You’re a Good Friend

How many good friends do you have?

My youngest son and I continue to read our new favorite book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cooke O’Toole. What I love about this book is how much of this information benefits people on the spectrum and those of us who aren’t.

My son and I are now in the part of the book that is about friendship — what makes a good friend and how to go about cultivating a friendship. As I read the chapter I was struck by how much I would have benefitted from someone telling me this information when I was my son’s age about what makes a good friend. When I was young, I didn’t think about friendships in layers per se, but did understand I had different friends — some were kind, some were kind when they felt like it, some could be trusted, others couldn’t, etc. In the book, it spells out characteristics a good friend has. Some of the basics: Smiles when they see you, likes some of the same things you do, shares some of the same opinions, invites you to hang out. And others that are more advanced and truly define a good friend: stands up for you (even if you’re not there), stops you if you put yourself down, listens, sees talents in you that you hadn’t noticed, likes you for exactly who you are. There are many more characteristics she names, but you get the picture, she is shining a light on what a true and worthwhile friend is.

After reading this I reflected on my own childhood friends. I had some friends that had some of these characteristics, but don’t think I had any ‘true’ friends until I was college-age. As I’ve grown older, I’ve sought out, cared for and worked to develop healthy and meaningful friendships vs. giving equal care and time across all friends regardless to what they bring to the relationship. I wondered how I might have invested my time differently with people earlier in life if I had had this information. I thought what the author said was so valuable I grabbed my older son and said, “I need to read this to you.” He has friends much like I did in middle school — some are nice, some are nice when they feel like, some can be trusted, and others cannot. After reading with both my boys I felt like I had given them a path to know how to spot a good friend and better spend their time with people who will value them and their friendship and reciprocate in kind.

Friendship can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially if you don’t understand what a good friend ‘looks’ like. I’m grateful I’ve had an opportunity to enlighten my kids (and remind myself) about what a good friend truly is.

How are you teaching your child to spot (and make) a good friend?

It’s Just Brunch

When you first had your child did you worry about when you could return to activities you enjoyed prior to becoming a parent?

When I first entered motherhood, I had two realizations: I love my son, and I loved my old life, how can I honor both?  I was stumped. As a new parent, I thought sacrifice was paramount to being a ‘good parent’, and anything else was selfish. This kind of understanding and thinking was a rookie mistake on my part. What I learned was that while parenting requires sacrifice, it also requires taking care of yourself so that you can give your child the energy and attention they need from you.

When my son was young, my husband and I were lucky enough to be in a PEPS group (Program for Early Parenthood Support) and were surrounded by other families who were just starting out as parents like we were. We were encouraged to have a Moms Night Out (MNO) where the dads would watch the kids while the moms had dinner, and vice versa, so the dads had an opportunity to do the same. I lived for those MNO in the early days and looked forward to them. But as our kids got older, and required less of us physically, the need by all the moms for these MNO diminished. We probably haven’t had a MNO in years.

In those early days, I needed a reprieve from being a parent. I needed to be with others my age for adult conversation and interaction. I was very mindful of this need in the early days of being a parent. I’ve gotten a bit away from it as my children have grown and become independent.  That is, until, a girlfriend of mine reached out to go to brunch. As a working parent, she realized with all the stresses from work and home life, she needed to connect with others and became proactive about doing so. Thankfully, I was one of the friends she reached out to. “Let’s do brunch,” she said. Oh, brunch sounded nice. I hadn’t done brunch without family members present in a long time. I mean a loooong time. I loved the idea, and eagerly accepted her invitation. I loved having brunch with my friend. She reminded me that it’s okay to start reclaiming your independence and take time for those activities that are important to you — like keeping up relationships and having a good meal that is kid-free.

What kid-free activity have you reconnected with since becoming a parent? Or what activity do you want to? What helped you or what’s holding you back?

The Gift of Friendship

How is your oldest and dearest friend? What drew you to them when you met? What has kept you friends all these years?

