The word “friend” is defined as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.”

When I was a little girl, I remember my stepfather saying many times, “If you try to become friends with your kids, they will turn on you.”

I assume my stepfather believed these words wholeheartedly. He was not friendly to me or my brothers. He physically and mentally abused us when we were growing up. The only thing I knew about being a parent when my first child was born when I was in my early 20s was that I wanted to do everything differently than my parents did.

I have two children now—a daughter who is grown and a little boy who is 11. I am proud to say I am friends with both of them.

This is not to say I haven’t made mistakes as a parent, but I work hard to learn from those mistakes and be better for both of my children in whatever way they need me at such varying stages in their lives. This involves learning how to be a friend to them.

I think my children know that my mission as their mother is to earnestly help them be good humans and have happy lives; as such, I am one of the best friends they will ever have. It’s a label I cherish.

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I made it through the teen years and am into the young adult years with my oldest, my daughter. I have seen firsthand how important it is for her to trust me, to have someone to tell her truths to. When she was 19 and dropped out of college, she didn’t think she could tell me. She thought I would judge her, be disappointed in her. I am, after all, a college professor.

I had fallen down as her friend, and the cost was great. She was stressed, sick, and deeply depressed. She had no one to turn to, and I could see the depression in her face, in her body. In these years, I learned the true value of our friendship. I learned she didn’t need a college-professor mother telling her to get back in school. She needed a friend to listen to what was going on.

I work harder now at being that good friend all the time.

She’s back in college, but she made her own choices and went back on her own terms. As a college professor, I had important advice I could offer, but I could see she would consider my advice more deeply when it was delivered as helpful advice from a friend, instead of as a command from a parent.

This week, my son and I went for a long walk on our country road. The pandemic has been hard on him, and we are grateful for a chance to get outside, even in the cold winter. He’s so tall, unusually tall for 11 years old. I am a tall woman, and he’s already my height.  

He’s also growing up so quickly on the inside. I feel a little of the “pull away” that comes with so many preteens and teenagers. I remember it well with my daughter. But the pull isn’t so hard this time, and I will work to try to keep it that way.

While we were walking this sunny, cold day, we were walking close, and he reached out to hold my hand. My heart was full of joy that he still wants to hold my hand. We held hands for a good while, and I noticed our shadows on the road.

“Can I take a picture of us to share?” I asked him.

We stopped, and I fully admired our shadows. Even though we were mother and child, with his height, we looked like two grown-ups. But there was his preteen shadow still holding the hand of my shadow.

We love each other and we are friends.

I have learned that there are going to be really tough times in life. When the times are tough, I have to hope my children will know they have a safe place with me. I have knowledge about life and experiences that can help them through difficult moments and decisions of their lives. I hope they will turn to me and ask for advice, even if I also know they may not always take my advice.

Still, I have learned, if I am good friend, they will listen.

Crystal Sands

Crystal Sands is a mom, wife, farmer, and professor who lives on a small farmstead in beautiful Maine. She is the founder of the journal Farmer-ish and has published in The Bangor Metro, The Independent, and HuffPost Parenting.