By: Kevin Seguin
There's a phrase that goes around: "I'm not here to be my kid's friend, I'm their parent." There's even a video that went viral with a mother talking about how all three of her kids are currently mad at her, and she's ok with that because: “My number one job as their parent is to love them, and loving them does not mean making sure they’re always happy and get every single little thing they want,”. I think it's a pretty well-intentioned phrase. Good parents want to be good at being parents, they want to teach, discipline and raise their children to be solid members of society. They don't want to just be a buddy who is the one to make sure they are always happy and always get what they want. Like I said, it's a well-intentioned phrase, and don't misunderstand me, when it comes to parenting and child-rearing, she's right.
But the phrase gets friendship completely wrong.
I am deeply blessed to have a number of very close friends. Most of us live in different cities, but I know that I can be in touch with them at any point, and I know that they'll be there for me, and vice versa. In most cases we've known each other for a long time and regardless of how long it's been since we talked, when we do get together, it's like we never missed a beat. Most of us have a least one friend like that.
Our good friends, our closest friends are like that, but they serve many other purposes in our lives. One of the things that I, at least, look for in a friend is not someone who is a 'yes man'. If I'm about to do something stupid, and my friends see it coming, I expect that they'll call me out on it. I'd legitimately be upset if they didn't. It's their job to look out for me, just as it's mine to look out for them.
One of my professors, a very wise man himself, taught me that there are three types of friends every Christian needs to have, he used these Biblical names for them:
Everyone needs a Paul in their lives. Someone to lead you, someone to teach you. Someone who is further along in this journey of faith than you are who you can talk with and learn from. Your Paul will stretch you and call you out of your comfort zone. They lead you because they've been there before. The journey of becoming more like Christ is a life-long one. It's best done with someone who is leading you. This is by far, the biggest role we play as parents. We are Paul to our kids. We teach them, we train them. Sometimes it's difficult, sometimes it's fun, but if we do it well, it looks like Paul teaching Timothy.
Speaking of Timothy...
If it is so critical that we have people like Paul in our own lives, it follows that we also have people like Timothy. People whom we are farther along than. People we teach and train. What we receive from our Paul, we give to our Timothys. Christianity is a journey made in community. We are pulled along by men and women who serve as our Paul, and we pull along people who are our Timothy. The most important Timothy in your life is your kid, and eventually, if we do our jobs right, there will be times when the script flips and we become Timothy to our kids' Paul. But more on that later.
In Acts 4, Luke calls Barnabas the "Son of Encouragement." If Paul is your leader and teacher and Timothy is your follower and student, Barnabas is your cheerleader. Barnabas is your equal. Barnabas your partner. He's the guy who comes alongside and helps you succeed, encourages you when times get tough, lets you unload when things get tough without judgement.
Having only Barnabases as friends is that one dimensional danger I was talking about. Being only Barnabas to our kids is just as dangerous as not ever being Barnabas at all.
My great fear is that when people say that "I'm not here to be friends with my kid" they're really saying they are prioritizing their role as Paul to the exclusion of the other two. That's equally dangerous. Our friends aren't only our friends to be our Barnabases. To think otherwise cheapens friendship itself.
The Many Hats Of Parenting
The key is that you've got to be all three to be a successful parent. You've got to be Paul because you have a lot to teach. You have so much more experience and knowledge than your kids it would be criminal to deprive them of that. It is our sacred duty to teach them about the Gospel. It's our job to teach them how to live in and navigate the world.
You can't do that well if you're only wearing one hat.
The authority hat IS important, no doubt! However, we have to be our kids' biggest fans, their biggest cheerleaders. Even if they don't like the things we like, or don't want to do the things we want them to do. I want all three of my kids to love and play baseball, but if that's not what they want, I need to learn what they want to do and learn to love it because I love them. We meed to cultivate the kind of trust that comes with acceptance. Our kids will probably like and value different things, we need to accept that about them. We don't take off the Paul hat completely of course, but we must recognize, love and accept that our kids will be different people and if we want them to trust us with their lives, we have to trust them with theirs first.
Finally, we need to be humble enough to realize we are Timothys as well. My kids have taught me so much in so few years. They've taught me what unconditional love looks like. They've taught me what forgiveness looks like, and what Grace truly looks like. I've learned these things because I've made many mistakes with them and they don't look at me any differently, don't treat me differently, they love me the same. I want to take these lessons and apply them to my marriage, to the people I work with, the people I work for, and everyone I encounter. I want to forgive as freely as my kids do and keep grudges as infrequently.
Additionally, as I age, I'll need them to teach me how to use whatever tech comes out in ten years...
Parenting is the most fun, emotional, exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating, and fulfilling journey I have ever been on. My kids and my wife are my favourite four people on this planet. I want to be best friends with them all.
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