I’m not going to say that trying to forge good relationships with your kids, even being pals with them, is detrimental. I don’t believe it is unless it goes off the rails, the lines get blurred, and you start buying them beer and throwing them sex parties.
Call me crazy, but I’m gonna give most parents the benefit of the doubt that we’re going to prioritize being parents over being pals, and that we’re not going to act like Amy Poehler in Mean Girls just to feel cool.
Still, we may be overestimating ourselves a bit. Maybe the question isn’t whether if you should be friends with your kids, maybe it’s whether you can actually stay friends with them.
One of the stereotypical perks of parenthood is the ability to experience life anew, through your children’s innocent eyes. And it’s true, but only if you embrace it. Watching them grow up needn’t only be about their future, it can be about their present too, and yours. Wouldn’t you much rather let them enjoy it, and enjoy it with them (it’s a lot more fun to play with your kids when they still want to play with you), than keep them at arm’s length in some sad attempt at being The Great Santini? I know which side I’m on.
I constantly tell my son he’s my best friend. He usually dismisses me, condescendingly, like the cold-blooded sociopath he is, but I’m not deterred. I’m always calling him things like “bud” and “pal,” not because he truly is my best friend (kid can’t even buy beer! And god forbid I try to vent a little about Mom and Buried because he is NOT having it), but because I want him to know that not only do I love him, I also like him. I enjoy being with him, hanging out with him, and generally spending time with him.
And yeah, I want him to enjoy hanging out with me too! I want him to think of me as more than just the tall guy who puts him in time-out all the time. It’s important to me that he considers me a friend, someone he can have fun with, but also that he sees me as someone he can talk to, honestly, and openly. Not so much right now, because I could really do without the play-by-play from the latest episode of “Rescuebots,” but later. When he’s older and he has real issues, besides worrying which toy to take to show and tell.
If I don’t lay the groundwork when he’s young, if I don’t let him know now that he can count on me in good times and bad, not just as his dad but also as his bud, I’ll be screwed later. At four, he’s still impressionable; he thinks Daddy is infallible, invincible, and omniscient. I need to take advantage of that before it’s too late! Because I’m no fool, I know the worm will eventually turn. It’s biology; there’s no getting around it.
Despite all the good times I had with my parents when they truly were my best friends, when we did everything together and I was with them all the time and there was no one I counted on more, the encroaching tides of adolescence and independence couldn’t help but change things.
Looking back at how unbearable I was during my teen years, I can’t help but think of that great Justified quote, “If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” Knowing how hard it was to control my behavior and my moods and my generally shitty attitude with all those hormones rollicking around inside me makes me wonder: with the teenage years always on the horizon, how far does the buddy approach really get us?
Because no matter how close we get, no matter how much we pal around today, tomorrow, for the next five-plus years, it will all come to a screeching halt somewhere around, say, his thirteenth birthday. It’s a lot harder to be friends with someone when you have to try to control their behavior, whether it’s for their own good or not, especially when they don’t even know what’s best for them. We’re going to butt heads. Not only because his hormones will make him an asshole, but because his inevitable attempts to assert independence will force me to be one too. No one stays friends with an asshole.
So does that make early attempts at forging a friendship with your kids pointless? I don’t think so. You may not be friends with your kids forever, but opting out of being friends at all is a much bigger fail.
There will be dry spells. There will be periods of time when your parent-side has to take precedence, and times when your kid won’t be able to see past that. And those times won’t be fun. But that’s no reason not to embrace a positive, playful relationship with them now. To lay a foundation.
A foundation that’s strong enough to withstand the typical sturm und drang of high school and puberty. Are you going to be friends forever? No. But a fun, honest, balanced relationship early can be just what you need to weather the inevitable growing pains later.
So that when the clouds do come, when My Buddy turns into Chucky, you can take solace in the friendship you used to have, and be confident that the storm will eventually pass and you can be friends again. It’s usually once the kid has grown up and gained some perspective, i.e., once his head is finally out of his ass! Which will probably be somewhere between 21 and 28.
It really helps when you can have a drink together.