The Friendship Trap

Friend or parentDo you prefer listening to reading? Listen to the Reconnection Club Podcast’s Episode 34: Was Your Child Your Best Friend? for an audio version of this article.

Parents of estranged adult children sometimes tell me that before the estrangement, they enjoyed an unusual warmth and closeness with their child. In some cases, the relationship felt like a friendship as well as a family bond.

Were you and your child friends before the estrangement? Even best friends? If so, part of your campaign to reconnect could involve reclaiming and focusing on the role of Parent instead.

Friend vs. Parent

When a relationship goes awry, remember this: Friends are replaceable; parents are not.

If you’ve been a friend to your child in the past, it’s time to let go of that role with its interchangeability, so you can rise above the ranks of your child’s “buddies.”

The logical way to distinguish yourself and become necessary to your child again is to reclaim your special status as The Parent. That’s something none of his other friends can ever be.

The Parent (with a capital “P”) is a demanding role that few are willing to occupy whole-heartedly.

Here are some differences between Parents and friends:

1. Friends give and take; parents mostly give.

2. Friends can be flaky; parents are reliable.

3. Friends need things from you at inconvenient times; parents put your needs first.

4. Friends hold grudges; parents forgive.

5. Friends can betray you; parents are trustworthy.

6. Friends swap secrets; parents guard your secrets.

7. Friends can be needy; parents are generous.

8. Friendships may end; parents are forever.

We each have, at most, two parents. They are precious. Don’t imagine keeping up the estrangement is easy for your child. It’s no fun going through life without one or both parents.

Acting like The Parent, rather than a friend, is hard. But it makes it easier for your child to come back into your life.

Whereas friends can be draining, a Parent is a resource.

Irreplaceable You

Be The Parent every time you interact with your child. If this is a big change for you, it’s okay to talk about it with your child.

E.g., “I want to try to relate to you differently from now on. More like a parent than a friend.”

If they show interest, you might add, “What do you think about that?” If you get an answer, it will almost certainly contain ideas for reconciliation and healing. But you might have to do some sifting to extract those ideas.

Keep in mind that if your child has asked for no-contact, the most loving and selfless (i.e., Parental) response may be to tell her with love that you’ll be waiting if/when she changes her mind. Then step back.

What you resist, persists. Don’t resist rejection. There is wisdom in silence. Breathe into it.

If you turned to your child for friendship when you were stressed or lonely in the past, that’s not a crime. It’s just a sign that you’re human. You need companionship like anyone else.

Don’t deprive yourself of friendship.

At this stage in life, we have two avenues into friendships: We can deepen the ones we have, and we can make new ones.

Leave the Friend Zone with your child, but don’t leave yourself without friends.

Cultivate Other Friendships

To make friends at any age, take a class or join a group or club that meets regularly.

When Mike and I moved to Denver a couple of years ago, we didn’t know anyone. I joined my local Toastmasters club and also signed on to sublet an office in a suite full of therapists.

Both venues gave me the opportunity to see the same people repeatedly. And of course, I selected places where like-minded people (i.e., people who enjoy public speaking and people who work as therapists) gathered.

Mike started a weekly Meetup group based on his interest in science.

Both of us got to know our neighbors.

Just two years later, we no longer feel like strangers in our new city. Our longtime friends in other places are still precious to us, but since they’re not physically present, we enjoy having local friends with whom we can regularly commune.

If a friendship with your child does grow later in life, it will evolve alongside, not instead of, your role as The Parent. And that sublime role will always take precedence.

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