Saturday, October 31, 2015

Are We Our Kids' Friends?

I dislike when parents say, "I am not my kids' friend." I get the point. We do need to guide and influence our kids and not just be their buddies. Also, I realize I have way more desire for my kids' approval than is probably good for them. And I understand hyperbole-- that the shock value of "I am not your friend" is a legitimate literary device.

But it really rubs me the wrong way. Not because I want my kids to like me. Not because I want to have fun with my kids and pal around with them without feeling like I'm doing something wrong. (I do want these things, and maybe more than I should.) But because traditionally, the word "friend" has been used to indicate people who are affected by your happiness, who care whether you live and thrive, who have your best interest at heart.

Think of the great literature. Orphans like Oliver Twist are said to be friendless and rejoice to find friends like Mr. Brownlow, who takes Oliver in and provides him with a healthy, respectable life. (Sounds like a parent or guardian to me.) Destitute young women-- Jane Eyre, for instance-- are asked whether they have any friends. These people could be contacted and told she was in dire straits, and they would do all they could to help. (Sounds like a parent or guardian to me.) The Bible calls Jesus a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He loves us through our good and bad choices and bids us to "sin no more". (Sounds like a parent or guardian to me.)

The Webster's 1828 definition of friend is, “One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy,” and even the modern Merriam-Webster includes family in the definition of friendship.

If my mother had said to me when I was a teenager, "I am not your friend," it would have caused unnecessary pain and disconnection. Growing up is hard enough without your most important people making divisive remarks. I am my kids' friend. I care whether they live and thrive, whether they make good choices, whether they have everything they need-- food, clothing, a word spoken in good season. I've seen them at their best and their worst and I love them no matter what. I respect and esteem them, even when I have concerns. This is my petition for a more thoughtful use of "friend" in reference to our kids. (We could probably use more thought when pulling out that word, period.)

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