Four Words Parents and Kids Should Never Utter to Each Other: “I’m Your Best Friend”

Parent interviews are an opportunity to share an intimate picture of your child with admissions officers. Learn from Noodle expert Amanda Uhry about what not to say in these important meetings.

How many times have you heard it? A parent who claims to be “best friends” with her kid.

I own an educational consulting firm for private school admissions, and I hear it all the time. Imagine how it sounds in a school interview when a 42-year-old mom describes her 4-year-old daughter as her best friend: not good.

In our offices, we just say, “Don’t bring that up at your parent interview.” Why? Because it doesn’t sound right. And because it’s generally not true. What's more, if you think it is, there is a larger problem that the school is not going to respond to favorably.

In our experience, parents who describe their relationship with their child in these terms are usually rejected from the schools where they’ve interviewed. While there may be other reasons for a school not to accept a student, it's important to understand why an admissions officer may be concerned about framing the parent-child relationship in this way.

Your Child is Not Your BFF

Notice that kids rarely — if ever — refer to their parents as their best friends, at least not until the children are beyond the age of 30. Aside from the boundary confusion this statement implies, there is a genuine reason most kids don’t want parents as their BFFs. They want their parents to parent.

Although some parents genuinely believe they are best friends with their children, most of them aren’t friends with their kids at all. And this is appropriate. Many parents fall back on this language to express the bond they feel, but they confuse being close and loving their children deeply with friendship. These are not the same thing, and schools want to be certain you understand that.

And Parenting is Not a Democracy

Parenting is not and never was a democracy of peers, as true friendship is. Once you tell a person to do something as simple as brushing her teeth or finishing her math homework, or as complex as abiding by your rules on issues like academic expectations, underage substance use, or even dating, you have left the domain of friendship.

We’re lucky that friendship is not the basis of parenting. Friends follow their own rules, and if we’re not happy with someone’s expectations, we can assert our own will or walk away. As parents, neither of these options is available in our relationship with our kids: We can neither simply allow our children to make their own rules, nor permit them to walk away from the relationship if they don’t like ours.

Parents Are Educators

Parents are our first teachers. When they don’t fulfill that role or when the parent-child bond develops into an “equal” relationship, it is often a profoundly stressful situation for the child. Children derive security from knowing that their parents are charting a reasonable course, and peer relationships — such as BFFs — preclude this type of guidance.

The role of parents is to inform children, hopefully early and often, of the family’s beliefs and values, teach them about risk and its management, and most importantly, love them. What BFF does all of that?

Parents Can Be Balanced

When interviewing for admissions, we advise parents to depersonalize the bond with their child. Rather than saying, "My daughter and I are so close that we are more like best friends," try, "I feel that the parent-child relationship is based on trust, and trust inspires really good communication." Reframing your relationship in this way demonstrates your ability to view your child with a measure of objectivity and to respect appropriate boundaries in other areas — such as with the school or her teachers.

Use the parent interview to express the qualities that you appreciate about your child and to communicate your respect for the role — an appropriately unequal one — that you and other adults will play in her upbringing. Be honest about her interests, about the trust you’ve developed, and the growth you know is still in front of her.

Follow this link for further advice from Amanda about what not to say in a private school admissions essay that you might need to write. You can also use Noodle to search for top preschools and private schools near you.

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