I’ve decided I do not want to be friends with my children. I want to be friends with my son and daughters when they are no longer children.

I think my parents did this and it worked. I think many of my baby boomer generation have tried the opposite approach and it hasn’t worked. If I “live to comb gray hair,” as Yeats put it, I hope my grown children will have nested in my heart and not in my hair.

By virtue of this strategy I do not hope to steel myself against the pain of having my children grow up only to grow away from me. I hope by virtue of this strategy to buy virtue some time to shape character into my kids and me both.

With two teenagers in the house now and one closing in, I have seen the enemy and it is I. My kids are sure that my wife and I conspire against them. They are right. We stay up nights thinking how we might make their lives miserable by deeds as pernicious as refusing telephone privileges after 10:30 p.m., denying them one more pair of Abercrombie and Fitch over-priced washed-out wrinkly baggy chinos, or insisting on their presence at family dinner more than one night per week, thus starving their all-consuming social life.

Character is formed by bumping up against immovable objects and having rough edges chipped off. Parents must be those immovable objects.

Being human — albeit parents — and thus having hearts, we want our kids to like us. I don’t recall my geometry teacher carrying the same burden. She wanted me to learn that isosceles triangles have two 45-degree angles, not whatever angles I preferred at the moment of testing. My football coach didn’t worry over whether I thought he was a stand-up guy; he just wanted me to stand up and hit the guy in front of me when the whistle blew.

The Bible proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It doesn’t say, train in the way he “wants” to go.  It doesn’t say, “nurse” a child in the way that makes her feel kindly toward you. And it doesn’t even promise immediate results — “and when he is old … .”

Kids are in training. They have friends their own size. They need parents bigger than life. And that’s hard for us, because we size ourselves up in the mirror every day and know better.

I have three great kids. They tell me this regularly. I am going on the theory that obedience is expected, respect required. Love and like are not synonyms. Friendship is a long-range prayer. So far, so good.


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