crucial years of aging, say, until the child is actually an adult and living on their own, isn’t really the best route. I feel lucky to say that my parents were pretty decent; they were affectionate and supportive while maintaining certain boundaries and strictness when necessary. Now, at 22, I do consider my mom a good friend, since we understand each other differently and she raised me to be an independent person. Of course, she is still always going to be my mom, but I also feel I can have discussions with her as an equal.

liminal's avatar

There is a a level of reciprocity in my friendships that I don’t extend to relationships with my children. In friendship, the giving of my energy, affection, and attention involves a mutuality of commitment. I am not responsible for making sure my friends have clothing, shelter, food, limits, and nurture. While surely love and compassion may move me to offer such things to a friend, when I think I can, I have no responsibility to do so.

With my children the giving of my energy, affection, and attention is not tied to their commitment to me and is buffered by my responsibility to them. I love my my child and invest in my child regardless of return. I see my relationship with them as something dynamic and vibrant and my responsibility to them as something ever changing. I imagine, that as they age and finally reach adulthood the responsibilities will be drastically different then they are now.

stardust's avatar

My relationship with my mother has left me awfully confused on this topic. I confide in her about most things. We are quite close, but there is an unhealthy element to the relationship. This may have nothing to do with the “friend” debate. She tells me she’s open to talk about anything, etc,
Basically, I feel safe to talk to her & she encourages this(too much), but then I come away feeling bad about myself and regret having opened up.
The boundaries are awfully blurred, to the point where I cannot define our relationship.

Grisson's avatar

When my son turned 21 I got him beer brewing equipment and supplies. Together we brewed some beer and I was really impressed with how well he had done his research.

The other day I was explaining to a friend that we had done this as a project together, for the first time not as parent and child, but as friends.

I think it has to do whether our perceptions of the parent or child has changed as the child matures.

MissAusten's avatar

I know what you mean @DominicX , and as a young (ok, not so young) parent I feel that the “friend” thing with parenting is over-commented on. It’s one of the many common complaints of all the things parents do wrong today as compared to the “good old days” when kids were spanked and not given trophies for soccer unless the team won the world championship and ADHD didn’t exist because kids knew better than to behave that way. ;)

My goal as a parent is to be a loving hard-ass. I read that somewhere and can’t take credit for the phrase. It basically means what @dpworkin and @Vunessuh described. You love your kids unconditionally and they know you are on their side. They can confide in you and rely on you, but they also know there are clear limits and there will be consequences for testing those limits. They are encouraged to be themselves and learn to become independent, but not allowed to run wild and do whatever they want.

There are things my kids like to do that I also like to do. We do them together, whether it’s hunting for bugs and snakes or (in the case of my daughter) going to see a musical on stage. We like a lot of the same books and movies, enjoy each other’s company, and talk about things without judgment. In that sense, we are good friends. However, they are also free to be mad at me if they screw up and I discipline them. I don’t take it personally and it doesn’t bother me when they clearly think I am being mean. I’ll even tell them that my job as the parent is to help them learn what is acceptable.

thriftymaid's avatar

It could not possibly mean the same to any two people. When your kids are young you don’t need to be a friend; you need to be a parent. My adult daughter and I share a wonderful friendship. We’re very close and talk about literally everything. A mother could not wish for more.

DominicX's avatar


Yes, but it’s this idea that “friend” and “parent” are mutually exclusive that I don’t agree with. That’s how most people use it from what I’ve heard. You’re either a friend or a parent and it’s impossible to be both. That’s not how it was in my case. My parents were/are both. Certainly you don’t need to be a friend, but in my mind it’s not something that’s automatically negative unless it is taken too far. Sure, my parents were not the same type of friend that people my own age would be, but they were often a friend to me, someone I liked to be around and do things with and have friendly conversations with. That’s how I define a “friend” at least; I’m sure people could disagree. I for one am very grateful that I could think of my parents as friends when I hear about how many people, even as adults, did not like their parents.

wundayatta's avatar

My daughter occasionally asks, “Are you my friend, Dad?”

To which I answer, “Parents aren’t supposed to be friends.”

She then pretends to be miffed.

I love her dearly, but I am responsible for her; she is not responsible for me. Friendship is about equality. I don’t think parents and children can be equal until the children have become adults. Then, maybe, they can be friends.

DominicX's avatar


So then I guess it’s just a matter of how the term is defined; people define it differently. I guess some would call my relationship with my mom “friendly”, but wouldn’t say that we were actually “friends”. Obviously, I’m a legal adult now, but this includes when I was in high school and such.

dutchbrossis's avatar

I have always from the time I can remember as a little kid been like best friends with my dad. We did everything together like travel, movies, bowling, roller coasters, sledding in the snow, boating, wake boarding. We were friends and I was basically allowed to do whatever I wanted, I loved it that way. My mom wasn’t that way as much. I love my mom and she is a nice person, but she is not the type of parent I want to be when I have kids. My husband and I share a lot of similiar opinions on how children should be raised. I very much hope to be best friends with them and be like my dad in almost all ways.

Right now though I am in a bad mood at my mom though because I am going snow boarding tomorrow for the first time in my life, ( I am 19 ) and I have been wanting to since I was way younger and when I was 16 I got asked by this guy JJ to go snowboarding and she said ” I was too young ”. My dad was living in Vegas at the time, so he had no say. Makes me think of how much I can’t stand age limits and parents who use their power like that


Call me old-fashioned, but I always dislike the idea that parents have to try hard to be their children’s best friends or buddy-buddies. Parents should be parents to their kids, not their “friends”. I don’t mean that they should be “unfriendly”. On the contrary. Parents and children should love each other dearly, but parents should always be people to be looked up to, not “eye-to-eye”. I love my children dearly, and I treat them with respect, but they are my children and living in my home, so they need to acknowledge my authority as well as their Mom’s. They know I love them very much, and we are very close, but they also know their limits. We do a lot of fun things together and I give them a lot of freedom to express themselves, but I’m not what you would call a liberal parent who believes in an equal child-parent relationship.

talljasperman's avatar

I pay half the rent my Mom pays the other half…are we room-mates too?

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