Immy, my three-year-old daughter, crossed her arms, stamped her foot and glared at me.
‘I’m not your friend anymore,’ she frowned at me, obviously waiting for a reaction.
But she wasn’t going to get one from me. Because I’m not her friend either. Not just because she is being particularly trying right now, but because I don’t want to be either of my children’s pals.
Before any of you jump down my throat, let me clarify.
Of course, I want a warm, loving, friendly relationship with Immy and her older brother, Theo, five – and I believe I have one.
We have great times together, where we’ll laugh until our tummies hurt or they snuggle up to me and I’ll sniff their hair and have to resist scooping them up into my arms and telling them I want to eat them up because I love them so much.
Or the times I don’t resist and they’ll squirm away, giggling.
Me and my husband Tom make sure their lives are as nice as they can possibly be, organising day trips and special treats we know they’ll enjoy – just last week, we all went to Legoland for the day, where all four of us had an equally brilliant time (something any parent will tell you is hard to come by).
But while all of those times are beyond lovely and are certainly the ones that we will look back on fondly in years to come, being a parent is so much more than just ensuring your children have a good time and laugh at your jokes.
There are other, far more tedious, mundane and downright annoying, parts to raising a child – and those are the parts, I would argue, are the most important.
My job as their parent is to ensure I’m taking care of them, instilling good habits and looking out for their future self
And that is the difference between being a parent and being a friend.
Because no friend is going to insist their pal brush their teeth twice a day, or persuade them to eat their carrots and peas.
No friend is going to remind them to say ‘please’ when they order an apple juice at the local café, or ‘thank you’ every time they step off the bus.
Nor would a friend sit patiently next to their best mate as they struggle through their reading book or recite their times tables with them for the millionth time.
And they certainly wouldn’t demand they went to bed at the right time or reprimand them when they spoke out of turn.
Yet, these are the things that are going to ensure your child grows up into (hopefully) a happy, healthy decent human being who makes a positive difference to the people – and world – around them.
Traits that will, ironically, help them form and maintain lasting and fulfilling friendships – and relationships – throughout their lives.
It can be so hard to put those boundaries in place – after all, your children are the people you love the most and every instinct inside you wants to make them happy.
You certainly don’t want to get into arguments with them, constantly hear say ‘no’ or be the killjoy, forever ruining their fun.
I remember, when I was in primary school, thinking my parents were unnecessarily strict.
They would insist that me and my sister always do our homework on time, that we went to bed on time and walked the dog we’d begged for.
It’s only now as an adult that I appreciate that they were behaving like parents, trying to shape us into the best people we could be.
Equally, it’s only now as a parent that I appreciate just how hard it must have been to maintain that parental role 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Because I find it almost impossible now.
My life would be a lot simpler if I did let my children eat pizza or hot dogs every night for dinner or have chocolate biscuits the minute they woke up, the way they ask.
Or if I did buy them a new toy every time we went to the shop or let them watch television from morning til night.
But what good would that do them, in the long run?
It can be devastating to see their faces either crumple in sadness or screw up in anger when I say ‘no’ for the millionth time or tell them something that they don’t want to hear – but my job as their parent is to ensure I’m taking care of them, instilling good habits and behaviours and looking out for their future self.
And nowadays, the boundaries between friend and parent are more blurred than ever with parenting styles like ‘yes parenting’, where the parent doesn’t believe in saying no to their children, ‘attachment parenting’, which believes that babies need closeness and responsiveness from their parents to become secure, confident children and ‘free-range parenting’, which allows children the freedom to experience the natural consequences of their actions – all becoming more popular.
And I’m not saying I get it right all the time – far from it. I’m forever making mistakes or going back on what I’ve said or taking the easy way out.
But I will keep trying to maintain my role as a parent and never give in to just being a friend. Because being a parent is far more than a role – it’s a responsibility. My responsibility to my children.
They both already have numerous friends – but they only have one mam.
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