Because I’m not your friend, I’m your Mother and y is a crooked letter. These were the words most prevalent in my youth. That and because I said so. Those two phrases would frame the narrative of my childhood. My mom was a working single woman raising two daughters in pre-gentrified Brooklyn during the height of the crack epidemic. She was loving, she was sensitive, she was supportive, and she was tough. Mami said no so often that asking permission became a daunting task. Even if my sister and I got the rare yes, our outings were so dubiously micromanaged we would opt to stay home. Overwhelming sure, resentful? No. I’m a teenage mom of four boys, and I get it. I get that parenting is hard and that structure is thought to be the necessary foundation of any home, but it didn’t stop my rebelliousness or prevent me from getting pregnant at seventeen.
Even though I respected my mom and feared her wrath, I still broke the occasional rule behind her back. When my pregnancy was confirmed, I didn’t know how to tell her. I didn’t want mom to think all her single-parenting sacrifices were for naught. I didn’t want her to believe that she was my enabler or that me becoming a teen mom was a reflection of her parenting. Mami was my everything (still is) but she wasn’t my friend and that lack of rapport between us stopped me from confiding in her. It prevented her from being my go-to even when I needed my mother outside of her traditional role.
When I saw the viral video for I’m not your friend, kid! (Because I love you.) I understood the gist. Sure kids need boundaries. They need discipline and rules! Lots of them! They need a heavy dose of good ole parenting spiel that makes them hate us cause if they don’t hate us at least a couple of times a week, then we’re mushes! We’re not doing it right! We’re essentially sucker push-overs raising bad-ass kids who’ll go on to terrorize society. Insert eye roll here.
I’m all for not raising spoiled, entitled and disrespectful children and I agree that our duty as parents is to love our offspring unconditionally BUT along with that love comes honesty and openness and yes friendship. Our kids need to know they can come to us with anything, and we won’t judge them for it. They need to know they can make mistakes, and we’ll help them bounce back from it. They need to be able to trust us with their fears and insecurities because outside of an eight-hour school day we’re the ones they have to live with until they can fair well enough on their own. At the pinnacle of adolescence, there are honest conversations that need to happen. Those conversations may even be uncomfortable to have, but unless we as parents leave a communicative line open, we may never know the particulars of our kid’s outside life.
It took me years as a mother to untangle some of the many conventional ideologies that were passed down to me through the intergenerational relationships of women within my family. Overbearingness is not uncommon in Latino households, and for kids, the amount of pressure to live up to expectation is exhausting. Through trial and error, I found that when I lessened my aggressive approach of enforcer mom, my boys were able to let their guard down, and conversations were fluid. I was no longer considered intimidating, and their enemy.
One-word answers became full-fledged dialogue centered around topics relevant to their lives. They talked, I listened, and their feelings were validated. There were things learned from each other that we may have missed had I been reluctant to change. Our shouting matches have lessened. The energy has shifted, and I look forward to coming home after a long day. Every parent parents differently and no matter how many books exist on the subject of child-rearing there is no right way to raise them. I am friends with my kids. It’s important to me that they know that. It’s what has enabled them to trust me and see me as an ally. Even if I disagree, (and there have been plenty of eyebrow-raising yet teachable moments between us), my ultimate goal is to make sure the kids are alright not perfect.