Remember the saying, ‘children should be seen and not heard’?
It was the first commandment in days of yore when parenting wasn’t even a verb; people just had children and did their best to provide for them while expecting good behaviour and respect in return.
Fast forward to the present day and, according to a new survey by sweet-maker MAOAM, modern parents now want nothing more than to be best mates with their children, with 73 per cent preferring to play and joke with their mini-mes rather than getting them to behave - and a third happy to gloss over any mild disobedience in favour of developing a playful relationship.
This belief that children should be your friends is not only ridiculous, but dangerous. Blurring the lines between parent and child makes us responsible for raising a generation of over-entitled, disrespectful, work-shy young people who will forever balk in shock at the word ‘no’.
I will never be my children’s friend; I am always – and I repeatedly tell them so – their parent.
Only last night, I spent 20 minutes insisting my 14 year old come downstairs for dinner. He’d spent most of the day in his room doing lessons online (he’s self-isolating from a Covid contact in his school bubble – but that’s another story) and just wanted to be left alone to watch YouTube on his bed.
He ranted and groaned at my unfair request and asked me why I couldn’t be like his friend’s ‘amazing’ mother who doesn’t nag or interfere and always lets his friend do whatever he wants.
I faltered, for a brief moment, and considered just leaving him alone. It would have been so much easier, not having to stare at his sour face across the dinner table or have to hear the kitchen door slam hard on his way out.
Like the 17 per cent of parents in the survey, I could have let him eat wherever and whenever he wanted and be on a par with his friend’s amazing mother, no doubt earning me lots of cuddles later on the sofa that night. But what was that teaching him in the long run?
“We don’t like being unpopular with our children,” says Anita Cleare, parenting expert and author of The Work/Parent Switch. “Nowadays, we design our family time around our children, spending hours on the football touchlines or helping them with homework.
“As parents, we want to be liked and loved and don’t want the negative pushback that setting boundaries brings. But negative pushback is part of parenting and we have to be prepared to be unpopular.”
As the youngest of five children, I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s in a house where unpopularity as a parent was a key part of the job description. I was undoubtedly more seen than heard and I know that wasn’t all good.
Dinner times were strict, chores delegated, curfews set on nights out and I can still remember the one time I swore at my mother and the look of absolute outrage on her face and the guilt I felt for weeks – yes, weeks - afterwards.
I like to think the boundaries my parents set enabled me to become the respectful, hard-working, well-rounded individual I am today, but I recognise there was a lack of emotional connectivity in my childhood that I probably did need from time to time, alongside the rules.
That’s the good thing about modern parenting; we connect with the emotional lives of our children so much more.
While I may be strict about dinner and bedtimes, I make an effort to spend time talking to my boys about what’s going on in their lives and how they feel. But crucially I’m not asking as a friend. I’m asking as a parent, being alert to their teen struggles and attempting to guide them through life, as a parental sounding board.
“Research shows you need a balance of warmth and boundaries which means having a good relationship with your children, but equally giving them firm boundaries,” says Cleare.
“By wanting simply to be their friend, we’re not doing our children any favours. They need to develop self-control, resilience and grit and they’re not going to develop that if we’re always saying yes to them.”
So, did I stick to my guns and get my son down to dinner last night?
Yes. Did he have a sour face throughout and give me indigestion from having to sit opposite him? Yes.
But will he come down for dinner tonight? I’d put money on it. And, who knows, I may even get a cuddle afterwards.