By Chrissy Duke
Being a parent and a friend often seems like a contradiction, or just too layered to be true at the same time. Either way, it is a common critique of parents that they either err on the side of being their child’s friend, or they simply have little to no personal relationships outside of setting boundaries and rules with their children. Where is the balance and can there be a balance between the two?
I remember as an elementary age kid one morning waking up to a horribly loud crashing noise. I ran out of my room to find my mom, who had recently had knee surgery, had slipped on the stairs and fallen down the entire flight. 911 was already being called because she couldn’t move. Needless to say, it was scary as a young child, seeing this and watching your mom be taken to the hospital by ambulance. To skip to the end real quick – my mom ended up being okay and came home the same day! But I remember after this all happened, my dad took all of us kids for an early morning breakfast, maybe to cheer us up or to distract us all from what happened. Either way, when we got home, as I unwrapped my breakfast sandwich it slipped from the wrapper and fell to the ground. I immediately started bawling! My dad picked me up, set me on his lap, and whispered in my ear, “I know you’re scared, but mom is going to be okay.” I specifically remember the amazement I felt that he knew I wasn’t upset about the breakfast sandwich. I was so grateful in that moment that He understood me, and assured me that it was okay to be scared.
Whether we are family or friends, our goal in relationships is focused in the same direction and the ultimate goal is connection—to be known and understood. We all long for connection, a space where we can be known and know another. In fact, we don’t just long for it, we are made for it. God created us to be connected with others. It’s no small thing that God Himself is in constant connection and relationship with Himself. He is the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s hard to comprehend but He within Himself is fully in connection and fully known! He created us in His image, with the intentional design to need connection. We are not supposed to do life alone.
A parent relationship and a friend relationship often look different. A parent connection happens naturally, automatically—simply because you are family. But a friend relationship seems like the place where connection is deeper. A friend is often the person whom you confide in and offer honesty with in a way you may not with a parent. When you go to a friend, you are really looking for someone who you can share with that will say, “oh man, i know how you feel.” “That is so unfair.” “I am so sorry you went through that.” “Wow, how awesome that happened!” So, even though a friend and parent both seek connection, a parent may feel it’s impossible to be a “friend” because of discipline. boundaries and rules.
I would like to offer one suggestion for you to create a connection with your daughter that reflects the automatic connection, as well as a deeper connection and understanding. The invitation is to offer validation.
Validation is when you recognize or affirm a person’s feelings or opinions as valid or worthwhile. At first glance, I’m sure you feel like validation is the wrong way to go especially if your child has just rolled their eyes at you for the hundredth time today, or they just shoved their sister down as they walked to their room. And yet, the most beautiful thing about validation is it does not declare their action as right or wrong.
Validation is the opportunity to connect even in the most difficult or hurtful of situations. In Michael Sorensen’s book on validation, he says validation is essentially “saying to someone, “I hear you. I get what you’re feeling, and it’s perfectly alright to feel that way.”1 You may have heard it said that feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are. Feelings are there to inform us, to tell us and point us to truth. When we validate someone, we for a moment suspend the right and wrongness of the situation and offer to empathize with the emotion.
For example: when your daughter rolls her eyes again, you can offer validation of the emotion (not the action). “I don’t blame you for being frustrated right now, being told no is frustrating when you have a plan you would like to see happen.” You may be amazed how quickly this little thing called validation diffuses a situation. It immediately creates connection.
Is this not the type of connection we look for in our friendships? What if, as parents, we can create opportunities for this same type of connection without stepping away from discipline and equipping our children to make wise choices. What if validation is a way we can enter into and appreciate their struggle and as we create connection we also create the safe space to reinforce boundaries?
If you read through the gospels, you will encounter countless examples of how Jesus validated His followers and friends without condoning their sin. Think about John 11 when Jesus weeps over the death of Lazarus. Even though He knew that Lazarus would rise again, “when Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.” (v. 33). Jesus was compassionate to His friend, Martha, and the Jews, and despite their doubts, He extended an invitation for them to witness the miraculous resurrection of their friend, Lazarus.
It’s a beautiful reminder that our Heavenly Father isn’t just our Savior—He is our friend. And if you want to model your parenting after anyone, He’s the best example there is.
1. Michael Sorenesen, I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships (Autumn Creek Press, 2017).
Chrissy Duke is a passionate follower of Jesus Christ who loves to share what God is speaking to me with other young girls and women! She is also a wife and a mother of two beautiful girls. Chrissy has a calling to help the marginalized be recognized, heard, and helped. She does this primarily through an organization called Beauty For Ashes Africa. They work to combat human trafficking in North Africa, where they have a transition home for at-risk girls! Chrissy loves a good cup of coffee in the morning, getting outside in nature, and being with family.