Saturday, June 9, 2012

Friendships are work, but worth it!

I have been thinking a lot about friendships lately. After much thinking and discussions and reading here is what I think it comes down to in a nutshell, (for me anyway):

Any friend can like you at you best but a true friend will still like you at your worst.

Here is the truth. You are not perfect and none of your friends are perfect. They are never going to be. No human walking on this Earth is. We all have character defects that will veer their ugly little heads from time to time (insecurity, jealousy, neediness, selfishness, righteousness, bossiness, loneliness, need for acceptance etc.) But I truly believe, when you are someone's friend, you accept all the things that make them who they are and they should do the same for you. The things you like and the things you don't like. If you cant accept certain things about someone then you can simply not be friends. Period. There is no going back and forth. However if you can and do accept them, then you go into it knowing there are going to be times when your friends are going to bother you, rub you the wrong way, say something to offend you, upset you, even hurt you. But it's what you do in that moment that does not define THEM as a friend it defines YOU.

I have made it no secret that I am raising a "difficult child". At first I didn't appreciate it or understand it, but thanks to the help of some experts now I do. I have learned to stop praying she were different and start praying for the wisdom to guide her properly. I have learned to stop praying to change her and to start praying for people to understand and accept her. And I have learned to appreciate that she is difficult, but my gosh she is so much more too. Our family therapist said it best when he told me "Jill, the World needs two types of people. The ones who are the people pleasers, kind, compassionate and caring by nature. The Followers who don't like conflict and usually am able to avoid it. But the World also needs the trailblazers, the stubborn ones, the leaders, the bright ones who have a hard time following rules and go against the masses. The ones who question things and don't shy away from conflict. We need them too. And it is NOT easy to raise one of them. It is a massive job. And not that different from a parent that has to raise a child with Aspergers, very mild Autism, ADD or ADHD." Mostly because these kids take longer to figure out that they can have what they want, just not all the time. That they can get people to cooperate with them if they learn to be cooperative through compromise and fairness. That they will get further in life the faster they learn to play by the rules, or at least the important ones, ha ha. They are usually driven by ego centric needs and wants and social implications are learned later than other kids and usually in harder lessons. Painful ones. :( Big.Sigh...

There is a saying that God doesn't give you what you can't handle. And I have heard some even say that God chooses us for the kids we have. Maybe I was chosen for her cause she is going to need someone who is going to never give up on her. Never stop trying to teach her, never stop trying to better her (not change her), never underestimate her, never stop trying to protect her and never stop supporting her. And when I over-think or stress about my little misfit, I remember this quote from Steve Jobs and it helps center me when my anxiety about how she will turn out starts to suffocate me...

Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

But a drawback to having a difficult child, is they don't make friends easily. And of course as a Mother that makes me sad. I want people to like her. But at the same time I am not in denial about her shortcomings or about how she contributes to problems with her friends. It is why I hover, the way other parents don't have to. I have to hover to keep her in line at times, to remind her to think about others before herself. To urge her to take turns or be fair and because I know when her feelings are hurt she can get mean and sassy. And sometimes her feelings are legitimately hurt and sometimes she is just misunderstanding a situation the way a young child can. So I try to comfort her, console her or correct her in these situations depending on the circumstance. The thing about hovering though is not only do you learn a great deal about the type of friend your own child can be, you learn a lot about the way her friends can be too. I see a lot more than other Moms who aren't in a position where they have to constantly keep an ear and eye open. That information can be helpful but also hurt at the same time.

