When my oldest son, who I call my evil genius, was five I gave him a consequence for some minor transgression (probably something like trying to smother his younger brother or painting the dog). His temper flaring, he informed me that I was no longer his friend. To which I smiled and told him, “You are right. I am not your friend. I will never be your friend. I am your mother. And while you will have many friends you will only have one mother. And as your mother I have one job. To raise you right.”
Two days later he slipped up yet again and as I gave him a time out he said to me, “You are not my friend.” So I started in with my speech from a day earlier, “You are right…” But then I was quickly cut off by him saying “Yeah, yeah I know.”
I am a mother of two crazy sons. I’ve spent most of the last dozen years of my life trying to keep them from seriously injuring themselves, destroying our house, and not failing out of school. It’s as exhausting as it sounds. It’s required me to be both loving mother (deeply, crazy, without limits loving) and strict disciplinarian. And until recently there really wasn’t room for friendship. Friends laugh with you. They are in on the joke. They are your partner in crime. They are the lit match to your dynamite. As their mom, I decided early on I had to be the brakes. I had to provide the ballast. I had to be the voice in their heads that asked the question, “Should I be doing this?” In short, I was the anti-friend.
It sucked. A lot. And often. Because they have always been funny, good kids. But kids who constantly tested their limits. Kids who I felt needed boundaries to feel safe and most importantly to learn how to be strong, principled, empathetic human beings. So on the one hand I wanted to be the friend. I wanted to laugh with them—at their irreverence and their naughty behavior. Because my boys are hysterical! But I couldn’t. Because I had to be their mom.
Until something started to shift in the last year. At first it was almost imperceptible. It started out as a mother’s gut feeling. I began to feel like they were in on my joke. That they understood that I had to play the part of mom. And they respected that—and me for sucking it up and being the heavy. But that they realized I was funny and irreverent too. So together we began to walk the line of acknowledging that they were being naughty or mischievous. And as long as it was low level shenanigans I began to laugh with them instead of giving them the “mom-eye.”
Recently I sat my now twelve-year-old evil genius down and told him that I would still always be his mom first and above all else. But now that he was older it would be okay if he needed to tell me something and not have me act like a mom. He could say to me that he needed me to be his friend and I would listen and not judge and not punish but just be there. He seemed to like that concept. As much as middle school boys show interest in anything that isn’t electronic or a football.
My relationship continues to shift with my boys. To the point where I feel like we truly dig each other. I’m not always having to teach a lesson. They have begun to become as much my teachers as I am theirs. Spending time together has become so much more enjoyable and so much less like work—for all three of us. So I stand corrected, someday I will be their friend after all.