I was never under the delusion that helping my kids navigate friendship would be easy. Childhood friendship is hard — I look back on my own growing up years, and I remember a lot of immaturity, which translated to meanness.
Both my kids, 10-year-old Sylvia and 12-year-old Cooper, are weathering the age of crushing social flip-flops and the effects of socializing with the immature. All the kids are in training — learning how to be nice, how to stand up for one’s self, how to make choices without hurting others.
All those skills can be hard, and require finesse that usually comes later.
One thing that’s helped us through this unavoidable stage is knowing that each of my kids has one best friend that they can count on. They each enjoy an unshakeable friendship that can be counted on no matter how rocky their social life might be.
Last week, our family went out to dinner. My kids sat side-by-side in the booth.
“Who’s your best friend?” Sylvia asked her brother.
Cooper narrowed his eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Just tell me,” she replied, head thrown back in annoyance.
He leaned slightly toward her.
“You are,” he said. His tone implied she should have known the answer.
“Well, duh,” she said. She knows.
It’s not your traditional “besties” situation — the kind where two friends are joined at the hip, never tire of each other and finish each others’ sentences. It looks more like a run-of-the-mill brother/sister relationship. The only difference is it’s been a household requirement to be best friends since they were knee-high.
This idea came from a parenting expert who spoke at my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, many years ago.
She informed her kids they were best friends, gave them responsibility for one another and advised them that they would be in each others’ lives forever. So this was a relationship they should maintain. This sounded like a good plan, and one that really didn’t take much work from the parenting end.
We find many opportunities to remind them of their best friend duties. If one of them is stressed out, “Go help your best friend figure this out.” If they’re bored, “Your best friend is right here — you two find something great to do!” And if they’re being mean to each other? Well, clearly there’s no room for that. “This isn’t how you treat each other. Act like best friends are supposed to.”
It turns out, the best friend mandate has been one of the easiest coercions of our parenting experience. They never once questioned this directive, and even try to impose it upon their friends.
“You’re best friends,” they’ll tell arguing siblings, who look back at them in astonishment.
“No we’re not. We hate each other.” It’s a sad thing to hear, isn’t it?
One day, I hope my kids will look back on the best friend mandate and realize that it’s a complete and utter sham. They’ll realize that I don’t get to tell them who they’re friends with, they make their own choices.
When they do, they’ll realize that working on a friendship is effective. They’ll remember offering each other comfort and support. They’ll see that even with differences in personality, interests and age, we can choose kindness toward one another. They’ll remember that family is priority, fights don’t last forever, and there’s nothing better than having a best friend you can count on — whether you like them or not.
Overland Park mom Emily Parnell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at email@example.com. On Twitter: @emilyjparnell