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It’s okay to be your kids’ friend

for Brooklyn Paper
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You don’t want to be your kids’ friend, you need to be the parent…”

Such was the advice recently from my mother. While once upon a time I would have stopped to reflect and wonder if in fact that was true, if I was doing it wrong because I wanted to be friends with my kids, this time my response was immediate and resolute.

“Actually, I do want to be their friend,” I said.

I waited for the guilt to set in for disagreeing with my mother, the remorse and self-flagellation surrounding breaking away, around doing it my own way. I waited for the self-doubt that often came from striking out on my own, outside the realm of what others — especially my own mother — thought. But it didn’t come. I am 46 and I have finally figured a few things out, like my own management style.

I remember a friend in college who favored blazers and contemplated her management style at 18.

“Management style?” I remember thinking. I laughed at her seriousness, at her pre-planning. Making a plan is not my way.

But lately, the talk of leadership style has been pervasive. What, in fact, makes a great manager, a great leader, in the home or outside of it? One word sticks out, in any setting: love.

There has to be love. There has to be a solid foundation of understanding that the person “in charge” of you has your best interests at heart, that their belief in your ability to survive and thrive looms above all else. For that to come across, it seems to me, there has to be a certain equality.

Even though the “leader” — be it parent, boss, or president — ideally has some wisdom to impart, there has to be an opportunity for those being led to be respected engaged participants rather than dictated-to underlings. Such a relationship might be called a friendship.

I have certainly questioned my approach to managing others, be it my kids or the people who have worked with me on my non-profit, InspireCorps.

Should I be more dictatorial? Is it my job to tell my kids or people who work for me what to do?

I have mostly opted against this, not out of any pre-determined style I developed in college, but because the way I usually work is by feel, by following my instincts, and by watching when and why people thrive (or don’t.)

People thrive when they are powered by their own ideas and creativity. People thrive when they believe in themselves. People thrive when they trust in their own ability to make decisions. People thrive when they know they are respected equal members of a group.

I wish I could be the dictator of my household sometimes, the “parent” that I’m supposed to be. But I never got the “Ultimate How to Live Handbook” I’ve been searching for. I never received word on what, exactly, is the “right” way to do things that would give me such complete confidence in setting hard and fast rules. So I guess we all have to work together to decide. I guess my home has to be a democracy where all the constituents get to have a say, where our mutual belief in and understanding of one another’s feelings has to be what goes in to any decision.

Yes. I want to be friends with my kids and with anyone who works with me. I want them to like me. I want to please them and I want them to want to please me. I want to live in a household and in a world where we can all of us believe in ourselves and in our power to determine our own fate.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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