Friend or Friendly Authority?

Most parents want their children to like them. Some parents go overboard and depend on their child’s approval. They ask their children for permission to change anything in their lives and end their requests for cooperation with the nagging question, “Okay?” Instead of using an enforceable statement like, “The car leaves in 10 minutes,” some parents say things like, “We really need to be going now, okay??” or “Finish getting ready please so we can get to school this morning.” Most parenting experts warn that needing your child to be your friend is a dead end street.

There is a difference between trying to be friends with your child and being a friendly authority figure in their lives. Trying to be a friend causes us to tiptoe around anything that disagrees with them or inconveniences them in any way. We pick up their toys rather than argue with them about it. We do their chores so they can continue playing the video game they are enjoying. Such friendship resembles servitude more than friendship.


A friendly authority figure will have meaningful conversations, take walks in the park and play with their children. The relationship is positive and upbeat and yes, friendly, but it doesn’t shy away from giving direction or correction when necessary.

One example of a friendly authority figure was found in Dr. Charles Fay’s Love and Logic Parenting email last week. It had to do with cell phones. Dr. Fay recommended that parents allow cell phones only when the child can afford to pay for the privilege. If something happens to the cell phone, parents should not rush out to replace it. Most importantly, if the cell phone becomes a problem, it should be taken away for a while.


A parent who insists on being a friend to their child will shudder at these suggestions because they are afraid to cross their children. They are fearful of losing their child’s goodwill. They can’t bear the thought of the child getting mad about something that they require or enforce as a logical consequence. As adults, even insurance has deductibles. It doesn’t reinforce reality for our child to run out and play mister money bags just because they are careless with their expensive possessions. If they have to save up for a while, they learn multiple lessons in the process. That’s good for them.


Empathy is the golden ingredient that keeps our discipline positive. We can be truly sad when phones disappear unexpectedly. We can reflect the loss in our words and affectionate comfort and over time, our support for their savings plan. Being sarcastic isn’t being friendly. Saying, “I told you to keep your eyes on that thing,” is hurtful and spiteful. A loving, friendly parent can still empathize with their child’s pain.


Find the balance this week between friendship and friendly authority. It may take practice but listen to your words, watch your attitude and actions, and avoid servitude and sarcasm. Make your home a place where love rules but reality is honored. Rather than trying to create a bubble where no negative feelings are ever allowed to occur, create a safe place where negative feelings and events find comfort, empathy and friendly authority.

Dr. Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.