It’s a proverb in the Black Community, “I’m not one of your little friends.” If you’re Black or grew up with Black relatives, it’s likely that you’ve heard this one before. I did. It’s a statement intended to produce respect. An adage to assert dominance. Sometimes, it’s a threat. But, it could cause more damage than good.
I’m raising a four-and-a-half-year-old Black daughter and, despite my upbringing, I tell her daily that she’s my best friend. Not because I lack friends. I have great adult friends. Most of my friendships have withstood the tests of time and have transcended into Soul Sisterhoods. My daughter, she’s also my friend, and here’s why:
As a parent, my priority is to keep my daughter safe. The reality is that the older she gets the less control I have over her environment. My daughter starts school in the Fall, that’s eight hours outside of my gaze. As much as I’d like to coddle her in my arms forever, social challenges are inevitable and she needs her mother to be her first ally. If I go around preaching that I’m not her friend, then who can she run to? (Yes, I sang that song and now you are too). Her father and I have drilled into her head to inform a nearby adult at the first sign of distress, but what happens if the bully is an adult? The last thought I want swirling around her head is, “my mom is not my friend.” She needs to know that I am more than a provider and a protector, I’m here for her emotionally.
Friendships have a level of closeness that doesn’t occur among acquaintances. Now here is where the distinction comes in. I love all of my friends, but they don’t serve the same purpose in my life. I have married friends with whom I can discuss relationships on a level that’s difficult for my unmarried friends to relate to. I have mom friends who I can chat with about, well, mom things. Such topics grow stale among my childless friends. And then there’s my husband who I share a level of mental intimacy that no one else has privy to. The same categorization applies to my friendship with my daughter. Just because I’ve added “friends” to our relationship doesn’t mean that I haven’t established boundaries between us. Our friendship is as unique as it is necessary. Friendship with my daughter looks like deep discussions about her fears and insecurities. Chats about her hopes and dreams. Sure, she can still talk with me as her mother, but she’ll want to share them with me as her friend, and I want her to want to (Yup, I’m singing that song too… Clueless, anyone?)
Let’s not act like secrets aren’t the best parts of friendships! Secrets are how many of us formed our friendships. As much as I’d love for my daughter to stay little forever, she’s growing up everyday. And she’s human, she’s going to make mistakes and poor choices. Think back to when you did something that you knew your mother would not approve of. Who was the first person you called? My answer: My friend! Do you know why I called my friend and not my mother? Well, because “she’s (my mother) not one of my little friends.” She set that standard. By establishing myself as my daughter’s friend I’m communicating that “I understand you”. I want to be the first person on her mind even when she knows she’ll disappoint me. Most importantly, this allows me exclusive access into her world. Access that my parents didn’t have into mine. That access could save her life. Constantly reminding her that we’re not friends places me last on her S.O.S. list, and there’s no one in the world with better intentions for her than her me.
Establishing a friendship with my daughter sets a strong foundation for our parenting relationship. Even at the age of four, it’s not lost on her that mom and dad are the bosses. She understands respect mostly because we demonstrate it rather than demand it. If she steps out of line, all it takes is a look and even her spine straightens out. I guess some traditions are not so easy to depart from. But, I’ve realized that the role of parenting a child is the shortest role of her life. She will be our adult daughter longer than she’ll be a child so I must take steps now to set healthy boundaries and create an unbreakable bond. So, yes… I am her mother but I’m also her friend.