Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver and other gold
Anyone who was in the Brownies and/or Girl Scouts growing up like I was is probably familiar with this little tune. I’ve always been fond of it: it’s short, sweet and in its way very poignant. As a child I didn’t fully grasp the concept of friendships and their value the way I do as an adult.
My oldest son, who will start first grade this year, is starting to learn lots of big lessons about what it is to have, and to be, a true friend. As his parent, this is something that leads to moments of great pride and can at other times be very painful.
When he has a play date with a friend, it can be fun to watch the interaction and see the joy on his face. But when he wants to engage in something with someone and gets rebuffed, it breaks my heart.
Our family recently took a trip out of town and for the most part, we really enjoyed ourselves. During the trip, there was a group of boys my son’s age who were playing and he wanted to join them. But instead of including him in the game, they made a game out of excluding him. They would lure him in as though they were going to let him play and then laughingly reject him. Thankfully, their game ended when I encouraged my son to simply say “no thanks” the next time they asked him to play with them. Once he’d turned the tables on them and the kids no longer knew they could engage him, they lost interest in teasing him.
During this exchange I struggled with a range of emotions: from pure anger and a desire to discipline or yell at the boys (where were their parents?), to reminding myself to keep calm, knowing that I have to let my son make his own choices. I won’t be able to witness all of these encounters every day for the rest of his life after all. All I can do is try to prepare him to handle situations himself and give him different things to think about and different approaches he can take.
Truthfully, my son wasn’t nearly as phased by the encounter with the bullies as I was. After the incident, I reflected on my own childhood and tried to pinpoint when it was that I truly figured out what real friendship entailed, and realized that it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s.
I shared some advice with my son. He may be too young to understand it right now, but I hope he figures it out earlier than I did.
“A friend is someone who makes you feel good about yourself,” I told him.
He looked at my quizzically so I elaborated some more. “A true friend doesn’t ask you to do, be or act in a different way. They don’t like you for what you have or what you can give them. They like you for who you are. ”
The experience was a good reminder for me that true friendship doesn’t come with a price. It’s more valuable than anything money can buy and best of all, it’s free.