My Buddy and Me

Perhaps it all began in the latter half of the 20th century when a new trend in parenting spread amongst those who were fairly new in their “careers” as parents. Establishing one’s role as a parental figure in the early stages of a child’s development is no easy task and the additional weight of societal and social influences does not simplify it for anyone.

Most of the time we blame the media for manipulating our choices, while other times we hold our family and friends responsible. And then there are times when it is the popularity of a certain toy or doll that may affect our judgment calls as parents. Remember the once popular, adorable and charming doll, My Buddy? Little boys everywhere were begging for “a buddy” and the term “my buddy” seemed to have left an indelible impression on a large majority of the American parent body.

Many of us outgrew our use for what had become old-fashioned terms of endearment between parents and children. Expressions like, “dear boy”, “sweet child” or “little one” appeared to have lost their effectiveness in communicating the message of love between parent and child. Maybe the younger generation of parents were too cool or too hip to use such stuffy language or maybe the phrase “My Buddy and Me”, intended to convey a kinship between a child and his doll, hit a mark that would change the face of parenthood forever.

In reality, are our offspring really our friends? Did we live our own lives, go through our own school years and form our own social circles to become in our thirties and forties, or even our fifties, buddies with our five and six year olds? Let’s delve into this question a little further by asking ourselves two more questions. Firstly, what are the results (or repercussions) of forging a friendship with our child as opposed to creating a positive parent -child relationship? Secondly, what does the title of parent compel us to be, a friend or a role model?

When our children are young and we very much matter in their lives, we seem to crave and desire this idea that one day they’ll be our best friends. Whether this is a new societal trend or a fulfillment of some insecurity within us, or both, we begin to form friendships rather than relationships by using phrases like “hey, buddy” or “great job, Pal”. In essence, what we really are doing is relaying a message to our son (or daughter) that he is included in our social circle. We may scoff at this notion now but as our children grow up and they hear about our “poker pals” and our “drinking buddies” can they differentiate themselves from Dads (or Moms) real friends if they too are Dad’s buddies?

What happens to the boundaries that are supposed to exist between parents and their children? We expect our children to be disciplined and learn to respect and honor us, yet we dub them buddies and pals. We know all too well as adults, that candor and casualness between friends is normal if not sought after. We don’t want our friendships to be stiff and formal so we use adult jokes, language and innuendos to make it fun. When we call our kids buddies, we are in effect inviting them into a world that lacks restrictions and formality. We cannot possibly expect them to talk and act respectfully toward us unless we have clearly established that there are boundaries between us and them. Creating positive, loving and long- lasting relationships with our children begins with how we talk to them and how we teach them to talk to us. How they perceive us is how they will react to us.

So are we as parents meant to capture our children’s hearts by being their buddies, pals, friends etc. or do we have a higher, more powerful calling?

We tend to spend a lot of our time trying to please our children. “Hey, Buddy, did you have a good time?” “Are you having fun, Pal?” By constantly asking such questions, we are not only undermining our authority over our kids but we are actually begging them to like us. As much as we hope that our kids love us in return for the unconditional love we shower upon them, our children do not have to like us. Our real friends and buddies have to like us but our children do not.

We were not given our role as parents to be our children’s friends. We as their parents have the responsibility of helping them grow up to be well-functioning and productive people in society. We are supposed to be role models who teach them how to communicate with others and how to build healthy relationships with those around them. To do so requires love, discipline, fortitude and authority.

Our children may “hate” us in the process but if our true goal is to raise healthy minded individuals who are capable of loving and giving back, then they will not only love and respect us but one day they will thank us for being their parent and not their “buddy”.

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  1. AMEN, Ellen! What a well-written and pointed article. I really appreciate this encouragement to do what we are meant to do: be parents, not friends.

    My husband and I are now “older” parents of a large family. We are 56 & 54, and we have 10 children ranging in age from 31 to almost 8. None of our children have been ‘buddies’ or ‘pals’ but they are all growing up to keep in close contact & share intimately with us on an adult level. I don’t think I could ask for better results. And we have done it pretty much as you describe. Thank you for your wisdom.

