I posted a link to this before, but felt the need to revisit this post just yesterday. And again today in response to a friend’s pondering. Today I’m taking the liberty of copying the entire piece. It speaks to my heart – and I need to continue to soak up the message as we make our peace with this move to Illinois. For me – and for my daughter.
From Angela – MotherCrone:
Thoughts On Kids and Friendships from an Old Crone
Friendship is a huge topic of posts on many homeschooling blogs of late . I am certain this goes much deeper than a fear of our children not being properly “socialized,” but stems from a genuine desire for our beloved sons and daughters to find that bosom pal who they will share hours of play and adventure. The whisper of hope we have when we meet each new little person- will this be the BFF my child is seeking? And when, alas, this person is not quite ideal for this reason or that, we, too , become dejected and sad with our child.
While the desire for our child’s happiness is all perfectly natural, I think, perhaps, we are idealizing friendship, especially friendship in children. I want to write this post not as a criticism, but to assuage the fears in many homeschooling parents and encourage you to take another look at this subject.
If I have one problem with many classic children’s books is that they tend to create nearly impossible images of friendship for children. To find another child who is emotionally, intellectually, and chronologically matched to our child, within the same geographical area is frankly, selling your child’s uniqueness short! We do not live in a world where every Anne has a Diana on the next farm over, or every Betsy has a Tacy down the hill.
We fret because, by choosing to homeschool, we might have limited our child’s friendship pool, so to speak. Yet I can assure you, with years spent as a girl scout leader, that most children in schools have not found their bosom friend either. They trade up for a new BFF often and easily: new year in different classes; a new student seems cooler; or a simple spat. I did it myself as a child, and I am sure I am not alone. Moreover, traditionally schooled kids are generally dealing with “Lord of the flies” power struggles and are often just as lonely, even in the crowded rooms.
Friendship is an essential need and desire, but much about friendship needs to be learned. As our children’s teachers, we are given the opportunity to teach them the truth beyond the idealized images. What a blessing it is to be able to share these lessons along with our children in an environment of love and support and truth! What a better refuge for their disappointment but within a caring and understanding family!
With my brood, I had some very definite guidelines for shaping their ideas about friendship. Most of it came from a combination of things I learned while studying psychology, social relationships, and plain old common sense. While not exhaustive my any means, I offer you some of my insights.
1) Stop Seeking the One Perfect Friend– The perfect friend is a myth, and we should use our own lives as testimony of this truth. There will never be just one person who is exactly what we need on every level. This is even more true in children who are growing and changing at such a rapid pace. Bust this myth right away, because believing in it can lead one to turn their back on many potential friendships.
2) The are different levels of friendship– Again, look at your adult life and use it as a model. We have all sorts of friends. There are casual friends, pleasant acquaintances, and trusted confidants. Among our better friends, there are some who we rely on heavily, and others that are great for stress relief over coffee. Even if we are blessed with a lifeong best friend, that person does not fill all our friendship needs.
When teaching my children about friends, I often used food analogies (a habit that I am sure is directly related to my round bottom-but let’s not analyze!) You need to have a lot of different kinds of friends to keep your friendship plate balanced, and help you maintain friendship health. I would use my life as example. I have my homeschool buddies to do field trips and co-ops, but I do not necessarily share their views on some big issues, so the friendships are limited to that area. I have my bookclub friends to share bookstore trips and intellectual discussion, but none of them share my homeschooling lifestyle (or even understand it). I have my blog friends to share insight and enrichment about homeschooling and life, but they live all over the globe and cannot share activities or coffee. I have my high school and college friends who I share memories and occasional laughs, but often have little in common all these years later.
I am blessed to have some exceptional friendships. Yet there are only a handful of folks I can be my true self with on all levels. Do you know how many of these wonderful people were my friends in my childhood? None. This is not to say that I didn’t have lots of friends in my youth. It is only stating that none of them was REAL enough to last into adulthood, nor am I now the same person I was back then. Why would we think our children should be any different?
3) Become A Good Friend– Instead, I think we need to teach our children that their relationships now are sort of a training ground for all future friendships. It is important to remind them that most every kid is in the same boat…learning how to be a good friend. So it is not going to always be easy or smooth.
Each and every time my children had been with friends or peers, we would discuss it honestly. If there was conflict, we would go through it step by step. We discussed expectations, actions and reactions of everyone involved. I taught them to problem-solve and take responsibility for themselves. I shared how their actions might be perceived by others, and discussed better solutions. I tried to always be objective, and let them know when they were being overbearing, over-sensitive, and difficult, because they NEED to learn how to act outside the family. They cannot expect another kid to be as understanding and patient as their parents!
Through this dialoging, they were able to learn the skills of patience, fairness, and tolerance necessary to be a good friend. They were able to articulate their thoughts to others and quickly dispel many misunderstandings. They were finally able to be good friends, and quickly had them.
