Friendship With Your Kids

Today is Q&A day, as we like to call it. And the question we got from you guys is, how should I think about building a friendship with my kids? This is a question we get a lot. I think there’s a lot of different layers there, but Jeremy, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Yeah, this is a really good one. One of the things I would say, there’s obviously nothing wrong with being… We’re going to constantly be encouraging you guys to have a deeper, more intimate connection with your children, and I hope that that results in an amazing friendship with your kids. But there is something to watch out for here. There’s a watch-out that I really, really think we need to pay attention to.

That is we tend, in our culture, to be much more comfortable with the idea of being friends than the father-son or father-daughter relationship. What happens sometimes when I hear people obsess over “I really just want to be friends with my kids,” yes, but do you want to be a father to your daughter? Do you want to be a father to your son? Those actually are not the same thing.

Being a father to a daughter or a father to a son is a different kind of relationship. There are friendship elements to it, and those friendship elements often get stronger the older your child gets. But you need to be careful to let your heart fully engage as the father.

When you think about friends, one of the big reasons why I think we’re really comfortable with the idea of friendship is there’s a mutuality to it. There’s not a hierarchy to it. So we’re like, “Oh, we like being friends. It’s 50-50. We figure out what we want to do, and we do it together. It’s fun and a lot about mutual interests.” There’s a lot of elements like that to friendship.

Man, there are so many other nuances to the father-daughter, father-son relationship that are rich, that are generational, have to do with training your children, have to do with leading your children, have to do with guiding your children, have to do with giving wisdom to your children, have to do with giving feedback, sometime rebuking or correcting. If you are so obsessed with the friendship element of the relationship, what you’ll tend to do is shy away from the fatherhood elements of the relationship.

I know that, man, when I think about… Oftentimes, where I see this happening in my own heart is that if I think back to the best relationships that I ever had, a lot of times, for a lot of people in our culture, they’re friendships, and so what they’re really saying is “I want to have a great relationship with my kids. That must mean that I need to have a friendship with my kids. Because maybe I didn’t have a great relationship with my dad, so obviously that’s not what I want. What I want is a friendship.”

What you have to be careful of there is just because you had a difficult relationship with your father doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way for you to redeem the elements of fatherhood that you can bring into that relationship with your child. That often requires thinking deeply about fatherhood, looking for models of fatherhood, and beginning to really let your heart say, “No, I do want to be their friend, and I hope that friendship develops over time, but I also, and probably I would say even more, I’m more passionate even about being their father.”

I would really emphasize there’s something totally unique… Your kids are going to have lots of friends in their life, and you’re going to be one of them, but they’re only going to have one father, and that should be you. You need to lean into that relationship as a dad, as a father. Yeah, Jeff, what are your thoughts about this?

I think most guys, and I think you hit it right on the head, I think most guys, within two seconds, can able to self identify as either a dad who’s emotionless, detached… I mean their temptation is to be emotionless, detached, no connection, don’t really ever care much to play with the kids, and you have to work really hard to do that. If that’s you, then, yeah, what Jeremy is saying is probably not for you. What you need to realize is, man, what do your kids actually enjoy? What do they like? How can you get on their level? How can you play with them.

If you’re on the flip side of that and your main temptation is just to be buddies with the person, and if you ever see yourself being the parent that you see in the newspaper articles where the kids are 18 and having parties at the house and the parents are the ones hosting it, and it’s like, “What?” That’s sad, but that’s a common thing, because people want to be the cool mom or the cool dad. So if you feel like that’s your temptation, just want to be buddy-buddy and never actually want to do anything hard, well, then you really need to hear what Jeremy just had to say.

Another way to put it, too, I think, what you’re saying, is a lot of times the reason we think back in a warm way of usually our best relationships being friendships in the past is partly because we just hate conflict. We’re scared of it. We don’t know how to deal with it. We don’t know actually how to do hard things. And real relationships, like marriage, like familial relationships, et cetera, are way harder and inherently have built in way more conflict than friendships. Friendships are a little more just about shared activity, when marriages and families are about shared missions, shared vision, which means there will be conflict. You have to go in a certain direction. You have to grow together. You can’t just peace out and say, “Bye.” With friendships, you can.

Be very careful that that’s not the spirit you’re creating or cultivating, and don’t just say, “Man, I want to just be friends with my kid because I want to avoid conflict and hard things” or “I don’t ever want to be the bad guy.” I just think that rings true, that you need to be very, very careful of that.

I think a helpful way to think about it is don’t think of them as two competing things, friendship versus fatherhood, unless that’s really helpful. But I think for me, I think of the lens of fatherhood has an element of friendship, like you said. It’s like there’s a bigger umbrella with a smaller little thing underneath. That’s what I would say.

Yeah, tap into that part in your heart, and it’s there, that is the dad part of your heart. Sometimes you just need to say to your kids, “I’m your dad. I’m your father.” Even saying that out loud, some dads, they can’t really say that out loud. It’s like they’ve actually closed off a part of their heart, and they won’t open that up in a way that’s going to really let this hit their identity.

Part of it, too, is our culture just takes so many potshots at fatherhood and dads, and dads are a punchline, that sometimes we may just not even think it’s cool to be a dad. There are a lot of reasons why we might resist embracing this identity, but your kids can only embrace their identity as a daughter or a son to the degree that you embrace your identity as a father, so don’t take that away from your kids. They need to sink the roots of their identity into the soil of your fatherhood, and you have to let this part of your heart open up.

Oftentimes, if this friendship conversation is really a screen for “I don’t want to be a dad. I don’t want to embrace that identity,” then I would resist it. But that certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cultivate an amazing intimate friendship with your kids, especially as they get older.

Everything Jeff said is really critical. Definitely don’t take this to mean be the dictator, if that’s your definition of fatherhood. That’s not what we’re talking about it. It means that there’s a special bond that’s very unique to the father-daughter, father-son relationship, and we really want to see you guys pursue that in addition to or as a part of that relationship. Nest friendship inside of your fatherhood pursuit of that relationship with your kids.

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