    Linda Reed

  2. I think this article has a great underlying message and I agree that there has to be a distinction between being a friend and a parent to our children. But I disagree that our children dont need to “like” us… I think that friendship comes naturally when we provide “love, discipline, fortitude and authority”.

    I believe the key is not to strive for friendship, but to provide what children crave (“love, discipline, fortitude and authority”) and therefore the friendship will form naturally and be ever-lasting. Too many parents do try to please their children’s every whim which is not only detrimental to their character but will frustrate them because they need that structure and “no” to help them prepare for the real world.

    I just have a hard time with the concept of my children “not liking me” -maybe because I am part of the “My Buddy” generation 🙂

    Thanks for the stimulation… made me think of how I approach my 3 children! jc

  3. Hear Hear!

    I was afraid to read your article as I thought it might say we SHOULD be buddies.

    One can be the parent with authority and still be very loving and kind to their child. It is not buddy to child = loving parent and plain old parent = mean parent.

    Sometimes to guide our children to do the right or better thing, they may not like the decision and they say they “hate” us or they express anger toward us. That is okay with me. I’d rather do the right thing by my children and have them be temporarily mad at me now then do the wrong thing and have possibly life-altering negative ramifications later.

  4. Traditional Nebraska Mom says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article about treating children like good friends. I have memories of staying at my friends’ houses in elemetray school and sitting in shock as they used adult profanity to talk and even refer to their parents, who where present, and they didn’t receive any discipline. As we hit our teenage years, these friend had terrible relationships with their parents. As I went through college I saw parents coming to parties with their underage children, which just didn’t seem quite right. Now as I watch my generation become parents and start to repeat the same cycle, I’m glad to know that others see that there can be repercussions to their “my buddy” parenting.

  5. This truly struck a cord with me. I too am part of the “My Buddy” generation. I viewed “buddy” as a peer to a child, not as a part of a parent/child relationship. Yet, mentoring programs between adults and children where they are “buddies” or “pals” have proven to be effective in establishing self esteem and good citizenship in these children and young adults and to steer then toward a path of positive choices and decisions. I have 7 children ages 3-25 and have always made the distinction between parent and child, but as Jenn said with “love, discipline, fortitude and authority”. I also believe that I share a friendship with each child as they age (and my parents), but at a different level than that of my “peers”. Perhaps it would be more the development of kinship? There are real boundaries. My mother, whom I lost this past October, was in every sense of the word, my best friend. I had that special bond with her and knew at every moment that she was my mother and respected her as that. In today’s world there are many that fail to establish boundaries, guidelines and rules for their children and they fail to apply consequences to their actions if natural consequences do not occur. This is where the parent is failing to do just that and instead attempts to be a friend only. Perhaps they had not been parented themselves as we see in rising numbers…great article, thank you for the keen insight.

  6. Maybe it is because I am from the generation that I am (I am 37yrs) but can’t we have both?
    Or atleast some middle ground where our children love and respect us as parents and yet still like us atleast most of the time?

    Growing up I remember times where I couldn’t stand my parents however I always had great respect and love for my Mother. Deep down I do think I always liked my mother I just didn’t like all the things she did. Nor did I understand what it was like for her to be Mom.

    I clearly remember the moment when I relized everything I had put her through. I was a mom of 4 and my 4th child (son)was missing (we found him playing behind his school). I was a mess with worry. After we found him and all was right I called my Mother up and told her I was sorry for everything I have put her through during my childhood,teen years, and even adulthood.

  7. tcollins says:

    I do believe in the difference between being buddies to our children and being parents to our children. I do not agree that the difference is defined by the terms with which we refer to our children. I have a parent/child relationship with my 2 boys and yet I refer to them as buddy. They respect me and my husband but yet we can laugh and play and have a great time together, on their level not on an adult level. Also, I find it terrible to think that I am doing something wrong when I take my children to do something special and ask them if they are having a good time or not. Am I taking that piece of the article to rigidly?

