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This Is What Happens When You Parent With Friendship, Not Leadership

Growing up, I had a really good friend who lived down the street. (We’ll call her Stacy – not because I particularly like that name but because I will be continually referencing Stacy’s mom, and if you get the joke, that will make this story all the more worth reading).

Stacy was an only child – the product of a business-savvy father and an attention-starved mother. From what my child brain could piece together, Stacy’s father was a twice-divorced, highly-successful entrepreneur who, at fifty, met a woman half his age, married her, then had Stacy. I didn’t know the family during Stacy’s early years of development, but I imagine it was a fairly normal upbringing with lots of adoration and love bestowed on Stacy from both parental units. Or, I’d like to imagine it was.

I met Stacy in the 5th grade when her family moved into our neighborhood. We would hang out after school, riding bikes or playing in each other’s respective yards. It all seemed normal enough except that every time I would say I had to leave to have dinner with my family or do homework, she would feign exacerbation or contempt. “Your parents sound mean. My mommy lets me do whatever I want.”

After these interactions, I would make the journey back to my house, my ten-year-old brain mulling over a world in which rules were obsolete. Needless to say, I was jealous and often wondered why Stacy’s mom had got it going on.

(See, I told you this story would be worth it, if not just for that one reference).

As Stacy and I grew in age and camaraderie, it became increasingly apparent that she was afforded freedoms I, nor most of my peers, had ever enjoyed. Since I can remember, Stacy’s mom would schedule shopping trips, manicures, weekends at the country club, really anything that would keep Stacy happy and reinforce their mother-daughter relationship that was built on friendship, not leadership.

Of course, teenage-me thought Stacy was sooooo lucky. While she was out having weekend staycations at the Ritz Carlton with her mom, I was forced to mow our lawn or babysit my sister or go to church. You know, actually learning how to be a well-rounded individual with responsibilities and work ethic.

In high school, kids caught wind of Stacy’s mom’s lackadaisical attitude and her place quickly became the place every kid wanted to go. You know that scene in Mean Girls when Regina George’s mom
declares, “I’m not like a regular mom. I’m a cool mom” Yeah, that was Stacy’s mom. She relinquished all parental responsibility and became a background fixture in all of our social activities – there to offer help or support, but never discipline or direction.

Years later and I’ve lost complete contact with Stacy. Once eighteen hit, she had no direction or life skills to fall back on. The rest of us pursued college or traveling or jobs, but she wasn’t equipped mentally, emotionally, or physically to navigate her own future or path. Last I heard, her parents were divorced and she was living at her mom’s, working at a coffee shop and trying to make it in the music industry.

Here’s the thing: as easy as it would be to rest the blame solely on Stacy’s mom for how she turned out, that would hardly be fair. In retrospect, I think Stacy’s mom was a lonely woman who never received the love and validation she needed from a husband that was never around. Having no job or friends (as far as I was aware), she probably wanted so bad to be loved by her only daughter, that she didn’t want to rock the boat and risk losing it. And that’s something I can sympathize with. I think many women have children to fill a void in their life; to feel an unconditional love they can’t get anywhere else.

The flaw with this approach is that kids are not designed to carry the responsibility of making sure their parents are ok. It’s the other way around. As a parent, you’re only job is to raise future adults. Period.

Your kid is not a toy to keep you entertained. Their purpose is not to make you feel loved or confident or to fill a void. These little people will one day be big people and you owe it to them to show them how to be independent, self-sufficient, driven, and respectful.

If you’re going to co-sleep, do it because your child really needs it, not because YOU need it. If you’re going to “save” them every time they fall (literally or figuratively), ask yourself if you’re doing it to help them or to extinguish any guilt YOU feel. If you’re going to help them with their homework, distinguish ahead of time that you’re doing it to help their self-growth, not make it easier for YOU. If you’re going to stick an iPad in their face at a restaurant, decide if you’re doing it because you’ve expended every other option available or because it gives YOU a sense of peace. If you’re going to confront their teachers about something that seems “unjust,” make sure you’re doing it out of legitimate concern that their teacher isn’t doing her job, not because YOU can’t stand the idea that your precious one could *gasp* be in the wrong.

Stacy’s mom was a kind person who – and I truly believe this – loved her daughter with everything she had. And there is nothing wrong with adoring your child. But when that love trumps teaching them skills to survive without you, you are no longer parenting for the sake of them, but for the sake of pacifying your own demons. And that just doesn’t work.

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About Mcclain W.

6 comments

  1. In my experience, mothers can be both tutors and friends. It’s just a matter of when to use the correct approach. For girls, it’s usually their fathers they turn to first. Young children feel much safer when the family has structure and schedules, e.g. mealtimes, study/homework time, bath times, some limited chores and general ‘rules of the house’. However it is essential that they also have no reservations when seeking support or advice from one or both parents when they need it.

  2. I got your reference immediately, and loved it! I read your columns regularly, although I’m pretty much your political opposite, and have found them insightful and intelligent. This one struck a particular chord with me, although I was never as far off-base as Stacy’s mom. But as the child of a mother who would have won a prize as Queen of the Narcissists, and treated me with a good deal of impatience and indifference unless I was performing in a way that actively made her look good, I think I definitely erred with our daughter, by too much identification with her and fervor for her, which made her feel guilty when she did even a minor amount of normal teenage criticism of me. The key moment came one time when she was itemizing a list of my faults, and I found myself saying, “But MOM …” “I’m not your MOTHER,” Kate shouted at me. “How many times do I have to tell you that?”

    No major harm was done, and she’s a wonderful mother herself, of an 8-month-old son, but our relationship was definitely affected by my desire to be–not her friend, exactly, but as you put it, her love-object, at a time when that was no longer appropriate or especially desirable. And I still have to work hard on getting over that.

  3. This article went south quickly. I felt like I was reading more of a judgmental gossip column than…well I’m not sure what this article was going after. I couldn’t even finish it. Not an article I would refer. Unless, you are wanting to read a gossip column or parental column based on assumptions on another’s life. This could have been written completely different with the same content based on a self help outline of action steps. I also got the humor with the Stacy’s mom joke. However, I find it inappropriate.

  4. Mary Martin Bowen

    My mother had rules when I was little. When I got to high school, she said “now you have ONE rule. NEVER DISAAPPOIT MAMA. Ok, I could live with that. I knew what she meant. When I headed to college, she changed my rule to NEVER DISAPPOINT YOURSELF. That was a lot harder!

  5. This was really eye opening. Thank you. This explains a lot of what happened to me. It’s sad;. But then I always think that God has to find us somehow, and usually in our brokenness is where there’s room for Him to come in. So I’m grateful!

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