There are boys at John's school whose parents appeal to me more. There's Leo's mum, for instance, who reminds me poignantly of an early girlfriend I lost some time in the Seventies, and there's Tom's dad, who generously throws open his wine cellar to the fathers of any boys who come to play. But John steadfastly refuses to be persuaded that he likes Leo or Tom, and there's a limit to the number of times you can drag a child screaming into someone else's house, growling "Yes you do like Leo" in his ear.
When I was a child, parents took a firm line on these things. They spent their time with their own grown-up friends, known to me as Aunty Elsie and Uncle Herbert, or Aunty Lily and Uncle Roger, and the children of these pseudo-relatives were designated my friends before I ever met them. These were friendships of convenience imposed on us children so our parents could get on with the things that only parents enjoy: talking, walking and drinking.
But something has gone wrong in the intervening years. Now that I'm a parent, I find that my own son and daughter are far from pliant about who their friends might be. The first shock came a few years ago when we went on our own walking, talking, drinking holiday with my oldest school- friend, who also had a little boy.
In time-honoured fashion, little David was introduced to John as his new friend. John then proceeded to beat up his new friend all the way across Brittany.
At first, we adults pretended it wasn't happening. Then we began to keep the two boys in separate cars like caged animals, only letting one out at a time. At no time did we take the view of my parents' generation that John and David were actually being naughty and were disrupting the grown- ups' plans. We tried to bribe, brainwash and flatter our children into liking each other. All to no avail.
Inevitably, I began to feel very guilty about John's behaviour but I also began to seek to justify him. Did little David in some way provoke John? Maybe if I was three, I'd want to hit him too. David's father and I ended up taking sides, on a strictly partisan parental basis. We didn't come to blows, but the holiday was not a success. It takes a deep friendship to survive the fact that your offspring are tearing lumps off each other.
A similar thing happened when my daughter Miranda started at a new school and we found out that some near neighbours were sending their daughter to the same school. This seemed like the ideal time to cement an incipient friendship by inviting the whole family round to brunch at the end of the girls' first week together. But within two days, Miranda and Henrietta had called each other all the names under the sun and divided the class into two factions. Discreetly, we all forgot the brunch had ever happened.
I can accept our children refusing to play their part when grown-ups want to be friends. If we want a social life, the onus should be on us, not our offspring. I can also accept that the generations need to lead separate lives if only because children fall in and out of friendships so quickly. We adults could never keep up. Miranda's first boyfriend, who at the age of six used to invite her to watch Disney videos, turned out, fortunately, to have very nice parents indeed. And when Jacob and Miranda divorced amicably a few weeks later, we stayed in touch with our would-be in laws and still go brunching with them.
But what I do find difficult to take is when Miranda and John want us to organise our social life around the families of their choice of school- friends. Little OJ MacAllister may be the toughest boy in John's school and a really good friend to be seen hanging around the playground with, but that doesn't mean I want to be sharing my Sunday morning scrambled eggs with Mr Big OJ MacAllister, formerly of No2 Para. Nor he with me, I imagine.
And is Miranda's drift, via Saturday morning riding lessons, into the local county set going to put me under pressure to attend the hunt ball in a few years' time or to winter in Gstaad?
In the old days children led the lives their parents wanted them to and if the kids demurred, they were just plain naughty. Now it seems my children expect an increasing say in what they wear, what they eat, which school they attend, even where they go on holiday. But we have to draw a line at friendships. They can have theirs. I'll have mine. And we'll just have to tolerate each other's.Reuse content