"My daughter and I are best friends,” Elaine told me. "We do everything together. It’s great, but . . ." Elaine frowned. "Lately she breaks every rule she can. It’s hard to set boundaries when she goes out of control. I don’t know what to do."
My heart broke for Elaine. With three now-adult kids of my own, I remember how difficult it was to walk the line between being a friend and being a mom — because those two roles seldom play well together.
My guilt-ometer would rise when I’d have to enforce a boundary that my teens were pushing against. A little voice inside my head would whisper, They won’t like you if you make them keep that curfew. What’s the big deal? Let it slide just this once. It was tempting to listen to that rationale. After all, I wanted to connect with my kids on a level beyond just doling out boundaries and consequences.
Being a teen's friend isn’t a bad thing — connection is always good. But how do we balance friendship and parenting so we aren’t constantly feeling guilty or frustrated about decisions we need to make and enforce? How do we do what's best for them — and for us?
Be sympathetic, but firm
Kathy struggled with the friend-parent balance when her daughter, Amy, wanted to wear the latest — immodest — style. As Kathy wavered between saying, "Absolutely not," and "It’s your choice," she chose to handle this situation as a parent. The conversation she had with her daughter was difficult, but she expressed her concerns, explained why she was taking the stand she did and established a boundary.
As parents, we have to do what’s right for our teens — not necessarily what feels good in the moment. When our teens push against a boundary, it’s our role to be understanding but firm. While a friend might say, "I don’t like this, but OK," a parent will smile sympathetically, stand firm and say, "I’m truly sorry, but no. You know the rules."
Keep the conversation going
For younger children, we can set boundaries without explanation. But for a teen, boundaries need to be communicated and understood. It’s important to explain why we will enforce each boundary we set.
Kathy explained to Amy the importance of respecting our bodies, how her clothing choices can send an unintended message and how God desires us to live as His representatives. She also reminded Amy of how much she wants her to look her best and how Amy can still do that within their family's boundaries.
I found that when I let my teens help set their boundaries and ensuing consequences, they took ownership of them. Then much of the conflict was removed whenever I had to enforce the consequences.
It’s easier for teens to accept our rules when they understand the whys behind them and have been allowed to participate in the rule making. It allows us to maintain a healthy friend-parent balance.
Keep a long-term perspective
Parenting is about doing what’s best for your teen in the long term, not just the moment. As much as we desire to connect with our teen now and are tempted to take the route with less confrontation, we have to remember that our parenting decisions shape who our teens will become as adults.
To keep that perspective, I asked myself one question with every parenting decision: Will this decision help my child become a better person?
My son Ken rarely disobeyed but loved to tell me he couldn’t wait to move out. I worried that my holding to family boundaries had not been right for him, that maybe I should have been more of a friend.
But recently, Ken told me, "I wouldn’t be the man I am today if you hadn’t been a strong parent. Thank you." Those words made any feelings of lingering guilt fade, and I realized that our parenting rewards, when we get them, are a form of delayed gratification.
But we can't wait for the accolades. As parents, we may never hear our grown children express their gratitude for what we've done. And being a parent is seldom the road to popularity. But parenting teens toward their future is our task, and we must do our part to help them become God-loving, independent adults.