It does make me wonder though what we are teaching our children about friendship? Are we teaching them what it is to be a good friend? Are we teaching them to recognize a good friendship versus a bad friendship? How are we teaching them to handle conflict with their friends? What we teach them when they are little will follow them into their adolescent and later their adult lives. It can make the difference between your child being a doormat or a bully (or both depending on the situation). Do we teach them to accept and try to overlook the flaws of their friends when they arise? Bossy, sharing problems, too competitive, quick to anger, sore winner, sore loser, mean at times, cranky a lot, always has to be the leader, etc? Do we teach them that they are not perfect either and there are times when they likely will and DO annoy their friends also? Do we teach them to forgive and to try to ignore things? Do we teach them to use their words in a constructive way to tell their friends when their behavior is upsetting them? Do we force them to make a decision about a friend or do we let them waffle (i.e I want to be her friend one day but not the next? I will play with him today since there is no one else around but not if someone I like better becomes available)? These are important questions to ask.

I try to teach my children to reciprocate with their friends. No one wants to feel like a friendship is one sided. I also try to teach my children how to handle conflict with their friends. I don't think you ever stop doing that. I know Moms of teenagers who still have to guide their children through the muddy waters of handling conflicts. It's easy to teach your kids to play nice. But not as easy to know what to do when your kid has a problem playing nice or to teach them how to respond when one of their friends is not playing nice. When they were 3/4 their idea of handling conflict was to cry or hit. When they are 5/6/7 their idea of handling conflicts is to get angry/hurt and say things like "well I/we are not going to play with you" or "I am not gonna be your friend". These are powerful words that can be misused (Ella's guilty of this) and/or can cause more problems. When kids are misbehaving or upsetting their friends and they respond by being mean in return they are no better than the one who is misbehaving. It was easy to teach my kids when someone hits you, you never hit back. I am finding it SO not as easy to teach them when someone says something mean to you or acts mean it doesn't justify you being mean back. They don't realize that words can hurt just as much as hands. That rejection can hurt just as much as a slap. I have to reprimand them constantly for this and I will continue to. I wont ever allow my children to justify being mean to someone simply cause they don't like someone's personality at times, or because that child is having a bad day, or going through a rough phase. I simply can not allow two wrongs to make something right.

It is ok for kids to not want to be friends with someone, that is life. But they still have to be nice to that child when they are forced together at school, on the playground etc. At the end of the day we are teaching tolerance and acceptance. You can't make your kid like someone, but you can ask them to respect them. You can't make people want to seek your child out for playdates, but you can ask that those kids be taught how to "deal" or get along with your kid at group playdates, parties, or on the playground. You can't beg someone to be your child's friend but you can ask that they make a decision one way or the other so your kid doesn't get confused or hurt by mixed messages. You can't force your children to be at the same maturity level as others nor should you expect it. Especially if your child is the youngest or even the oldest in a group of friends. This is where accepting the differences of our friends becomes key. Where accepting the things about them that will frustrate you at times becomes an important lesson to learn. If you are only taught to be a friend when times are good, you will not learn how to be a true friend when times are tough.

There is so much in here that can applied to our adult relationships too. Really this concept does not get old. It is the age old turn the other cheek, two wrongs don't make a right, or treat people the way you want to be treated. Last I checked that was not "treat people the way they are treating you". So I hope this helps some of you in guiding your children through the fragile friendships they are forming. I hope it helps you if your child has a friend that can be difficult at times. I hope it gives you a perspective of what it must be like for that child, who often does not act this way on purpose but simply because their social conscience has not developed on pace with other kids or because they are a lot younger than other kids they are playing with. I hope it helps you if you have been waffling about whether a friend you have is worth holding on to. Do you feel safe to say how you feel to that friend and not have it be the end of your friendship? If you're not sure you might as well give it a try. You may be underestimating them. Whether you, the adult or your child, avoids speaking up for themselves out of some notion of avoiding conflict, you miss out on opportunity to try helping a friend grow as a person or learn HOW to be a better friend by pointing out ways they are upsetting others. If you don't and you just keep letting it happen, you may realize one day you don't want that friendship anymore and by then it is too late. I learned that the hard way and I am determined to not have my kids make this same mistake. The message may not be well received but at least you can say you tried before walking away. Friendship is not easy, but it is worth it.

"Whoever says Friendship is easy has obviously never had a true friend!" - Bronwyn Polson

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