Living with Children: A brilliant idea
A friend of mine named Scott shared an absolutely brilliant thought with me when I dropped in on him unannounced at his workplace, a bank, the other day.
Everyone thinks all I want to talk about is parenting, like, you know, police only want to talk about the arrests they’ve made and surgeons only want to talk about operations they’ve performed and coroners only want to talk about autopsies they’ve done. So, I drop in on Scott, just to chat, and he starts in on the only topic I don’t particularly want to talk about, naturally.
In fact, he was very complimentary, telling me that he and his lovely wife, Monica, started reading this column when their children were young and still keep up with it. In the course of almost putting me to sleep, Scott suddenly wakes me up by telling me he has a theory about parents.
“You probably won’t think much of it,” he says, “being the expert and all.”
“It’s probably brilliant,” I say, and it was.
Scott has figured out — on his own but remember he’s been reading my column for more than 20 years now, so I feel entitled to take some credit — that the reason so many parents these days want to be their children’s best friends is because we live in an instant-gratification culture and the attempt to be your child’s friend is very likely to bring instant gratification, as in: (a) the parent puts energy into trying to be a friend, (b) the child likes having an adult friend more than he does or would having an adult who accepted the sometimes onerous responsibilities of being an authentic parent, and so (c) the parent receives approval from the child — a synonym for approval being, in this case, instant gratification.
Brilliant! Remember, this was Scott’s idea, but he wants to remain anonymous. Indeed, when done properly by properly thinking people, parenting is not likely to bring instant gratification. Raising a child out of narcissistic incivility into responsible, compassionate adulthood is, after all, a slog that requires of parents that they sometimes do what they would rather not do, like administer punitive discipline.
“Do you mean, John, that parents should never try to have fun with their kids, like take them to Disney World?”
I’m not the person to ask that question. I’ve been to Disney World four times: once with my own kids when they were young; twice with grandchildren; and once with another adult couple. I’ve had a genuinely good time at Disney World once. Guess which trip the “once” was. Right! But seriously, I’m not — and neither would Scott — saying that parents or grandparents should never have fun with their kids/grandkids. We’re referring to parents who avoid entirely the responsibilities of parenthood by trying to turn it into something it is not: to wit, a friendship.
When you avoid responsibility for something for which you are, in fact, responsible, you are being irresponsible. So, Scott and I are indeed saying that trying to be your child’s friend is irresponsible. Children do not need 30- or 40-something year-old friends. They need adult parents who are willing to take the occasional heat and perform the occasional distasteful function, like informing a child that he is not yet well-behaved enough to go to Disney World or even the local petting zoo.