There is a therapeutic exercise in which a person lies on his back and imagines that he has just died and is lying in a coffin, surrounded by loved ones. He speaks to them, reflecting on his relationship with each one, expressing regrets and appreciations. When I use this exercise, it reminds me that there will be an end to my life, and that I will face such a moment.

Among those people standing around me in my fantasy are my children. I think to myself: What is it that I will want to be able to say and to hear? What is it that will make me feel proud and satisfied? What do I want to have accomplished with my children?

Always I come to the same conclusion: intimacy. I want to have known my children, and I want them to have known me. I want to have been close to them, friends with them. I want to have been a source of pleasure, security, guidance, and love for them and them for me.

I want to be able to say that in our mutual embrace of love, we shared joys and sorrows, pleasures and difficulties. I want to say that we laughed and cried together, that we shared the dance of life, that we made the time to penetrate the innermost selves of each other and to share openly what we found there. If I can say this, and if my children are able to say the same, I think that I (and they) will be quite satisfied.

I have read many books on child-rearing, communication skills, and instilling values in our kids. I have attended workshops about raising responsible, kind children; about helping them succeed in school and with friends; about assisting them to overcome conflicts and understand the true priorities of life; about how to increase their intellectual ability and their emotional strength.

But none of these workshops addressed the question of intimacy. And without intimacy as a requisite, I wonder whether these techniques work, or whether, in fact, they matter at all.

I believe in love. I believe that when we feel loved and are able to love, the finest within us emerges and the worst retreats. I believe that, as the Sages say, words from the heart penetrate the heart, so that words spoken without love, no matter how well-intended, will not penetrate. Conversely, with love, even the clumsiest of words will find their mark.

As parents we need not be poets or therapists, teachers or rabbis. We need to love. The love of which I speak is not the instinctual love of parent to child and child to parent. I speak of a love born of intimacy, the kind of love we develop with our spouses, the kind of love that grows with years and with effort, the love that stems from communication and openness. Love between parent and child is a natural, G‑d-given love, but intimacy is cultivated. And from this intimacy with our children grows a different kind of love, revealing the best in us.

The natural love we have for our children says: I love you in spite of who you are. The love that grows from intimacy says: I love you for everything you are. This love can only come after we know the everything that our children are, or at least as much as they are willing to reveal to us. Can intimacy be taught? Are there intimacy techniques? Of course not. But if we examine the intimate relationships in our adult lives, we see that intimacy can be fostered. Lack of expectation, suspension of judgment, unconditional acceptance, certain words or gestures all these aid in the growth of intimacy.

Intimacy with our children develops when we stop measuring them against some scale of qualities or virtues or behaviors, when we cease trying to fine-tune them to meet an external standard of excellence in ability. Intimacy comes from the intense desire to know them for who they are and from the courage to let them see who we are.

Will our children then be what we want them to be? The question becomes irrelevant. Instead we will ask: Whoever they are, do I know them? Whoever I am, do they know me? Have we, in our lifetimes, fully shared ourselves with one another?

See alsoThe View From My Child's Window