Friend-ship: a lovely little boat that eventually enables our
children to sail confidently away from us.
Surprised? Friendship isn't just for children, of course, nor is
its sole purpose to support their leaving us someday, but it's a
big factor in their ability to do so. We parents can make it easier
for our children to make and maintain healthy friendships outside
the nest if we've done our part to help them feel securely attached
to us-inside the nest-in the first place.
To put it simply, the child who consistently experiences
responsive and nurturing parenting develops a perception of herself
as someone worthy of such treatment. She also develops the
expectation that she should offer this kind of care, and receive
it, from others. This is huge, and cannot be overstated.
Imagine that you are the anchor, connected to your child by a
strong but flexible tether. Your child is attached but has the
freedom to explore her world. The same thing can happen when our
children are given the freedom to explore friendships while still
'in the nest.'
We may believe certain relationships are not going to last, but
that's why it's cool that kids have the drive to experiment with
friendship while they're still living with us. They can lick their
wounds and, with our support, calmly explore what went well, what
didn't and decide what they might wish to find in future
What if your child is short on friends? Giving her an example of
how to make and be a good friend is a good place to start.
But what if this doesn't come naturally to you, either? Begin by
putting yourself in situations where you're likely to encounter
others with similar interests. Parents of young children often meet
up at story time (or other free events) at the local library. You
can also hang with your kid at a neighborhood park, where a simple
comment about the weather can evolve into something deeper.
Meanwhile your children, swinging on adjacent swings nearby, may
suddenly and courageously agree to move on to the slide, a little
farther from your park bench.
That's how it's done. Baby steps.
We may be the ones standing heartbroken on the shores of their
childhoods, dear parents, but we must let them go. The less anxious
our attachment to our children is, the less we 'cling' to them, the
greater the likelihood that they'll return to us time and
We'll have our own friends to keep us company.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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