When my daughter was little, going to the park was never about playing on the swings or sliding down the slide – it was always: who she would play with.
Who will be there? My daughter would beg.
I don’t know, you’ll have to wait and see. You can always make a new friend. I would reassure.
Her little extroverted side would shine in this setting. She was not shy to pick a girl about her size and introduce herself and ask: Do you want to play?
On our way home from the park, she would ask me about her new “best” friend – when will I see her again? Can we have her over to our house? Her excitement from gaining a new friend was bittersweet. I felt so bad when I would have to say, I don’t know her parents. We don’t know their phone number. You may never see her again.
She was always eager to give the “best” of herself to someone new.
Telling her over and over that she may never see that new friend again hurt her, and eventually it taught her to hold back. The hurt didn’t change her from outgoing to shy, but it stole her joy. She started to recognize the loss from giving herself was greater than the gain of a new “best” friend that she would never see again.
As she grew up, I noticed a slight change in her attitude toward making new friends. She was still eager to play, but less excited about finding a new friend. The questions turned to friends she knows are in her life on purpose. After leaving the park, she would ask: when will I see my cousins again? When will we play with friends from church?
One day after watching her play with “new” friends, I saw her tire of it. She came over and sat down next to me and said that she didn’t want to play anymore. This is when I realized that the whole time she had been questioning about these friends, she wasn’t angling for a large quantity of friends – she had been sizing up the quality of her friendships. The time and energy necessary to play well was being given to people she would never see again, and she didn’t like that thought. She wanted to invest herself, she wanted to build something bigger than just a one-time-deal.
She wanted companionship.
After seeing this change in her, I knew it was on me to find the solution.
She was lonely, and the solution was going to cost me more than just a quick trip to the park. I would have to find a way to build consistent relationships into our routine. Being a homeschool family means we have the freedom and responsibility to socialize on our own terms. It means we rely on each other to learn and discover how to make lasting friendships.
And not too long ago, I came to the realization that I didn’t know how to do this for myself.
So I’ve put myself on the same path to friendships as my daughter. We talk about it often. How can we be a good friend? Who are the people that we want to know better? How can we balance planning for established friendships and inventing new ones?
Am I modeling this commitment to relationships?
I want our home to be a safe place for my children to let their emotions show. For that to be true all the time, I have to be willing to encourage their excitement at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. This goes back to the root of loneliness: the need for support and companionship. And the first place a child will have this need met is at home. So am I happy to see my kids? Do I smile when receiving them? Showing feeling and even excitement to be with them will build a good foundation for understanding what being a good friend is supposed to be like.
I don’t have to be my daughter’s best friend, but I can show her what one looks like.
Need to catch up on this series? Find links to Parts 1-4 here.