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Friends With Your Children

by Tina Toler-Keel


All my life I have heard, “You can not be friends with your children. You must be the leader, the alpha, the boss.” It makes sense. Being best friends with your children, especially daughters, is risky business. Best friends do not want to make one another angry and go along with crazy, harebrained ideas just for the sake of friendship – I know this is true because, well, that’s a story for another time. It’s all too easy to say, “Oh no, that skirt you love isn’t too short. It makes your legs look long and lean,” when you really do not want your child going out of the house looking as if they are headed to a strip club. It’s also easy to want your child’s approval so badly you make irresponsible decisions, such as allowing them to go to a party hosted by the hottest cheerleader in town, even though you know there will be drinking involved and the parents are out of town. This behavior does not make for good parenting.

When my first daughter was born, I was delighted. She was the light of my life, as were the three children who followed in her footsteps. I adored my children. As babies, they were cuddly, adorable, and close to perfect, even when their diapers smelled like the town sewage plant. The toddler years, aw, the terrible two’s, were difficult at times, but once again, I was perfectly happy having multiple tea parties a day, drinking only air, and playing with Rugrat dolls and Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals. I laughed a great deal at their antics during those years, and deeply enjoyed it.

My oldest started school and I just knew things would change between us. No longer would she be my “right hand man” nor would we spend quiet time alone painting our nails or goofing off. She would grow away from me, leaving me in the wake, and take on a life of friends and slumber parties. It broke my heart, but I knew it was simply part of growing up. Besides, we weren’t supposed to be friends, right?

Something strange happened over the years of her schooling. We became closer! Instead of pushing me away, she drew closer to me. When she had her first crush, I was the one she told first. Her first kiss was celebrated by a milk shake with the family and lots of sweet, innocent details. She had a healthy helping of friends, but I was her best one.

When I was in High School, my mother and I had a love hate relationship. I loved her dearly and often liked her, but more often than not, I hated her. I didn’t want her involved in my life, nor did I want to listen to her advice. I thought her ideals for me were old school, unfair, and plain evil. On the worst nights, I thought maybe, just maybe, Mom had been possessed by Satan himself and was out to destroy me. Of course she wasn’t, but it sure felt that way. Most of my friends felt the same way about their own mom’s.

As Emily grew into a teen and started High School, I was prepared. I was ready for the shouting matches, the silent treatment, the ignoring, the temper tantrums, the evil schemes, and all the other things teens are known for. I kept telling myself it wasn’t a direct assault on me, she was just a teen. But as her High School years passed, it never happened. Once again, we drew closer.

It wasn’t perfect by no means. Not by a long shot. Some days were horrid and we argued like the Confederates and the Yankees during the Civil War. She screamed and stomped off, I yelled like a wild banshee. I had my share of nights that I spent crying myself to sleep either so angry at her I could walk off and never return or so worried I thought my heart would burst into flames. It wasn’t fun.

I did not let her get away with misbehaving, bad grades, skipping school, going to wild parties, running all over the place with God only knows who, and it was always clear alcohol and drugs were forbidden. I had no problem saying no when I needed to, expecting her to live up to her responsibilities and dishing out punishment if she didn’t, or tell her that she simply would not walk out of the house wearing a skimpy outfit.