Dear Mr. Dad: My husband is 42 but often hangs out with our 13-year-old son and his friends, acting like a kid himself. Am I wrong to want my husband to act his age instead of trying to be our boy’s buddy?

A: There’s nothing wrong with expecting your husband to be a good role model–a mature, responsible, and trustworthy individual your son can look up to, respect, and admire.

But the fact that your husband spends time with your son and his friends doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not good role model material or that he’s shirking his responsibilities. There are a lot of factors to consider here. For example, what is he doing with the boys? If they’re occasionally hanging out in the garage and building a train set, or playing ball in the backyard, those are perfectly good bonding activities and your son can only benefit from this quality time he’s spending with his dad (and Dad will benefit too).

If, on the other hand, your husband thinks of himself a part of your son’s social circle and he’s dressing and behaving like a teenager, or if he spends all his free time with the boys and doesn’t seem to have friends of his own, you have every reason to be concerned.

So why would a grown man act like a teen? There are all sorts of possibilities. For example, it’s possible that your husband didn’t have a good relationship with his own dad (or felt that his father didn’t spend enough time with him) and he’s doing everything he can to make sure he doesn’t repeat his father’s mistakes. That would mean playing catch up on all the activities he didn’t get to enjoy when he was 13. Put another way, he’s re-living his childhood through your son.

Another explanation is that your husband is going through a classic midlife crisis, as many men in their 40s do, and acting like a kid makes him feel young again. Some fathers of teenage boys also experience some jealousy. Their sons are becoming men and starting to discover girls. Meanwhile, Dad is waking up with all sorts of aches and pains and all those attractive young women he sees on a daily basis don’t even know he’s alive. Or, it’s entirely possible that your husband simply gets a kick out of being the kind of “cool” dad your son and his friends can hang out with.
The only way you’re going to find out what your husband’s reasons are is to talk to him. But whatever his explanation, he needs to understand that having a peer-like relationship with his child isn’t appropriate and, more importantly, it’s not good for the boy.
It’s our job as concerned and loving parents to establish rules and set boundaries for our children. The kids, in turn, are expected to follow those rules and behave in a respectful manner towards adults in the household. But if your husband acts like a kid himself, he’s sending a confusing message to your son, who may think that there aren’t any boundaries between him and his father. As a result, Dad’s parental authority goes out the window—and that’s not a situation you want to be in.

Bottom line, we all have different roles in the family and there’s a big difference between being friendly with our children and actually being friends with them. If your husband keeps on doing what he’s doing, your son may feel that while he has a lot of friends, he’s missing a parent!