  8. Martha K says:

    So you’re saying if I call my child “buddy” or “pal” he can’t possible respect me as a parent? Not my experience. I often say “Come on Bud” to my son, 10, to get him going. We are very close, and I hope that makes it easier for him to talk to me about (almost) anything in his life especially the hard stuff. I also have instilled in him that his father and I are his parents and authority, and if I ask him to “Come” he should do so immediately without questioning. I have also given him clear signals when I mean business (Counting. When he hears “One…”, he clicks into attention because I have established if I get to “Three,” There will be consequences. I rarely have to say “Two…”) I have also discussed with him “free will” and that he CAN choose not to listen, but again there will be consequences. One can not make a child do as asked everytime. In fact those early days are full of them doing thing that they do not yet know are wrong. Then, there is the age of consciousness when they discover they can disobey -toddler and beyond. I CAN make decisions about his life and activities and the consequenses of his actions. I find it is the children who are ignored who are the worst behaved. I think most of us know the pitfalls of trying to cajole, ignore or bribe our children into behaving. Calling him “Pal” or “Bud” will not undermine you. Hopefully, you are old enough not to have “drinking buddies” rather friends with whom you socialize. I hope whatever choices you make work for you. Mine work for me.

  9. Celeste says:

    Right on the money! When my boys were little, and I made a decision they did not like, I’d hear, “you are so mean,” or worse, “I hate you!” I’d say, “Thank you. If you think I am mean, I must be doing a good job. God put me in authority over you, and you have to do what I say. You don’t have to like it, just do it.” The oldest is now married with two kids of his own, and he understands that wisdom now!

  10. I am a 32 year old mother of soon to be 5 (due in aug, 1, 2, 8, 9). I agree wholeheartedly with the notion of our kids not being able to be our friends and still be imparted with the respect that should be given to a parent. I always wanted my daughter, which is my oldest to be my friend in the sense that we could talk about anything and hang out like I do with my girlfriends. That can’t happen because like the article says, the kids get confused as to what their boundaries are. Growing up I didn’t like my mom, today you couldn’t keep us apart. She bought me a plaque that says “A daughter and a friend, A blessing twice” what a wonderful gift. Discipline doesn’t feel friendly to kids, boundaries doesn’t seem very nice to kids and in no way will they ever perceive it as being so. I think we as parents need to stick to being our kids parents, teach them & talk to them. Everything doesn’t need to be explained but try to convey a message that what you are doing is out of love and hopefully one day they will grow to understand it.

  11. Susie T says:

    As an upper-grade elementary teacher, I have seen through the years how we are reaping what has been sown with the generation of parents who are afraid of their children’s disapproval or unhappiness. It ain’t pretty.

    Rather than seeking their approval of activities, I think it’s entirely appropriate to review the day with your child– What was the best part about today? What didn’t you like? What would YOU do to make it better? — in order to plan future events with them and help your child process what they experienced.

    If we are honest, we parents will admit there are times when we simply don’t like our children. We always love them, but we don’t always like them. They feel the same way about us at times, as has been mentioned above.
    I never felt the desire to be my three kids’ friend; I had friends my own age with similar interests. Besides, I’m not gonna live forever. They needed to learn how to have friends of their own. Now as adults and parents themselves, our relationship is different, but the mentoring never ends. One of my kids, in an early Mother’s Day card, complimented me on being such a great role model. That made me prouder than anything else they could have said to me. I work with kids at my church in both mentoring and teaching situations. I pray that I am also serving them as an adult role model who shows unconditional love and acceptance and gives them guidance when needed.

  12. AMEN Celeste! I say “I must be doing something right… they’re all mad at me again.” Now, my kids (all 10 of them!) are very close to me. Someone drops by or calls nearly every day (only 4 still live at home). But they sure have had (and still do have) their times of being very upset with me. The Lord does not intend for me to be their friend 100% of the time, but even if I was, they’d still get mad at me, just as they do at their ‘buddies’!

