If you’re a solo parent with primary care, the “Good Time Parent” is the parent who has your child primarily on the weekends, doing fun things, while you slog it out with meals, lunches, homework, and arranging playdates (and everything else). If you’re a mum, solo or partnered, the Good Time Parent is usually Dad, who throws or kicks the ball, takes them on adventures, and throws them in the air to delighted squeals.

Often mums can try to compensate for being the “Serious Parent” by giving in on chores, bed schedules, pocket money, you name it. But when we do this, we lose our children’s respect, and as one of my clients said, “you can’t have respect without love, or love without respect.” So how to find the balance? I am always mindful of this balance, and my son reminds me clearly that I’m out of balance being the Serious Parent when home no longer feels joyful. Here’s one way he reminded me:

This morning my son, 11, initiated what proved to be an exceptional health promotion exercise: a water fight, in the house! It began with him asking me to come into his room where he’d been reading in bed. I said “No, I’m doing the dishes,” and he made a noise that made me realise that responding to his request for affection and attention would give me far more pleasure than doing the dishes, and that they could wait, whereas he may soon give up asking for affection, especially as he approaches puberty. I went into his room and cuddled him and then cheekily smeared my wet dish hands on his bare arms and neck. Next he was at the sink getting his hands wet and spraying me, then we graduated to whole glasses of water, and then I threatened him with the cats’ water!

We laughed, ran, hid, strategised. Usually it’s a battle to get him to help clean the house, but with the floor wet and slippery, he grabbed the mop and dried the floors and said, “Now we have clean floors!”

Finding the balance between being our children’s parent and friend can be hard to gauge, and maintain. I find that pausing and reflecting at the time of my child’s request helps me gauge this. Set rules like those espoused in parenting books can stifle our parental intuition, which is based on the whole context of our rich lives with them. Trust your intuition, and desire for fun and play, as that’s what our children enjoy most!

Read about developmental psychology’s classic findings on the 3 Parenting Styles: Authoritarian, Authoritative, and Permissive (aka the “jellyfish parent”). Find which category you fit into, in your attempt to be the best parent you can be. Conflict between parents often arises when their parenting styles differ, so understanding your co-parent’s style is informative too.

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Marta Fisch is a family and individual therapist, supervisor, and trainer. She loves playing with her son, dancing, and riding her bike to work. She's involved in community sustainability initiatives, which brings her hope and a sense of belonging. Marta grew up in California and has lived in New Zealand / Aotearoa for 20 years. You can find out more on her website

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