During a recent bus ride from New Jersey to Ohio, a little girl behind me was talking very loudly.
Her mother kept telling her to lower the volume (it was late and people were trying to sleep), but she didn’t care, saying things like “Stop hushing me.”
Listening to their interaction (they were directly behind me), it was almost like this kid saw her mom as her “big playmate” who she had just as much right to boss around.
Interestingly, it seemed as though her mother saw herself that way too. She was very good at talking to her kid on a kid level, but seemed unable or unwilling to do any actual disciplining in the situation whatsoever. It’s hard to be sure, but the impression I got was that the little girl was indifferent to her mother’s bark because she knew it had little bite.
All that is to say this: it was a good reminder for me to be a parent first and a friend second. What my son needs most right now is not a “big buddy.” What he needs most is a responsible, consistent, firm, loving parent who is invested in his growth and willing to discipline.
Does he need a friend as well? Absolutely. He needs to feel that loving, playful, creative – even mischievous – side of me.
But he needs a parent first, and a friend second.
Have you seen the movie The Lion King? Of course you have. Remember that scene where Mufasa corrects Simba for disobeying him? Here’s a refresher if its been awhile:
What a beautiful picture of parent first, friend second. Mufasa is invested in the maturing of his son. He’s not afraid to rebuke. Yet he playfully wrestles with Simba right afterwards. I LOVE that.
Now, as my son (and daughter on the way) get older, I hope they will need less parenting because they will be growing in personal responsibility. Ideally, they will always have a place for “Dad”, but the meaning of that word will change as I become more of their friend.
In the short term, being a friend first is easier. You have fun, avoid hard conversations/discipline, think your little buddy is so cute (and mine is).
But over the long term, it’s harder. Your kid creates chaos for you, others, and themselves because they’re lacking what they need most: a loving, firm parental figure who helps to guide them in the right direction.
Some Scripture that comes to mind:
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 NLT
It’s tempting to want to be a friend first right now. But I know that’s not the way. I want to raise Godly, disciplined, responsible children who have the growing capacity for friendship with mom and dad because they’ve experienced healthy parenting from us.
I have no idea if my read of that bus situation was accurate or not. Sometimes kids act up no matter how great the parenting they receive is.
But if I was picking up on something, I hope that little girl gets the parental discipline and direction that she needs. She’ll be better for it, and so will everyone around her.