My youngest son is a very friendly kid–he can talk to people easily and engage in new situations without being prompted. He loves to laugh, and be silly. He struggles though, with making friends. He’s likable enough, and people want to be around him, he just struggles to do simple things like: introducing himself (he can play with someone for hours, walk away and we can ask, “Who’s your new friend?” and he’ll reply, “I don’t know.” “Did you ask him his name?,” we’ll continue, and he’ll share, “No, I didn’t think about it.”); or engaging in other’s interests–he is happy to have people engage with him if it’s something he’s interested in, but when it’s not–he’s not as willing. We’re working with him, along with his teachers and others, to help him develop these social skills.

He shared some frustration in lacking strong connection with his peers–even though he’s only seven years old. “I don’t have any friends, and I’m not going to.” When I asked, “What are you talking about?”, he replied, “I haven’t gotten invited to a birthday party in a long time.” He was measuring his friendships by the number of birthday parties he was invited to–I probably did the same thing when I was his age. And while he doesn’t yet understand that friendship is more than getting invited to a birthday party, it still broke my heart when he said this–one, because I could see the pain in his face; and two, I knew he was experiencing self-doubt and feeling hopeless that his situation would never change. We talked about friendship, what goes into being a good friend to someone and how it happens over time. My husband and I shared our own experiences with him and friendships, how some come and go, and some stay when you work on them. Those friendships are gifts that keep on giving. They are the relationships you ultimately want to develop and cultivate. We encouraged him and said his efforts to make lasting friendships would pay off.

Without any intervention or action on my husband’s or my part, within days of this conversation with our son, a flurry of birthday invitations arrived for him. It was almost like the cosmos or God heard our plea and responded in kind (and then some). He ended up getting invited to three birthday parties being held over the same weekend. He was ecstatic. What a wonderful gift those birthday invitations were for him. His demeanor changed, and hope for making meaningful connections with others returned. As a parent, you couldn’t help but share in his joy.

What gifts of friendship have you received or shared with others? How is your child experiencing friendship?

Charlotte’s Web

We just finished reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. It’s about the unlikely friendship and life of a spider and a pig. While the book centers on the relationship between the animals, its parallels to human relationships made me appreciate the book even more as I read it to my children.

The book was a good reminder that friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Its about getting past someone’s exterior and seeing who they really are, but it goes further. It includes accepting and appreciating someone as they are. It’s about being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be loved. What a great message for my boys to get. I’m not sure they fully understand the significance in the message the story was telling, but they understand that friendship can be strong, and includes caring and sometimes sacrifice.

In the story, Charlotte is thoughtful, creative, caring, brave and selfless. She is a rare find. A true friend always is. As my children navigate relationships, and how friendship works (or how it should), I’m glad stories like Charlotte’s Web exist. It’s good for my children to hear how friendship can be from someone other than my husband and I.

What true friends are you grateful to have in your life? How are you helping your child navigate relationships?

Close Friendships From Afar

Having a close friend, or friends, move away can be hard.

When I was five, I had a friend named Mary. She is the first friend I can remember from my childhood. She lived in my neighborhood and I really enjoyed our playtime together. I recall one day being at her house and being told by my mother as she was picking me up to leave that this is the last time I would see Mary. “Mary is moving away,” my mother asked. “Why?” I responded. Mary’s mother chimed in that Mary’s father had gotten a job in another city that would require them to move. This was also the first time I can remember being pretty devastated. I couldn’t understand how adults could possibly separate children that had such a good time together. The job Mary’s father had, couldn’t possibly be as important, I thought.

It was the last time I saw Mary, and like any child my sadness at the situation faded as I realized the world went on and I would make other friends.

We have belonged to a parenting group since my oldest was born. The group has stayed together and met regularly ever since, even after many of us had our second child. We are a tight group, a supportive group and we deeply care about one another. One of the five families recently moved away. It was hard to come to terms with. You realize when people leave how you wished you spent more time with them while they were here.

I’m grateful for the time we had with this family, and even more grateful we have technology like FaceTime and Skype to keep us connected even though our dear friends moved far away. Seeing their faces makes them feel closer, and helps keep our connection strong.

I think about my children and what they think about their friends being so far away. Are they experiencing what I did with Mary? I know they’ll move on, but my hope is that through technology and occasional visits, my husband and I will model how with a little effort you can retain the best of friendships, even when you thousands of miles apart.

I’m reminded of my Girl Scout Days and the song, “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” So true.

How have you dealt with relocation — your own, or friends or family? How did you help your children get through it?

One is Silver the Other Gold

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.