4) Don’t Make Differences an Excuse- I hate labels, because it is too tempting to make them the excuse for common problems. I could have easily made excuses for my kids early difficulties in making friends through labels: dyslexic or ADHD/child of divorce . Of course those diagnosis brought along a myriad of issues and differences, but what benefit would it have been to use the differences as excuses? It doesn’t help them make friends to know that their makeup is the reason they aren’t relating-it only makes them feel like a bigger misfit. My children’s differences are real, but needed to be addressed. The only changes my kids could control were the ones they chose to make for themselves.
Labeling can be limiting in this way. We think that if only we could find other kids that were like ours, the social issues would melt away. Ideally that would work, but often the issues they are all struggling with become amplified instead. The more unique and rare our child, the less likely we are to find those who are similar. We need to help them learn how to embrace their uniqueness and learn to get along in the world. Few people are just like their friends, but they embrace those things that they have in common and learn to respect the difference without disdain.
5) Embrace Your Uniqueness!-Developing healthy self-esteem is the essential key to developing lasting friendships. You must be a friend to yourself first and foremost. So often people look outside themselves for a fulfillment that can only be found within.
The best place to start? Look in the mirror. Enter that scary realm of self-analysis, and realize that you are your child’s best example of self-love. If you have not yet learned to love yourself, flaws and all, you will have a difficult time teaching your child to do so.
Embrace yourself, your positive qualities and forgive your weaknesses. Work on them, and let your child see you trying to better yourself. But love yourself, and teach your child to do the same.
6) Define What Friendship Means to Them– I had to fight my desire to form a protective shell around my kids, especially NatureGirl. Boys are a different sort when young, and their friendships are based more on interests and play. But girls idealized and search for emotional companionship. Many times she would come in tears of frustration because she couldn’t relate with other girls her age. She was different: dyslexic, homeschooled, tomboy. It would have been easy to just dismiss it all by telling her how unfair it was that others aren’t like her and didn’t understand…but would it have been best for her self-esteem? Or would she have become perpetually discouraged and unwilling to take risks with new people?
Instead of focusing on the differences as the issue, I chose to address the sameness. I reminded her again and again that she maintained the power over her reactions and feelings. She could choose to be disappointed over the differences, or celebrate the camraderie. She had gotten into a habit of eliminating people mentally before getting to know them, or she would idealize new friends only to be disappointed later. I realized that she really did not have a true concept of what friendship meant for her.
So we began by making a list about her personality, interests, likes and dislikes. Then I proposed creating a list of traits she desired in a true friend. We created three columns on the paper: Need, Want, Avoid. Then we brainstormed all sorts of things, and kept the list going in her notebook for a few weeks. We would discuss each idea fully before assigning it to a column.
In the end, she realized that all she needed was a friend who was fun, kind, honest, and understanding at the heart of it all. While she would like someone who loves nature, analyzing the deep questions of life, skating, video games, fairies, homeschooling, and anime, it isn’t mandatory for growing a friendship. She admittedly can’t stand kids who chatter all the time, are know-it-alls or snobs, or those who are deceitful.
Not long after this , she started developing some solid friendships. I think it was because she finally knew what mattered to her. If you look at her two closest girl friends you can see that quiet camraderie of kids who can sit together happily without filling the air with noise. They giggle and whisper, and have tons of fun. They are loyal and kind and understanding of each other. Yet they are so different from each…as tomboy, ballerina, and girlie-girl . They teach each other about their worlds, and share the differences.
More over, she has learned to create touchpoints with other friends. These might not be bosom pals, but people with whom she shares common interests or hobbies, and she embraces the sameness with them . She has realized that no one needs to understand everything about her. That truth has led her to be less sensitive and more communicative. Friendship now comes easily.
7) Realize that Friendship is Fluid– Make sure children realize that as they grow and learn and change, their friends are doing the same thing. Sometimes they will grow in the same direction and at the same speed, but more often not. Understanding this fact, especially as your children enter the teen years, will help stave off disappoinment and hurt. They need to remember to respect their friends as individuals, and give them the space to grow.
8) Help them Maintain Perspective– Teach them to always stay true to themselves, no matter who their friends are at the moment. Enjoying ones friends is different than being emotionally dependent on them. Work hard to make sure your child always maintains a strong sense of self unrelated to his peers. The friend who spent every weekend sleeping over in youth may suddenly be unavailable when he gets involved with his first serious girlfriend. While it will be disappointing, a healthy perspective will remind your child that thourhg friends will come and go over the years, they can still carry on.
9) Practice what you Preach– Show them how to be a friend. Be loyal and supportive of your friends. Be open to new people and experiences. Be honest enough to let a friendship go that has become unhealthy . Let them see how friendships can transition to new phases as people grow, change, and move.
10) Always remain first friend– Don’t ever sell short the friendship your child has in you. You are their first friend, and will always remain as such. Make a point to remain connected to your child as they grow into adulthood and their lives are full of other people. Keep having fun together, and continue to share.