This goes against a LOT of parental guidance out there. Read anything, it says that I should care. Pick up a magazine article, I should care. I should have been planning play-dates since my kids could sit up themselves. I should have enrolled them in something, anything, to get them interacting with kids their ages, right?
Once in school, I should be monitoring and encouraging their social growth. I mean, that is what the experts say. I should want them to “fit in”. I should put them in a sport, have them join a club, or something, anything, right?
Guess what? I simply don’t agree.
When my kids were younger, my thoughts on the importance of social interaction were not at the top of the list. I thought they should learn to dress themselves, shower themselves, eat by themselves, and maybe speak coherently. When we worked on social interaction, we went outside the house. I’ve always said that’s the thing about people – you always know where to find them. So we went out to eat, and I had the kids order for themselves. We took the kids around family and they learned to be social in a protected circle first.
When my kids got a little older, I encouraged them to talk to other kids. I reminded them that the other kids, the quiet kids and the loud kids, were all new to the classroom too. And maybe they wanted to play. Or maybe they didn’t want to play that day, but maybe they would want to play tomorrow. Maybe the day their friend yelled at them for no reason, maybe that morning was a bad morning for them.
There was a brief period where I was going out of my way to help my oldest, with the whole “friend” thing. We had a few social things at the house. There was one girl who my daughter really wanted to be friends with. And the girl’s parents were thought highly of in the community. The mom seemed to snob me, but whatever. I cared only in the respect that I wanted her to trust me, so that our kids could play; because this was important to my daughter. One day we had this girl over to our house. It was just for a few hours. After the girl left, my daughter was so relieved. The girl had been pinching my daughter to get her way the entire time. The girl was mean. The girl didn’t act mean around adults. She knew how and when to act. That changed it right then and there.
Adults are not usually what they seem. Children are usually different; but not all of them. I started watching this particular child a little more when I saw her at the school; or in their girl scout troop. And I could see it then, when she played up being nice. And when she thought no one was looking.
I was wrong. I should not have worked so hard to make that get-together happen. There is a reason that some friendships work and some do not. Imagine what would have happened, if I had done nothing. Nothing. Nothing would have happened. My child would not have had bruises on her arm. And she would not have been bossed around for hours in secret. And then it hit me. If I am working on living my life to the best of what is right for me; and if I am telling my children to do the same; then isn’t it very hypocritical of me to push and force friendships that don’t come natural? And the friendship that I was trying to “help” with, would not have been a good one anyway!
School is starting soon. I certainly want my children to be good friends to others. And of course I want my kids to have a couple of friends that they can trust. I remember school! I would like there to be nice people for my children to play with at recess. My children and I will talk about a lot of things that happen at school; why this child said this or why they acted this way. We will break down the mean words and actions; and how they usually come from some insecure or other place from the one dishing them out.
At the end of the day though, I would rather my kids be friends with themselves before they are friends with anyone else. I don’t want them to ever value themselves based on how the kids at school treat them. Because they are going to grow in to adults. These adults will go out in to a world that will treat them meanly. And I don’t want them to ever, ever, ever believe that who they are is based on what the world tells them they are. I know that this kind of confidence is not built-in a day. I know this is year after year, month after month, week after week, and day after day of talking and believing and reassuring them that God made them special to do great things! And he doesn’t make mistakes! And that has absolutely nothing to do with who their friends are.
So no, I don’t care if my kid is friends with your kid. On a scale of life importance, it is close to remembering to brush your teeth. Friends are good. Friends can be life changing. Friends can define moments in life. But friends are never a definition of your life.
Tonight I am thankful for a Mom who spent countless hours talking to me about how I was not what people said I was at school. If I had ever bought in to the words or the classifications that social interaction had placed me in during school; I would be a completely different person today. I would be a shell of who I am and who I will become in life. I am thankful that my Mom spent the time teaching understanding to me about what was really happening. There is a way to not end up bitter if things don’t turn out like you wanted in life; and that is in gaining wisdom and understanding. I am thankful I was taught that; so that I can teach my children. I want them to see that knowing who they are themselves is far more important than making friends. I don’t want them to ever get lost in the stream of “social interaction” that carries away youth and makes them believe they should be a certain way because it is “normal”. No one gets to dictate what is normal for my children. Not social media. Not teachers. Not parenting groups. And not friends at school. And I am thankful for that.