Buddy Parenting: Why It’s Okay That My 4-Year-Old Calls Me Her ‘Best Friend’
When my daughter is really furious, uncontrollably and completely enraged, she throws out her most hurtful of hurtful insults at me. It’s a phrase that is not allowed in our house. It’s a phrase that’s been banned from daycare. She knows that it’s bad and that it’ll get her in trouble, whether through a time-out or losing a treat or a privilege. When she just can’t express her anger in any sufficient way, my four-year-old tells me, “You’re not my best friend anymore.”
That’s right, under normal bases, my daughter considers me to be her best friend. It’s not that she doesn’t have playmates her own age. It’s not that she doesn’t look at me as an authority figure. For her, your best friend is the person you want to play with the most. It’s the one you have the most fun with. And since my little girl was little, I’ve been the one to fill that spot.
The New York Times this week wrote about the rise of the pet name, “Buddy.” Of all the nicknames and terms of endearment, they say that “Buddy” is the most prevalent and the most dangerous. Dr. Michele Borba, who wrote The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, explains, ““The gist of Buddy Parenting is the parent’s goal is to be more of a pal than really the parent, the monitor, the overseer. It becomes toxic when you start placing popularity with your kid above establishing limits or saying no.” Our usage of the term “Buddy” is apparently indicative of this generation’s permissive parenting and lack of defined authoritarian roles.
Well, in my house, “Buddy” is the name of our dog. But I’m my daughter’s “best friend” so I’m sure that I would fall into that dangerous category as well.
However, even though my daughter talks about me as her “best friend,” that doesn’t actually leave her confused about the chain of command in this household. In fact, it’s something my daughter is acutely aware of. She complains about it a lot.
My daughter would eat popsicles all day long if given the opportunity. There are mornings where she will attempt to persuade me that she should have a popsicle for breakfast. I say, “No.” She counters by saying that the “fruit bars” are just like eating a banana. I still say, “No.” She says that she’ll eat something healthy for her bedtime snack if she can have a popsicle now. I still say, “No.” And if the debate progresses much further, I ask the ending question, “Brenna, who is in charge in this house?” She normally scowls as she answers, “You are.” To bring the conversation to a close, I reiterate, “What was my answer?” And boom, the great breakfast popsicle debate is closed.
Now, some might say that the situation never had to get that far. I’ve had plenty tell me that my daughter should never debate or try to question my initial answer. A parent’s word should be final. I imagine that those are the same people who believe, like Dr. Borba, that “Buddy parenting” is toxic. Personally, I think my daughter and I have had a lot of substantive conversations when she questioned my opinion and I took the time to explain it to her.
My four-year-old will ask if foods are “healthy.” She’ll expect there to be a healthy component to each meal. And she’ll eat things because she’s told that they will help keep her healthy. That’s not because she’s worried about her figure. It’s because she wanted pizza for dinner three nights in a row and we took the time to discuss nutrition with her to explain why we needed to eat healthy foods to help our bodies grow strong.
My daughter and I have had a lot of really important conversations because I deigned to talk about things that I could have just shut down immediately by virtue of rank. And over the years, I hope we have more of those talks.
What’s more than that, I know that I won’t be my daughter’s best friend forever. A couple years from now, she’ll have a fully-fledged social life. She won’t want her mother to be best friend. And when that time comes, I’ll be okay with it. We’ll still be mother and daughter, and we’ll still be talking.