Why We Should Be More Careful About Who We Call Our Best Friends

by Jenna McLaughlin

My parents are probably my best friends. You might think that’s strange, but it actually makes a lot of sense to me.

When I’m home, or when my parents come to visit, we like to try out the newest beer flavors -- whether it’s a new Pumpkin Shandy from Traveler’s or a Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter from Baltimore’s own, Sweet Baby Jesus.

We try fresh, farm-to-table foods, and my parents cheer me on while I run my crazy half marathons. We watch marathons of our favorite TV shows, talk over dinner and read our favorite books by the fireplace.

I realize I have a very good relationship with my parents, and though this isn’t generally the norm, I believe that in an ideal world, parents exist to fill the role of “best friend,” though maybe not in the way people stereotypically think of a best friend.

There are a lot of articles out there advocating for parents to stray away from the “best friend” relationship with their children. When Googling “parents as best friends,” the top four results include “Be Your Kid’s Parent, Not Their Best Friend” and variations of the same idea.

Oprah magazine shares a radio podcast from Rabbi Schmuley titled, “Be a Parent, Not a Best Friend,” where Shmuley is quoted saying, “Trying to be your child’s best friend is not only ineffective, but irresponsible.”

Schmuley finds that adopting the best friend strategy of parenting eliminates the kind of discipline, respect and structure that children need from parents.

If parents act as best friends, they might not feel the responsibility to guide their children towards good behavior or to simply stop them from demanding a chocolate bar at the grocery store.

I mean, wouldn’t the cool best friend buy the chocolate bar and give you everything your heart desires?

Schmuley terrifies young parents with the thought of a “child walking all over you” and challenges them with the quest to “[reclaim their] rightful role as the head of the household.” However, does this relationship really need to be so hierarchical?

While I agree that structure, respect, discipline and teaching are absolutely vital pillars of good parenting, I challenge the idea that these kinds of things shouldn’t happen in some form in all relationships, including friendships.

I demand a certain sort of “structure” of give and take from my friends. I expect my good friends to be present in my life and to fit me into their schedule. I expect my friends to call me out when I’m doing something that’s not so kosher, to “discipline” me when it’s in my best interest to change my behavior.

I expect my friends to give my opinions and myself the utmost respect, and anyone who does not do so will not be considered a friend in my book. I expect my friends to help guide me in arenas where I’m not so familiar, like that time I took a business class and had literally no clue what I was doing.

For me, it comes down to the single question of “Does this person have my best interest at heart, and do I theirs?” This can be simplified even further to “Does this person genuinely care about me?” or “Does this person love me?”

Though it might be a challenge to call an infant a “friend,” I think there is a way where this definition can and should be possible. It’s the definition of the word “friend” that needs changing.

We need to demand more out of our friends. We need to realize that our parents, the ones who literally gave birth to and love us regardless of who we are, can be our best friends.

My parents have always been my best friends, though I may not have realized or acknowledged it until later (now). It’s just a changing definition of best friend, depending on what we both needed.

When I was a 2-year-old who broke her leg, my mom was a pretty good “friend” bringing me to the hospital to get an X-ray. When I was about the same age, my dad was a cool “friend” when he put me in his bike basket and rode around hiking trails.

When I was about 6 years old and thinking about playing sports, my parents were good friends and told me to pick the one I liked the most. When I was in high school, my parents helped me study, took me to soccer practice and gave me advice on the struggles of growing up. When I got to college, my parents had my first beer with me.

Our friendship has developed over time, but this is what should happen to all great friendships.

Of course, I’m not advocating that other kinds of friends should literally raise each other and provide a house and all food and financial means to a friend as a parent does, but aren’t we always trying to help our friends get what they need when we can?

Think about it: Your parents should be the ones who will listen to you brag about your accomplishments and hear you complain incessantly and not get annoyed and walk away or think you’re being a jerk.

They can be just as excited for you as you are when you’re in a really strong relationship or get a good grade, and they won’t get jealous about these things because really, a huge part of their lives should be about making sure you’re as happy as possible.

They shouldn’t mind hearing you complain about stupid stuff, like how you’re hungry at work and forgot lunch. The same goes for serious matters, too, like feelings of depression or pain that you might not feel comfortable telling someone else.

These are things that parents should and can be if you want them to be and if they are good parents.

Friends should be more than people to drink with on the weekends and to trash those lame boys who catcalled you on the street. Friends should be more than those people who will go out with you on Friday but might happen to leave you alone when they want to go somewhere else.

Though these are and can be important duties for friends to hold at a certain point in your life, they do not define a “best friend.” Love defines a best friend, and parents should have a whole hell of a lot of that for you.

According to Graham Allen, cited within an article concerning friendship and its philosophical and sociological themes, the social criteria for what makes a friend isn’t as concrete as we might think it is.

Aristotle talks about friendship as having meeting three aspects:

-Friends must enjoy each other’s company.

-They must be useful to one another.

-They must share a common commitment to the good.

For me, all these requirements are satisfied when I think of my parents. They enjoy my company and I theirs. They are always working to improve my life and provide the best for me.

Though we’re not curing cancer or anything to find that advanced level of good for humanity, I think our example is a commitment to the kind of dedications friends and people should have to each other.

I don't expect everyone to feel the same way about his or her parents. You and your parents might not get along, and they may not provide the same kind of support to you as mine do for me. I know I am very lucky.

Still, demand more from your friendships. Your BEST friend should care about you in a real way, and should always want you to be the best you can be, and more.

Photo credit: CW Networks/Gossip Girl