As a child ages, his inner life expands. This is inevitable, good, and bad.
He pulls away because his personal center is insufficiently powerful to integrate all that he wants to do with his prior relationship with you. By choosing a place where you are not, he hides behind the bush again and re-creates the fallen world.
But you must not respond to him wandering off into his privacy by pulling directly against this wandering. He will experience your pulling as oppression and will form walls and coping mechanisms and will strike unspoken compromises with you — in short, all that we know as the normal experience of growing up. You must not attempt to constrain his growing privacy either physically, by demanding he spend time with you, or emotionally, by demanding he open up to you.
In issues of obediance, focus on the actions, not the core. The Holy Spirit will address the core. But, in relational issues (which are NOT issues of obediance, since obediance issues are all matters of the son’s relation to the Law, not to you directly) — in relational issues, focus on the core.
A word about terms…we might well say “heart”, instead of core. “Core” sounds so cold, so mechanical, so spatial. “Heart” is a warm and human word, by comparison. Plus, in the Hebrew vocabulary at the root of the Bible the term “heart” really does mean what we mean here, which is something like “the inner locus of wanting” (We don’t say desire because at times the flesh drives the heart with desires which are alien to the wanting, wishing human.) The “wanter”.
But the problem with ‘heart” is that our post-Romantic society hears too much emotion in the word. It implies a contrast with “head” and that contrast is dysfunctional. So “heart” has become almost unusable.
So, by “core”, I mean “the wanter”. The child must want the father as much as the father wants the son. When he is 2 and 4, he does. When he is 7, there is so much more to want. This discovery of the external world, in all its glory, is an exact parallel with Eve’s noticing, in Eden, that the tree was beautiful.
We have so grown used to the child wandering away from the parent as he ages that have assimilated it into our normalcy. But it is not. It is not healthy or good to wander away from ones parents. It is healthy to grow up, and learn to keep the garden, so that in the evening you can show to the father all your good work and the two of you can then multiply his joy in the garden by your work as well as his.
You must respond to his wandering into deeper privacy by addressing words and actions to his personal core. This is the mode of friendship, not of authority. You cannot simultaneously be a friend and hold authority over your child. These two are incomptable.
There can be different modes of relationship within the one overall relationship, of course. this is not uncommon, even when people don’t have the clarity to know what they are doing. You can be a friend with someone in area A of the relationship, and still be an authority in area B. But you cannot be both in the same area at the same time. So, at any given moment, you are inhabiting one role or another.
Those who poo-poo this level of analytical clarity in relationships are not exempt from the dynamics described here; they simply reveal that they do them badly, as we all do badly what we do not see clearly. It is easy to be skeptical of what we do not see.
Back to privacy. The child, when he chooses to be inward and private, has sovereign power over that choice. Any authoritarian move to undo the choice can succeed in appearance only.
The parent can, and may, decide to let him live with the consequences of his choice, rather than protect him from it. In other words, you want to be alone, so be lonely. Only a child gets to choose to be alone while still having warmth and companionship unconditionally injected into his cocoon to comfort him. Adults must pay the cost of loneliness when they choose to be alone. (We’re not talking here about the healthy solitude that all adults need to cultivate in order to be valuable in a relationship. That form of alone-ness is never accompanied by loneliness. That is another subject entirely.)
It isn’t that we gradually shift from father to friend as the child ages – no, it’s not as simple as that. For one thing, the necessity of friendship arises from the child’s discovery of his solitary interior life, and not from anything else in his personality or character. So his discovery of his ability to flee inward must happen in temporal coordination with his character development, or their asynchronicity means trouble.
It is not that privacy is bad. Every healthy relationship must have room in it for privacy. But that is the point: the room for each’s privacy is within the relationship. Both friends understand and both choose the time alone that each takes. Unilateral choice is the destruction of the friendship. In full friendship full inner privacies are voluntarily shared.