One of my teachers, Master Ken Corona, said, “I will never be your buddy, but I will always be your friend.” I have had a lot of teachers over the years. They all had quirks, they all had strengths. Master Corona is extremely warm and approachable. He is easy to talk to because it is obvious that he just really loves people. But when the training starts, there is no doubt that he is the teacher. He doesn’t become mean or cold—in fact he remains warm and friendly. But he has an unmistakable air of confidence and authority that all of his student respect and respond to.
Since I met Master Corona in 2007, I have learned a lot about teaching from him. Balancing warm, good-humored approachability with authority is a difficult needle to thread. He does it with a natural deftness that has inspired me to work on this trait when I teach.
It has also informed how I approach parenting.
Cultural trends tend to follow pendulous swings. June Cleaver labored in the kitchen wearing high heels, pearls and a big, patient smile. Ten years later, women were burning their bras. The eighties pulsed with glam-pop, hair spray and dayglow colors. The early-nineties throbbed to grunge, flannel and drab angst. One extreme seems to create the opposite extreme.
The same can be said in parenting. Children of my generation often grew up with parents that were more authoritarian and/or aloof. We entered our coming-of-age when the self-help movement was really building momentum resulting in many of us feeling frustrated with our upbringing as we sought find self-expression in our lives.
For many, this rejection of the parenting they had received, combined with their self-discovery, led to the idea that parents needed to be more approachable and engaged with their children. The extreme outcome of this has been the parent who seeks to be their child’s best friend or buddy.
At first blush, this seems like a great strategy. You can be more nurturing to your child (perhaps more so than your parents) and if you are best friends, you can count on your child telling you what is going on in their life and better encourage them to tell you when something is wrong.
The problem with this approach is that it undermines your authority as a parent. Every parent is confronted with situations, sometimes daily, where their child needs boundaries clearly defined and clearly enforced. This is difficult to do, and easily ignored by your child, if you are their buddy.
I am not suggesting that you become authoritarian with your child. I think Master Corona’s statement, “I will never be your buddy, but I will always be your friend,” and the way he approaches his students is an excellent example of the middle ground. I have had teachers who were authoritarian. They often drove students away. I also have had teachers who wanted to be buddies. They often lost students because they eventually just could not be taken seriously.
As I said before, this is a difficult needle to thread. Where do you fall on the spectrum?