Can our kids ever be our friends?

Can you ever be your kid’s friend?  Is it a good thing to be true “friends” with your kid?

Kris – Massachusetts

Dear Kris,

Since you put it in quotes, let’s start with the word itself. And once we’ve honed in on a definition, we can figure out whether or not it’s “a good thing” (my quotes).

When pondering the meaning of things, it is always prudent to start with the Oxford. Etymologically, we can transport back to 900 when we were using the Old English word frēond, which is of Germanic origin, related to Dutch vriend and German Freund, from an Indo-European root meaning “to love.” We could have gotten that much without Oxford. Its definitions aren’t much more helpful.

  • A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection. For me, mutual affection sounds a bit like monkeys picking gnats out of each other’s fur.
  • Used as a polite form of address or in ironic reference. This generally only comes in handy when making a political speech: Friends and fellow countrymen.
  • A person who supports a cause, organization, or country by giving financial or other help. Truth be told, for many of us, this rings true, especially since “the financial or other help” continues to be a line-item in our monthly budget.
  • A person who is not an enemy or opponent. This one shouldn’t be too hard.
  • A contact on a social networking website. Has this definition actually made it into Oxford, along with such wonderful English words like mellifluous, ethereal, and meatloaf? If we’re not friends on social media — the social media that they use — then we’re missing an opportunity to connect. Time to build your bitmoji and work on your snapchat strategy.
  • A member of the Religious Society of Friends. I like this one. We all should become Quakers. The world would be a much quieter, peaceful place, with well-made minimalist furniture.
  • A familiar or helpful thing. We’re not getting a whole lot of depth in any of these definitions. Which is why you can find about 3,000,000,000 results (0.63 seconds) via a Google search. Even those Google bots don’t know what they’re looking for.

Let’s make it three billion and one definitions. Going through the process of adding a personal definition will help us see that friendship is malleable, bending itself into a new shape with every relationship in our lives. Our friendship with high school band mates is different than our friendship with our neighbors. Our friendship with our neighbors is different than our friendship with our running buddies. And our friendship with our kids is going to be different than any of those.

We’re somewhere between two and four decades older than our children. Most likely, our interests aren’t going to mesh perfectly. Maybe some of us are lucky. We might get hip-hop, from a ethno-histo-cultural viewpoint. And our kids might know every word in every Journey song (even knowing that South Detroit is in fact Windsor, Ontario). Great! We’ve got some musical sympatico going on! If friendship means rapping along with Wu-Tang or airbanding to the solo in Separate Ways, then we’re good to go.

It’s easy to find any number of common bonds. Movies, art, classic cars, bowling, drum circles, axe throwing competitions. And be honest, after some years of rebellion, we kind of turned out like our parents. As will our kids. So we’ve got that in common, too.

Yet, none of those commonalities build meaningful friendships.

So if it’s not about commonalities, what then? Let’s go broader. Maybe by wondering about our friendship with our adult kids we get to have a middle-aged guy revelation: we are not as good a friend as we could be. We’ve spent decades focused on work, immediate family, and our own selfish natures. We hang out with other guys, raise a glass, complain about politics, wax nostalgic. When is the last time we admitted that life is hard, asked for directions, shared our fears, lamented? Women (in a broad, sweeping generality) nurture better friendships than we do. Why? Because they’re way more honest than we are.

What if in our middle years we took this as an opportunity to actually start being a friend? I’m convinced that if we start doing that, then we’ll understand what it means to be a friend with our adult children.

Back to your actual question, when you asked if this a good thing. Let’s go see Drake! Start surfing together! Shoot tequila and eat jalapenos! Agreeing to do any of those things with our kids is just weird. Being a friend doesn’t mean being a bro. If we can accept that friendship is about honesty and openness, if it’s about dropping the hierarchy of father knows best, kids need to obey — then the answer is yes.

Chop That Wood