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Can Parent-Child Relationship Include Friendship?

I am in the middle of interviewing a parenting expert when she says, "We are mothers, not our kids' friends."

Aghast, I reply, "I consider myself to be friends with my boys! In fact, we call ourselves friends!"

After all, we giggle together over silly jokes, spend time tossing the football back and forth and look forward to snuggling over our latest Harry Potter book and talking about our hero's complex world.

Of course, we love them, but my husband and I also truly like our boys and enjoy their company. We are richer people for having experienced their curiosity, humor and kindness.

The expert asks, "Well, do they listen to you?" "Absolutely!" I say.

"You're fine, then," she says. But, of course, the conversation stuck with me and I began to second-guess myself. They listen to me. One of them does, anyway.

"Oh no," I think. "I've said the word friend to my children! What have I done?"

Susan Epstein, founder of Parenting Powers in New London, believes telling our children that we are friends can be confusing to them when we need to set limits.

"You are their life coach. You are their role model. The voice of reason," she says. This family therapist says there are several different words to describe the various styles of parenting. We can be controlling, disengaged or permissive, such as the dad on "Modern Family." Hysterical as he may be, he acts like a goofy sidekick.

Epstein believes we should all be striving to be authoritative parents, like another famous TV father, Cliff Huxtable, played by the Bill Cosby, who was fun yet also commanded respect. "We want to use humor, but when all is said and done, you are the authority," she says.

Epstein believes that if we are too committed to filling the friend role, we run the risk of interfering with our child's playdates with their peers. If we insert ourselves too much into their play we could prevent them from navigating some social situations on their own which teaches them real life lessons.

"They need some privacy," says Epstein. But, she is clear: this doesn't mean we shouldn't find time to throw the Frisbee, concoct make-believe stories or put together Lego with our kids.

"It's important to spend quality time playing with your children," she says. In fact, building a strong relationship with small children that includes easy, open communication is vital for the future. When they become teens and are faced with issues such as sex, drinking and drugs, they need to know that they can talk to us. "You want them to be super comfortable with you," says Epstein.

I've stopped doubting myself. Sure, my youngest son challenges me on occasion, but that has more to do with his wonderfully strong-willed personality than my use ofthe f-word. I am not afraid to set rules and limits; so, I've come to realize that, sure, we're friends, but we're also so much more. We are confidants, occasional adversaries, mentors and students. There isn't just one word to describe the incredibly multi-layered relationship between parent and child.

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