  13. Michelle M. says:

    I can not believe that calling my son “buddy” will do any more harm than calling his sister “honey”! I agree wholeheartedly with the intent of this article, but find it ridiculous to focus on the nicknames we may call our children rather than the parenting skills we are practicing!

  14. Hi Michelle M.

    I think the article was just using the nicknames that we use to imply that our children are our buddies. If we say our kids are our buddies, then they don’t have the mental capacity to distinctfully say to themselves “this is just a nickname”. The intent of the article I believe was to help parents realize that our jobs are thankless and not-so desired job and our kids are not our friends until they have the mental capacity to rationalize and understand what our role as parents are. I call my daughter baby, and pumpkin but neither of those imply that she is my equal it’s a term of endearment.


  15. I don’t equate giving respect to someone with being “stiff and formal,” and I hope I am raising my children to respect their friends regardless of how casual the language is that they use with each other. “Candor and casualness” does not preclude respect, and I don’t believe that discipline on its own will earn respect.

  16. Jim Tirey says:

    I agree that you cannot be your child’s friend, but I do not think that relationship stems from the name you use to refer to your child. I have always called my oldest son “Buddy” and he has always been proud to have a nickname from his Daddy. I call my youngest son “Pal,” but not because I consider him my peer. I also call my daughter Sawyer “Sawbug” sometimes, but I don’t think that she is actually a bug.

  17. I am a Christian, a minister, a Dad AND a great big BEST buddy to my two twin children. they love AND respect me and we use terminology with one another that conveys closeness. The laces where I choose to instill the parental role is in the boudaries I provide. The decisions I make for them. The underlying all-to-obvious distinction that I am the one in control, and that the perceived friendship will not cloud my perntal decision-making capabilities. Sometimes they call me “Dad”, sometimes “Daddy”, rarely “buddy.” But when they do… I smile, because in the midst of this difficult journey of parenting children, yes, there is room for that kind of relationship as well.

  18. Sue Herdt says:

    Thank you soooo much, Ellen, for this reminder that we are blessed to be a parent, and now it is up to the child to develop friendships with others. Our kids are worth our committment as parents and role models! I am on a Parent Involvement Committee with the Nebraska Department of Education, and I often refer others to your site and go there myself, of course. You never cease to amaze me with your insight and understanding. I am grateful for this fabulous network! See, parents, we are not alone. Take care and God bless.

  19. Usually I read the articles on this site and totally agree. Today I read through and found that I totally disagree. I disagree that we cannot be friends and parents to our children. I think by being your childs friend you teach them to love, respect and care for everyone in equal measure – all things that they should show to everyone who mean anything to them. I do not have to have ‘authoriy’ over my child for him to show respect. I show him respect as an individual, son and friend and he provides me with the same in return. The boudaries we have with regards to the way we treat eachother have everything to do with love and kindness and nothing to do with authority. By being my childs friend I feel he can trust me and open up to me fully. We laugh at the same things, enjoy playing and being together and we are definately best friends. He also values my opinon as his mum – and his friend. I’m hoping that we will remain this way forever.

  20. That was a bit of an eye opener, and while I agree with what was written, I would appreciate it if there were some additional reading resources that help give some direction in achieving the role suggested. Thanks!

  21. I think the article makes many excellent points. However, I have used the term buddy and pal as an adjective. These words to me are less formal and more inviting. I have always viewd the word son as distant and cold. There are articles written about how the word son has taken on a negative connotation in many instances. The word son to me is like talking at a child rather than to them. And in this day and age our children need to be talked to rather than at. My son knows I am his dad, he know limits and boundries and like every child he tests those limits. It is our response and consistancy as parents that provide the frame work for raising kids who are as well equiped as possible for the world. I would agree that parents who do not make hard or unpopular decisions for fear of displeasing their children are making a big mistake. Children make mistakes, they test the waters and even the most strict parent child relationship, as defined by the article, will have difficult moments. I view how my children see me treat my parents as an example of how one day they will treat me. I also think that if we teach our kids the meaning of the word “no” than the adjective we use to address them is of little consequence. It is not the word, buddy, pal, son, kid etc, but rather how we mean that word.

