If you’re a kid, you’re likely thinking,“Yay! No more school! Free time!”
If you’re a parent, you might be thinking, “Oh no, how am I going to get my kids to get along and cooperate with me when they’re around all summer?!”
Parents have a lot on their plates these days. From morning to evening, there are times when you need to get your kids to cooperate — to get up in the morning, to brush teeth, be ready to go out on time, etc. So it’s no surprise that I often have parents ask me, “How do I get my child or children to do what I want them to do? It seems I have to nag and nag, and I still can’t get him/her to cooperate! It’s easier to just give in.” In the summer, there are even more opportunities for this type of unsatisfying interaction because of increased time together.
If you have this problem, you might be part of the parent group I playfully call “The Too Nice Parent Club.” It’s a pretty popular “club” these days. Lots of parents have joined, but not too many are finding it effective when it comes to their children’s behavior.
Here’s some of the ways membership in this “club” shows itself:
Too nice parents often end a request with “Okay?” Something like, “Honey, pick up your toys now, okay?” Ending a sentence with “okay” makes it sound optional.
Too nice parents are often afraid of being rigid or authoritarian, so they use phrases like, “It would be nice if someone helped me carry the groceries in,” and are then surprised when the kids decide to go in and start playing video games instead.
Too nice parents will choose to bail a son or daughter out of trouble rather than let them experience natural consequences.
Too nice parents will buy whatever a child or teen asks for right away to avoid a tantrum or complaining.
Parents who join this club do it for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons are:
I don’t want to be like my dad/mom, who raised me in a very rigid manner.
I want my kids to like me.
I want to show my children that being nice is an important value.
That’s how I see other parents doing it.
We are able financially to give our child everything, so we want to.
I read a book that talked about how to be your child’s friend.
My dad/mom was distant, so I want to be close to my child.
I’m a single parent, and I don’t want to lose my child’s affection for me or give my ex-spouse ammunition to use against me.
The confusing part for parents who are in this “Too Nice Parent Club” is simply this:
The kids start showing increased, rather than decreased, negative behaviors and attitudes. The "too nice" stuff appeals, but it doesn’t really work.
What’s up with that?
It’s really quite simple:
Children need parents who provide structure, boundaries and consistent discipline. When you provide these, it means your children will not always like you. You’ll have to be firm. (Now, you can be firm in a nice manner, but I'm talking about folks on the other end of the continuum.) When you join the "Too Nice Parent Club," consistent discipline, boundaries and structure often get set to the side in favor of winning your child’s favor as a friend or buddy might.
Being a good parent doesn’t mean being a friend.
That’s right, an effective parent claims the role of parent, not friend.
The definition of parent is not friend, buddy, confidante or co-decision maker.
Children are not fully-formed little adults. Children and teens desperately need the adults in their lives to be adults — not on a peer level with them. When you try to be a buddy, friend, confidante or co-decision maker, you abandon the role of parent so desperately needed by your child. You do this by either coming down to their role level as a child or peer, or you inviting them up to your role level as a parent or adult. Either way, it doesn’t work.
To function well in life, children need to learn about limits, boundaries and responsibility. They need to develop character traits of responsibility, resourcefulness and cooperation. Children need parents to teach them these things by being good parents, not friends.
It’s a structural difference of roles. Here’s another way to think about it: How would it strike you if you go to a heart surgeon and she starts suggesting you meet a Starbucks, drink coffee and talk so you can chat about how she should perform your needed surgery? Or if your boss cancels the conference call with the consultants and changes it to time on the tennis courts? Or if the golf instructor for your youngster says he will take all the shots to spare your youngster disappointment or failure? Each of these mixes up roles and responsibilities in a negative way.
Can you be a good parent and be friendly? Yes. But your job is to be a parent, not a friend. Friendly parent, fine. But friend, not.
If you have children, your job is to be a parent.
Raising children is a big task. If you recognize that you have joined the “Too Nice Parent Club,” can I suggest that you end your membership today? It’s easier said than done. So if you’ve been a member for a while, you might benefit from a few sessions with a family counselor to encourage you, help you make the needed structural shifts and work with you and the family to restore healthy functioning patterns.
Good changes are often seen almost immediately. Feel free to contact an experienced family counselor you know. But do it sooner than later.
I know you want to do everything you can for your kids.
So, feature doing this: Be the best parent you can be — not friend.
Musings on life and relationships from Family Therapist Tamera Schreur