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I’m going to go out on a limb and post something that may not be popular. A commentator on a past “Emotional IQ” post, suggested I write about a parent’s need to be a “friend and mentor” to their children. This post addresses the first aspect.

First, breaking it down:

A friend is “a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.” I agree; a parent should be all three of those. A child “knows” you, because you are a constant in their life, not an occasional visitor. They like you because you share good experiences together, not because you give them things. And they trust you because you are trustworthy. You keep your standards and deliver either “blessings” or punishments as merited.

But then other options appear in the definition of “friend”: a person who is “allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade . . . One who supports, sympathizes with.”

And it’s true; friends often sympathize with and support you to the point of joining you, even when you make bad choices. They reinforce the friendship with total acceptance and commiseration. Censorship, disapproval, and condemnation would weaken the relationship and are rarely expressed. Hesitancy is often the best that can be hoped for.   

This is not what parents do. Beyond the love, trust and reliability, a parent needs to set boundaries, teach right from wrong, and encourage their children to make correct choices. They also have to deliver consequences when bad choices are made. It’s the tough, painful part of being a parent.

Several years ago, when having children of our own proved to be challenging, I looked around my pretty home (complete with a new white sofa and love seat set) and said to my DH, “I want a house filled with children.” So we became foster parents. One of the requirements was to attend classes on parenting. I remember clearly one presenter who said, “And of course you’d never buy a white couch.” Oops.

But we were also taught, “Children thrive on boundaries.”

For the young children that came into our lives, it was true. Faces that came scared or defensive, melted and happiness became their main expression. A small boy that couldn’t sleep began to relax and fall asleep in my arms. Another stopped having night terrors. One therapist told us (regarding a child we took to him weekly), “you have been her saving grace.” Our home with its structure, stories, schedules, laughter, picnics, time-outs, treats, and games became a haven for those children.

We did make mistakes. Most parents do. But one thing I held to—a child doesn’t need you to be their friend, they need you to be their parent. And the biggest factor in that equation is love. But love does not say, “It’s okay, I understand that is what you want to do, so I support you.” Love says, “Don’t ride your bike in the street, don’t play with matches, and don’t go to that party.”

Love is patient, even when you temporarily lost your patience. Love endures, is unfailing, and holds strong. Love says, “I’m sorry I reacted that way, let’s talk.” But it also says, “I’m sorry, but we can’t let you do that.”

A friend can become offended and angry and eventually desert you. A parent may become offended and angry, but they stay around and work to mend the hurt feelings. A parent values you more than your choices, even when they don’t approve. They would stand between you and your choices if they could, with “guns blazing,” but of course at some point, they no longer can, so they wait up instead as the long hours of the night tick past curfew. And then, after they know you are safe, they ground you.

My daughter, who I love deeply, at some time began calling me “mama bear.” I guess that’s what a parent is.