    Thank you for the article as it does stimulate thought.

  22. There were many good points to your article, and I myself grew up with a mom that tried to be my “friend” and not my Mother, and the repercussions of that. It had nothing to do, however, with the close conversations we shared, with the terms of endearment she may have used for me, or with the material items that she would get me. I would hope that, just like in my true friendships, the love, the respect and the boundaries are all unconditional. In addition, if my true friends are doing something that is hurtful to me, themselves, or someone else, you can be sure that they will hear about it, just as I would expect to hear from them if there is something that I have done, so I can make amends.

    Here is where one of the major differences lies, I believe. You can give a friend feedback and an honest, objective appraisal of the situation or problem, but you can not impose external consequences on them. They are adults, and while natural consequences may occur as a result of their behavior, it would be completely inappropriate for you to impose it on them. Your children, however, since they are not miniature adults cognitively mentally or emotionally, need to have imposed consequences and boundaries set for them. If they don’t have external controls set for them, they will never learn how to integrate limits and boundaries into their own personalities, which is how a child learns to develop internal controls. As a child grows and changes, so should those boundaries, as they need to be given chances to practice, to fail and to succeed using their internal controls, as long as it is not anything that may compromise their safety. That is a parent’s responsibility, both morally and legally.

    It seems to me that one of the biggest factors that prevents the appropriate ebb and flow of the line between being a parent and being a friend is the parents own sense of security and need for acceptance. Creating and maintaining a positive and appropriate parenting role requires constant self-evaluation. If you can ask yourself the question “Why am I doing/not doing this?” and honestly answer that it is in the child’s best long term interest without letting your own ego get involved, then you are probably doing OK.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic- it is such an important one.

  23. Sue Herdt says:

    I feel compelled to add more. I truly believe that “a friendship” CAN exist between a parent and a child, especially in terms of trust and comraderie! However, it always needs to be somewhat of a one-way street. We want our children to confide in us and trust us and involve us in virtually every aspect of their lives, but a parent should not necessarily reciprocate in detail. Children do not need to know the intimate details of their parents’ lives. They do, however, need love and compassion and great consideration as our children, yes, and as separate human beings, individuals capable of greatness! So, I hope people are not too attached to an outdated definition of “parent” that inlcuded only control, work, rules, and punishment. There is sooooo much more to being a mom or a dad now — in fact, there always has been.

  24. Well, what wonderfully stimuating comments! I am so glad I came back to read them. After I read this post last week, I found myself really bothered by it. You see, I too am someone who comes here and usually agrees with most everything Ellen has to write.

    However, after reading this post, I was left with a really bad feeling. We call our son “buddy” all of the time. It is a term of endearment, not one used between peers. Our son has a very clear understanding of the parent/child role in our home. We have strong, clearly defined boundaries and expectations with him. I hardly see where using a pet name like buddy or pal is going to blur those lines.

    I also had major issues with the statement that our children need not like us, in fact may hate us. I understand the point that there are moments in time, when we enforce rules that are displeasing to our kids, where they may “hate us” for a time. However, let me be very clear to those of you who think that it is OK to allow your child (of any age) to hate you while you reer them. You are scarring them indefinitely. If your child hates you for a prolonged period of time, you are doing something wrong! No child should have overwhelming feelings of distain for their parents. What a horrible message to send. And, they will grow-up hating you and raise children that hate them. YUCK! I have seen it happen all too many times.

    Finally, I certainly appreciate Ellen’s initial attempt to communicate the fact that we need not be in the business of constanting pleasing our children or being their best friend. I whole-heartedly agree. But I think that message got lost in translation on this particular posting.

    My two cents –


  25. Kyla Hamilton says:

    What a great article indeed. I do believe we need to treat our kids as we would treat our friends with respect and love but being friends is a very different and intimate relationship with adults that children are not ready yet for. Our children can’t relate or give advice on issues that adults deal with it. Our children need to be children while they still can.