Are You a “Parent”… or a “Friend”?

Posted on: 02/22/11 10:12 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Friend, or parent? Which is it?

In my last blog I highlighted the GQ interview of Billy Ray Cyrus, Mr. Hannah Montana’s Achy Broken Heart. an insightful article, really. I mentioned that the article contained some great pieces of this interview worth discussing.


2. Friend vs. Parent

Part II is more of a discussion for parents to have with other parents (as opposed to Part I, which was a discussion that parents could use with their kids). I find this article particularly timely because last week, the day I read this Billy Ray interview, I had just finished blogging about our kids perspective and the balance between rules and a relationship. In that blog I brought up the fact that we need to listen to our kids, but at the same time know when to put our foot down and say, “Sorry, you’re not going to do that.”

Billy ray seems to be regretting his approach to parenting as he looks back with 20/20 vision. Here’s an excerpt from the GQ interview, where Billy Ray is wondering whether his lack of discipline was a mistake:

“How many interviews did I give and say, ‘You know what’s important between me and Miley is I try to be a friend to my kids’? I said it a lot. And sometimes I would even read other parents might say, ‘You don’t need to be a friend, you need to be a parent.’ Well, I’m the first guy to say to them right now: You were right. I should have been a better parent. I should have said, ‘Enough is enough—it’s getting dangerous and somebody’s going to get hurt.’ I should have, but I didn’t. Honestly, I didn’t know the ball was out of bounds until it was way up in the stands somewhere.”
(, Mr. Hannah Montana’s Achy Broken Heart, by Chris Heath, Page 3)

What do you think? Is Billy right? “You don’t need to be a friend, you need to be a parent.”

My quick take:

We always need to be ready to “be the parent” and be willing to put our foot down, even if it means sacrificing a little in popularity points with our kids. But, please. Don’t use this to swing so far to the polar opposite side of the spectrum so that we are never relational with our kids– talking, laughing, joking. It doesn’t have to be “either/or.” It can be “both/and.” You can be a parent, and still invest in your kids relationally.

Last week in a youth ministry interview I was asked:

“In your book Connect you talk a lot about getting to know kids on a one-on-one basis. Do you believe it’s possible to become so connected with students that they see you more as a peer and you lose your influence in their lives?”

My response- edited for brevity:

I think parents struggle with this as well. “If I spend too much time being their buddy, will I not be seen as their parent?”

I wonder if Christ was accused of that when he descended to earth to become human.

There’s no danger in humbling yourself to be relational- to listen, to laugh, to play. The only danger would be if you lower your standards and try to be something you’re not, or allow yourself to do something inappropriate in effort to “be accepted.” This is a twisting of a good thing. There’s never anything wrong with a coach, a parent, a teacher, or a youth worker spending time listening to a kid share their heart…throwing a Frisbee… cheering together at a football game… laughing through a comedy. I bet more kids wish their dads would be there to do these activities. These activities actually earn trust and help the kid respect dad, or coach, or pastor Jason when he has to put the foot down and say, “Sorry, but you’re not going to do that.”

This is a balance we talk about in much greater detail in my parent workshops.

What about you? Where are you with Billy Ray’s statement: “You don’t need to be a friend, you need to be a parent.”

6 Replies to “Are You a “Parent”… or a “Friend”?”

  1. I clicked on your link to read the entire GQ article…very sad, heartbreaking really. His comments about realizing he should have been a parent, not a friend fairly leaped off the screen at me.

    So many of today’s parents want to be liked by their children and have difficulty discerning how to have a relationship not a friendship. Friendships imply an equal playing field…”I strive to meet your needs and you strive to meet mine.” As a parent, one should strive to meet a child’s needs, but a child striving to meet a parent’s needs can be very destructive.

    Ultimately, as adults shouldn’t we look to our Father and His comforter, Holy Spirit to fill in those empty spaces in our lives? And then to our spouses and our adult friends… certainly not our children.

    I pray this family finds their way back to God!

  2. I agree whole-heartedly with both Jonathan and Kelly. I am a parent to my kids first, but we have fun together too. It’s the same with my role as a youth leader. I cannot compromise my position as their youth leader first, but I know how to have fun with them.

    My heart truly does break for this family. No parent is perfect, and Billy Ray has had to raise his daughter very publicly, under the scrutiny of so many who believe they would have done better. I certainly won’t be the one to cast the first stone.

  3. My almost seven year old daughter is learning French at school and can already talk circles around my limited knowledge of the language.
    The other day I playfully called my daughter “mon petite amie” while picking her up from school. (My little friend–it’s one of the few phrases that I know.)

    She responded, “You’re not my friend, you’re my mother!” Which is very true and reminded me of this article. In the future I’m told I am to call her “mon petite fille” instead.

    She can be a very bossy child, but I am still the authority… Except in French.

    I hope things work out for them. Being a parent is hard at any age.

  4. Pingback: I Walk the Line |

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