My Baby or My Bestie? Finding a Balance between Being a Parent and their Pal
As much as my mom and I are alike, she wasn’t what I would describe as the cool mom who I could trade F-bombs with or who would foot the bill for my prom hotel after-party. As cool as Mrs. Brown was, if I ever forgot she was my mom for a second, there was a slipper thrown my way to remind me when I became too comfortable.
Mothers everywhere gave the side-eye to Jada Pinkett-Smith when she revealed her parenting philosophy which rejected “old-school parenting” and emphasized forming a “partnership” with her children. I can understand Jada’s point of encouraging open and honest communication with her children, but I don’t believe children should ever get comfortable with the idea of their parent being a friend.
I’d be lying if I said my parents struggled awkwardly through the conversations about periods, boys and safe sex. They avoided them all together or swatted them away with sarcasm like a bug zapper to annoying mosquitoes. I think in their heads they didn’t think they could maintain a level of respect with their daughters while having open, honest discussion about the tough topics like birth control. So I applaud any parent who tries to find a creative way around that discomfort to make their child feel reassured that their parents will give them the real deal with no judgment.
But open communication doesn’t mean you have to take a flame-thrower to the natural boundaries between parent and child. There’s an inherent intimidation that young people feel for age and maturity; it’s the way the world works. It’s why I can walk into a classroom with a bachelor’s degree, Jay-Z and Trey Songz Pandora channels and uncanny ability to balance respect and relatability and students will still respond differently to me than they would someone twenty-years my senior with zero life experience or common sense. It’s why students struggle with calling me Ms. Toya but automatically respond to my supervisor by “M’aam” or “Mrs. So and So”. Age instantly gives you authority. When parents start to blur that fine line, it sends a mixed message to children that gives the relationship a certain amount of fragility.
I think parents need to always be aware that they’re responsible for the way they want their children to behave when they’re NOT around. That requires a level of discipline that can’t be enforced when you’re holding their hand while they get that tongue piercing or allowing them too much freedom. Grant it I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my mom about boys since I knew I would get the typical parental response of forbiddance, but because of that a certain part of my childhood was protected, when I survived to be an adult I wasn’t already jaded by the restlessness and draining drama of adulthood.
I mean seriously, Willow Smith has had tongue piercings, a shaved head and claims of bisexuality all before her sweet sixteen. What type of teenage rebellion does SHE have to look forward to? Having two Hollywood stars as parents is anything but average, but parents are responsible for providing their kids with some discretion, for filtering the harsher side of life for when they’re ready for it. And if that means giving the finger to their individual creative expression by sacrificing being the cool parents and telling your daughter no tattoos or hair dye until she’s no longer under your roof, so be it.
In the Essence interview, Smith commented, “I think that old school style of ‘I’m your parent and I’m greater than you’ doesn’t work. What I want to establish with my children is a partnership. I’m not necessarily dictating what is happening in their lives.” But somebody has to be the adult. Kids need boundaries, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an insensitive over-bearing jerk about it. The thing is your kids didn’t sign up to be your parenting, partner. Your husband did. That responsibility is all you. All they should have to do is worry about being a kid, which includes making mistakes and being mad at the world when mom says, “I told you so,” while she kisses it and makes it better. They’ve got the rest of their lives to make their own decisions, for now just get comfortable with them resenting your parental power. They’ll thank you one day.
Do you consider yourself a “cool” mom?
Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog BulletsandBlessings.