Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Friends or authority figures? Parents' dilemma

Can't we just be friends?  

On budding friendships, buddy status, and bosom buddies


Recently I was at a Christian Women's Study Group discussing the book of Titus, where Paul discusses different roles of those within the church. Our group was considering our roles as wives and mothers, based upon these verses:

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is goodThen they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (Titus 2:3-5)

Verse 4 tells the older women (that's me) to teach the younger to love their husbands and children.  
I wondered what was actually to be taught about "loving" their husbands. Having been associated with a "Christian" cult group in the past, I have learned to be very careful about what the Bible actually says, versus what someone says that it says. Was the Greek word agape, the self-sacrificing love that expects nothing in return as is used throughout the "Love Chapter" of 1 Corinthians 13? Or was it in this case perhaps the word eros, which refers to sexual love? 

I was wrong on both counts. The word for love in this verse is philia, which means "affectionate regard, friendship," usually "between equals." 

There are several online tools that you can use to gain a truer meaning of  Hebrew or Greek words than what we can understand in English. My favorite site for this is blueletterbible.org.



The last two words in this verse - translated as "to love their husbands" and  "to love their children," - are philandros and philoteknos. 
These two words do not appear anywhere else in the bible. They are made from two words,
 "philio - aner" and "philio - teknos." 

Hovering the cursor over the word highlights it in red and gives the English meaning:

The two words mean "friend of man," and "friend of children."


So, let's get back the Christian women's group. We talked about loving our husbands with the kind of  love we have for our dearest friends. The importance of preserving friendship with our husbands can so easily be overlooked during our busy lives with small children.We each shared things we enjoy doing with our husbands to uphold that friendly atmosphere between mom and dad. 

I then asked about enjoying friendship with our children, which can also be difficult to maintain when we're so focused on trying to teach them how to behave.

"I would never try to be friends with my children," said one mom, "I have friends already." Another mom agreed. 

I was not surprised by their comments, considering what Gary Ezzo and other Christian authors say, but I was troubled. Why would you not consider a friendship with your own children? Wouldn't you want to be friends with people you will be living with for twenty years?  


I have been friends with my children since they were nursing babies! I used to call them my "bosom buddy" or my "breast friend!"And why not? We loved each other and we enjoyed being together every single day. 

Does this mean I had no authority over my children. Of course not! Every mother is in authority! Can a hungry infant make himself a sandwich? Can he keep himself clean and warm? Ultimately my child relies totally on whatever I will - or will not - do for him / her. I am in supreme control. 

But in dealing with my children I also follow Jesus' rule:

"So in everything, [including parenting!] do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." 
How I speak to my children, how I teach them and how I correct them - and in fact how I treat  anyone - should reflect the way I would like to be treated.  

When your children have a friendly and affectionate relationship with you, discipline is easier and more effective. Why? Imagine you have a demanding, critical boss. How do you feel if he's angry?  What about a boss who you really like, and actually enjoy working for? You'd hate to upset the nice boss but you probably wouldn't care if the critical boss got upset. In fact you might even feel satisfaction in seeing him/her upset. Serves him right, the big jerk.

Like many Christian authors, Gary Ezzo strongly advises parents to maintain authority over their children. He warns against being "buddies" with your child: 

The idea is especially appealing to a generation that has pondered the considerable lack of friendship with their own parents. However, reducing the parental role to the child's level or raising the child to the status of peer will not, in the end, produce friendship. True friendship cannot be forced before its time.

Ezzo warns that friendship  "reduc(es) the parental role to the child's level or rais(es) the child to the status of peer.   His mistake is in confusing a friend with a peer; they are not the same thing. Peers are persons of equal standing socially or financially - not necessarily your friends. A friend is someone with whom you have a bond of affection, and not necessarily a peer. My peers might be those with whom I attend school or work. I will be acquainted with them, but might not be friends. My friends are the people I love to spend time with whether they are 20 years older than me or 20 years younger me. My friends don't necessarily have the same career choice or hobbies, financial status or education as me. Even a dog can be "Man's best friend" because of their love for each other, though clearly one is in authority over his friend.

 And of course the best example is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate authority, and yet calls Himself our friend. 

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends ~John 15:13-15 KJV

A Life-Long Friendship

 In his book On Becoming Babywise, Gary Ezzo uses fictional characters to demonstrate what he sees as the problem with befriending your children: 
Chelsea's parents understand that virtues must be nurtured into her tiny heart. These virtues are not inherent in her life or any new life. Parents must train these attributes into the heart of their child. Therefore, they must govern and monitor her until they are assured she bears the self-control and moral awareness needed to govern herself....
Back at Marisa's home, her [Attachment Parenting] mom and dad continue to strive for buddy status. They yearn for friendship, elevating Marisa to the level of peer. And  what could be more noble than a family made up of friends? The idea is especially appealing to a generation that has pondered the considerable lack of friendship with their own parents. However, reducing the parental role to the child's level or raising the child to the status of peer will not, in the end, produce friendship. True friendship cannot be forced before its time.
Time and experience are prerequisites for building any friendship. Children enter this world with neither. Wisdom, self-control, and the experiences earned over time must be trained into a child by those granted this unique privilege--the parents... 
Chelsea's [Babywise-following] parents understand this, knowing that friendship with their daughter is a gift that only time can give. In the meantime, they must represent her best interests. They set the pace in chelsea's life and insist upon compliance..... 
By the end of Chelsea's teen years, a beautiful friendship with her parents will begin to blossom. Indeed, this should be every parent's goal. [BW '98, p.25]
By the end of the teen years? 
Time and experience may be prerequisites for friendship, but TWENTY YEARS?
If I had to wait 20 years before I would deem someone worthy of a friendship with me beginning to blossom, I'd have no friends at all!  How hard it must be to live with someone for all those years and not enjoy a friendship with them - until it's time for them to leave.

Unfortunately, Ezzo followed his own advice waiting for that "beautiful friendship to begin to blossom." Now that his daughters are adults, they no longer have any relationship with their parents at all.* He is reaping exactly what he has sown: another generation ... has pondered the considerable lack of friendship with their own parents. And it's very, very sad.

 *see www.ezzo.info for details of their estrangement

(1) from the Preface


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