I’m sure you’ve seen the scene play out, or you’ve been a character in the scene. The scene where a child says something the parent doesn’t like and the parent aggressively responds with, “I’m not one of your little friends!” Oh yes, it’s a line that has echoed through time. A statement designed to remind the child of their place in a parent’s life. A way to exert power and authority over a child. A phrase designed to demand respect, and instill fear in the child at the same time.
I must say, I’ve used the line a time or two, usually when I ‘felt some type of way’ about how one of my children responded to something I said or asked them to do. I too have used the phrase as a way to remind my children of my power and authority over them. The last time this scene played out at my house I was taken back, not by my children’s response, but by the response in my own head. Immediately after saying it I heard, “Why aren’t you one of their friends?”
I looked around thinking, what kind of crazy thought is this? Excuse me?! Yes, this was me talking to myself out loud. Immediately, I thought about the verse in the Bible where Jesus says he calls us friend. Because I usually have a song in my head, it was only natural that Israel Houghton’s “Friend of God” starting playing in the background of my thoughts. My attention trailed from what my children said to thinking more about this idea of being my children’s friend.
***INSERT ISRAEL HOUGHTON GIF***
A few days after this happened I shared the story with a good friend. I also explained how I recently noticed how much my daughter was following me more. She’d been getting into my shoes, clothes, and makeup and just mimicking things I do. My friend shared her experience growing up as her mother’s only daughter. It was a perspective I’d never heard before, and definitely not from a black parent. She shared how she learned from her mother that parenting is the ultimate exercise in code-switching because a child has different needs at different stages and phases of life that will require you to alternate between multiple languages with them.
I processed her perspective while thinking about my childhood. I grew up with an older sister, so naturally I wanted to do all the things she did. I got into her clothes, her shoes, her cosmetics and anything else she didn’t have under protective lock-and-key, or carry on her person to school so I didn’t get in to it. My daughter is the oldest girl. She doesn’t have an older sister, or immediate female cousin, to help shape her young girl experience. I’m it.
My friend went on to share that she and her mom were mother and daughter and there was a strong respect in that relationship dynamic, but they were also friends. She recalled a time at a young age when she challenged her mother on something, and her mom admittedly replied, “You’re right!”
Just Think About … If Not You, Who?
Just think about it, who else is a better person to learn about friendship than from a parent. We’re here to be teachers. Now, I’m not saying let children be disrespectful and live without boundaries, but I do think there’s an opportunity to switch our language to communicate with our children in a way that creates space for them to feel like they can talk to their friend respectfully.
I think about how often females struggle to have healthy relationships with other females. They struggle to communicate effectively. I mean, we live in a time where women are made paid celebrities for talking crrrrazy to each other. They are celebrated for violating friendships. I also think about young males who see this behavior on display, and are led to believe this is the way to communicate to their female friends.
Where do most of us learn how to be a friend? Who taught us healthy communication in relationships? The reality is, we do what we know. We repeat the behaviors that were modeled for us in our homes. As I thought about it, I realized as a mother, I have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to my children how to communicate in different languages, including the language of friendship.
If they don’t learn from me, then who will they learn from, and what will those friends teach them? This brings be back to the thought that originally perplexed me, “Why aren’t you one of their friends?”. Talking to my friend and questioning tradition led me to a new revelation on my role and responsibility as a parent. A wise proverb says, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” and that friend has inspired me to also be a friend, including being a friend to my children.
As a mother, I have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to my children how to communicate in different languages, including the language of friendship.