Just the other day, my father called me “just to talk” because he was bored waiting for my mother to come out of the store. He literally wanted to shoot the shit with me. And that’s when I tried to mentally pinpoint the moment when my parents and I became “friends.”
I would estimate that since I graduated college and experienced all of the other cliché adult milestones, my parents have naturally shifted from the authority figures in my life to their current roles of “life consultant,” “confidant,” and “friend.” I go to them for advice, but we all leave the conversation knowing that I am ultimately going to do what is best for me, and they respect that and trust I can make sound decisions while still taking into consideration their opinions.
Growing up was another story. The first of three children, it was very hard for me to break barriers and gain permission to do things my peers were doing with ease. I wasn’t allowed to date. I had a ridiculous curfew and was rarely allowed to sleep away from home. There was a very clear parent/child divide where they were my parents, first and foremost.
Not to say I didn’t “get away” with things. Like most teenagers, I mastered the art of stretching the truth. I almost feel like that in itself is a common milestone in most teens lives: getting one over on your parents. I snuck alcohol into soda bottles, I changed into a shorter skirt once I got to a friend’s house. But more times than not, even if I sighed heavily and slammed my bedroom door while screaming “this is unfair!” I did not disobey my parents regularly. I never had the desire to rebel. In hindsight, I am pretty sure their rules for me were in my best interest in the long run.
As I grew up, hopefully made them proud, and became a functioning member of society, I naturally began to make my own decisions – for better or for worse. I never had to say to them, “I am BLANK years old; I am going to make my own choices now. Back off!” It was organic. I didn’t get the look of death if I slipped and said a profanity in front of my father. I began talking to my mother as if she was another one of my girlfriends – about real life situations, some of which were not pretty. It was during these intimate conversations that a true friendship was molded, and I realized my parents were regular people, who were my age at one point, crossing the same bridges and making the same mistakes. The invisible parent/child line began to dissolve as they saw that I was an adult too, just like them.
These days, I find that more and more often, parents are “pals” right off the bat with their children. And that might work for some, but I don’t think that would’ve worked for me. I am thankful my parents did not become my friends until later in life. My most formative years, they were my parents – plain and simple — the ones who had to say “no” even if they knew I would be let down. My parents weren’t afraid of not being my favorite person that day if it meant I couldn’t go on a three day prom binger. A lot of my friend’s parents, especially parents of my younger sibling’s friends, were considered the “cool parents.” They were a bit younger, stayed up on the latest fashion trends, and got their nails and hair done regularly. They supervised house parties involving kegs and promiscuous activity for their kids before their children even held a valid driver’s license.
We all know those parents. They seemed to be trying to live vicariously through their children. And though at times I wished my parents swayed a little bit in some of their rules, I never wished my mom and dad could be like the “cool parents.”
I would come home after spending some time with those other parents and I would hug my mom a bit tighter. I was so happy she didn’t rifle through my closet, looking for a mini skirt to borrow (I have a younger sister for that.) I am relieved my father wasn’t buddy-buddy with every tool I dated growing up. He was, and still is, my protector, and the one person I never want to let down.
Today, I find myself being thankful for the boundaries and expectations my parents placed on me. Now, I am not saying that these “cool parents” didn’t have expectations for their own children. I am not saying they didn’t love their children. I am simply saying that I needed my parents to be the kind of parents they were when I was growing up. I needed rules. I needed boundaries. I needed to not be “Yes’d” to death when I was an impressionable kid. In a way, they prepared me more than they even realize to be the independent individual I am today. Rules, boundaries, and not getting your way are a constant part of everyday life.
It seems that when we are kids, we can’t wait to grow up, and then we grow up and we attempt to travel back to those days but it’s too late. It’s as though childhood innocence, imaginations, beliefs in mythical creatures and the idealized model they epitomize – have an even more limited shelf life than ever before. Humans are rapidly growing up before they should, before they even master the art of being a child. I am thankful my parents and I did not become friends until I was an adult because their rules helped me remain a “kid” for a little bit longer.
It took some time, but my parents ARE the “cool parents” now. I love hanging out with them. I take a sincere interest in their lives just as much as they care about mine. They are more human and real to me than they ever were before, but my dad still manages to be my hero and my mom is still the best, most selfless person I know. They have instilled in me the importance of not rushing through life, not constantly racing towards the next “phase.” I hope to instill in my children the same appreciation for the saying “everything has a right time and a right place.” And one day, after they are grown and have lives of their own, and I call them “just to talk” while I wait for my husband to get out of the store, I really hope they see a “friend” calling and answer the phone.