“Buddy” used to just be a relationship descriptive and a generic, if sometimes snarky, way of addressing strangers (again, at least in NY). Now it’s a stranger way of addressing loved ones. It has also become maddeningly common. Right now I’m thinking of two families to which I’m close, and, in each case, one or both of the parents thus address their child.
Now, I realize that criticizing people’s parenting is a hazardous endeavor and that some reading this have gotten caught up in our “buddy system.” So I’ll be gentle and not start this with a New Yawk “Listen, buddy....” In turn, I ask that you hear me out.
In a recent piece about the importance of exhibiting love and leadership with your children, family psychologist John Rosemond wrote the following:
The problem in today’s parenting environment is that many, if not most, parents have substituted enabling for love and relationship for leadership.... The attempt at relationship is evidenced by dads who strive to no higher ideal than to be their children’s buddies....
...leadership is less concerned about the here and now than it is the future. Again, a child’s initial response to effective leadership might not be “positive.” It is only over time that the child begins to realize that his parents’ leadership is in his best interest, even if he doesn’t always like its form. Leaders also recognize that the attempt at relationship is antithetical to leadership. If parents put leadership first, relationship will follow naturally, in its own time, and it will be a better relationship as a consequence [emphasis mine].
Rosemond is right to lament a lack of leadership in today’s parenting. Long ago we lost a sense of the importance of just hierarchies, the roles within them, and respect for the boundaries prescribed by the latter. In fact, hierarchies and roles today are seen as relics of stifling tradition, yet they are necessary for a functioning civilization. What happens when police officers, chief executives and soldiers don’t respect the duties and limits of their roles? We know what happens when judges don’t: You end up with unconstitutional government enforced by police officers and chief executives and protected by soldiers.
Another way of framing this is that we have democracy on the brain. Not only do we portray our nation as a democracy and believe that installing the system is somehow a cure for the ills of primitive, tribal cultures, we often act as if every institution within a “democracy” must be democratic — this includes the family. But since authority must come with responsibility, a responsible parent must be an authority figure.
And authority figures aren’t “buddies” with their charges.
A parent can’t lead if his family is a one-member-one-vote society. He can’t be king if he plays the court jester. As Rosemond said, an “attempt at relationship is antithetical to leadership.”
Note, however, that saying a parent-child relationship must not be a friendship isn’t synonymous with saying it isn’t friendly. A friendship is a certain kind of relationship (generally peer/peer), whereas other relationships — boss/employee, student/teacher, etc. — can be friendly, but must only be so within the boundaries of the given superior/subordinate model. If this makes some feel as if they’d be missing out on a complete relationship with their children, remember that “friend” is a lesser role than “parent.” Your child can have a thousand buddies, and they come and go like the wind, but he has only one mother or father. Why not be that mother or father? Why rob the role of its uniqueness by reducing it to friend status?
It’s also true that what drives buddy parents is usually a lesser motivation. This brings me to a story from the many years I worked with children. When I began I was quite young, and also quite lenient with the kids. But then, as I grew older and wiser, I had an insight: I wasn’t going soft on my charges because I liked them so much.
It was because I wanted them to like me.
At that point I changed and ultimately became quite the disciplinarian.
Realize that when you pander to children because you want something from them, namely affection, it isn’t love but emotional dependence. It is selfishness masquerading as beneficence.
Thus, every parent who finds himself coddling his kids must, during a quiet moment, ask the following: Am I doing it for them?
Or for myself?
This is why I began this piece talking about what might have seemed like just a pet peeve: There’s no question that “buddy,” when applied to a child, is more than just a term of endearment. It usually reflects the parent’s desire to win his child’s affection and always reflects our society’s trend toward buddy parenting. It also has a very real effect, as how people address each other influences the dynamics among them.
For example, why do military personnel address each other as private, sergeant and captain and not Pete, Steve and Colin? Obviously, the different labels, or ranks, send each person a message about his role within the relevant hierarchy. This helps to reinforce respect for superiors, and hence for the chain of command, in a way that a lieutenant calling a private “buddy” wouldn’t. It’s the same reason why my college tennis coach insisted that we players address him not by his first name but as “coach.”
Buddies usually have the same rank. A parent and child have very different ranks, and this should be reflected in how they address each other — that is, if you desire respect for the chain of command. After all, if you send the message to a 10-year-old that he’s your peer, he’s likely to just treat you like another 10-year-old. (Then, I know a woman who would sometimes call both her son and husband “buddy,” thereby placing them on the same plane. You might as well just call them both “boy” and be done with it.)
We need to dispense with buddy parenting and regain our appreciation for leadership, and just hierarchies and roles. If we do this, perhaps not as many parents will have to hand their kids off to therapists and say, in essence, “This bud’s for you.”
Selwyn Duke is a columnist and public speaker whose work has been published widely online and in print, on both the local and national levels. He has been featured on the Rush Limbaugh Show, at WorldNetDaily.com, in American Conservative magazine, is a contributor to AmericanThinker.com and appears regularly as a guest on the award-winning, nationally-syndicated Michael Savage Show. Visit his Website.