Question. How do we characterize the relationship that most parents have with their children in human terms? Are they friends, acquaintances, enemies, or perhaps virtual strangers, living together in the same household? I'd suggest that we don't commonly consider children to be worthy of friendship.
It should be a reasonable question to ask why it is that so many parents feel that children are the only segment of humanity that is worthy of being generally treated in a disrespectful and demeaning manner. Perhaps part of the problem stems from parents taking advantage of the fact that kids are so quick to forgive a parent for treating them in crass, insensitive ways.... many kids even come to feel deserving of being treated as lesser beings who represent a lesser value in this world. I'd like to have a dollar for every time I've seen a parent cordially smiling at an adult, suddenly turn to snarl at their child for whatever reason, then turn back to the adult again with a warm friendly smile as if they had just suffered a Schizophrenic episodic break from reality.
We don't threaten our friends with violence to get our own way, or glare menacingly at them as a warning of impending violence as a means of intimidation. We take care not to dismiss what our friends have to say. It's very rude to do so. We don't physically punish friends to correct their undesired behavior, or to gain a measure of retribution for having offended us. And we don't hit our friends as a display of our caring, or as a means of getting them to do what we want them to do.
Some might say that, unlike the parent-child relationship, one is not responsible for the welfare of friends. I would disagree. Others might say that while children need discipline, friends do not. Not true. In establishing successful relationships we define the parameters of what behaviors are acceptable to us. In doing so, we discipline (teach) the other person as to how the relationship might succeed. For example, we verbally correct the other person when they engage in behavior that is unacceptable to us. Others yet might argue that a student-teacher relationship cannot involve friendship. Again, I would disagree. Many successful friendships involve one party taking a leadership role in the relationship.
The level of esteem (respect) in which we are willing to hold another depends on how we view that other person. If we are of a mind that the other person is not worthy of our consideration or esteem, we either avoid them, or treat them rudely. I think everyone would have to agree that kids are much more prone to being treated rudely than adults. As a matter of fact, most of us would probably be hard-put to remember the last time we heard an adult refer to a child as having been treated rudely...kids are rarely afforded such considerations.
It seems to me that parents should strive to be the best of friends with their children because parents are in a position to be the most important friend their children would ever have. In friendship, a parent serves in the role of a trusted, supportive confidant who possesses a great deal of wisdom to share and impart about the more important aspects of everyday life. It's a tragedy to me that so many parents emotionally drive their children away because they are under the misguided illusion that they at times need to treat their children as adversaries. We adults are quick to lose trust, become closed-off emotionally, and are less apt to communicate openly with a friend who would hit us, or otherwise treat us in ways that clearly indicate that they have little regard for our feelings or worth. It's certainly no different for children.
I'm defining 'friend' in the broadest sense, without stipulations or conditions...a relationship consisting of love, respect, honor, warmth, and open communication. I think it's sadly ironic that parents would choose to deny friendship to their kids in light of the fact that kids desperately need and want little more than the very friendship they are being denied.
Given the relatively recent establishment of positive discipline as a more effective means of discipline than the traditional punitive approaches, perhaps we, as a society, will begin to entertain the possibility that adults can establish genuine friendships with children. Before laughing at such a notion, we should keep in mind that just 50 years ago, many men would be quick to laugh at the notion of women being considered friends. Beyond that, men generally viewed the women of less than a century ago as being in need of a strong, guiding hand in their lives. Husbands were willing to take-on this disciplinary responsibility, just as many parents today make the claim that they have a responsibility to treat their children in a disrespectful, demeaning manner in the name of a strong, guiding hand...a position that destroys any possibility of establishing a friendly relationship in the true sense of the word. It's truly ironic that many women of today deny their children that which they were once commonly denied as a gender...that being the invaluable concept of friendship with a loved one.
Children are people too. And, as such, they are as deserving of loving friendship as the rest of us. Friendship is not a different matter when it comes to children any more than it's a different matter for any of us who come from varying worlds of perception, education, or level of development.