Parents as Pals

Surveys show my generation reports stronger relationships with their parents than past generations. That is, my friends and I aren’t rebelling against our parents at all. Instead, we see them as friends. Our parents, however, saw their parents as anything but pals — it was a more conventional parent-child relationship.

This shift in attitudes seems to be peculating to the generation after me, too. When I talk to my 30-something year-old friends who have 5-6 year-old kids, they tell me they’d love to be friends with their children.

A University of Michigan survey showed that the average child now spends 31 hours a week with his mother, up from 25 hours a week in 1980. A ’97 Gallup survey said 96% of teenagers said they got along with their parents and roughly 75% of teens said they shared their parents’ general values. In 1974, on the other hand, a majority of teens told pollsters they could not "comfortably appraoch their parents with personal matters of concern." (Source: On Paradise Drive by David Brooks)

Parents as pals certainly raises some questions. How does the transmission of morals work in a more peer relationship? How does the institution of family change? We already see the habits of family change (less than half of American families eat together each night), and perhaps adjustments in the relationship amongst members is driving some of that.

8 comments on “Parents as Pals
  • Interesting point Ben. Parenting, more than anything else is often an exercise in judging and avoiding judgment.

    I’m not sure what a “friend” means. In fact, I sometimes have difficulty defining what I am to Zoe. Yes, I’m her dad, but what does that mean?

    Of course, as I’ve said many times, anything that divides ultimately leads to conflict. And let’s face it even if parents and kids are “buds”, what a bud is to 5 year old is not what a bud is to a 37 year old like me.

    For me, I do my best to be honest with Zoe. I am open to what she shows me and am free in admitting that I simply don’t know her truth.

    The tough part about for me is living free of good or bad or right or wrong with someone who everyone in the world seems to believe must be present to be a “good parent”.

    Lastly for me, I laugh, ALOT with Zoe. We do silly things (I called her the Silliest Billie in the world tonight, she corrected me by pointing that her grandpa is, touche, I agree. And in order for me to free myself from categorization I have to earnestly look at how I was raised and how my parents were raised and come to terms with myself and accept myself for all that I am.

    Great “blog post” bud.


  • You bring up a good point, Tim, about what a “pal” means. The word “friend” now has so many uses — Facebook Friends, Friends on a business level, true personal friends, etc.

    In this post when I say “pal” or “friend” I mean the kind of personal relationship two good adult people have, independent of business.

    Your other words are moving, as always, though I am always uneasy when people talk about “how they were raised” as fundamental to their being.

  • Do you think the time spent with children increases as a result of the “world as it is now”, less children pounding around on bikes as the safety of the past decreases? I rarely saw kids “hanging around” the neighborhood with friends in SoCal when I lived there. I hear of parents driving kids with bikes on the car so they can ride them in a park. No more riding to soccer, baseball, golf, swimming, etc.

  • I’m 51. I was friends with my dad, but not my mother. My father and I had a lot in common–enthusiasm, optimism, a sense of fun and love of music.

    I’m a single parent of three kids, and they all seem to like me a lot, even the rebellious teenager. I make a special effort to start his day with something funny–lately, it’s been the latest Youtube video, or a blog posting–so that he can carry something positive with him.

    My adult daughter seeks my advice first. I still avoid telling my mother anything. I think the difference is that I like my kids, and it shows.

  • The key to parents and children being pals is shifting the nature of the relationship from control to influence.

    As I’ve written and commented on in the past (alas, can’t find the link right now), influence is a far more sustainable basis for a relationship than control.

    As a parent, I can easily carry a toddler, kicking and screaming, away from a situation I’d like them to avoid. I can’t do the same for a 16-year-old.

    Someday, your children will be too big to physically dominate as well as financially independent. If you try to control them then, you’ll only engender resentment.

    Better to start the relationship on the right footing to begin with. This doesn’t mean abdicating parental responsibility–it just means treating your kids like their thoughts and desires actually matter.

  • Upon making the move from Philly down to UMiami, my mother and I spent about four days just exploring the city. It was really great, giving us a chance to catch up on things.

    Furthermore, as the days progressed we started to speak in Spanish to one another very frequently. Everywhere we went, all of the waiters, cab drivers, etc. spoke Spanish to both of us right away.

    (On another note, do I even look Hispanic?

    Most people think I’m Italian, rather than a 1/2 Jew 1/2 Mexican American…)

    Connecting with each other, in two languages no less, was pretty enlightening. Not to mention, every word of Spanish spoken ended up with us getting anywhere from 10% to 15% off our bill!

    My Dad on the other hand? We’re two VERY different people, but as time goes on I think we both realize/repsect that. Still, whenever I have news or need to speak with someone at home, it’s always Mom first…

  • I think it’s nice that parents and their children treat each other as pals. But there are also disadvantges on that kind of relationship. If indeed, they have this relationship, they also need to establish limitations

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