By Guest Blogger Clare Jordan
Dwelling on diapers and naptimes, new parents tend to spend more time memorizing those precious baby faces than contemplating a future where those tiny kids become friends. Friends with each other, and friends with us.
Though us parents may live in denial of it, the day will come when our children move out of our homes and begin to make their own homes, growing into lives of their own.
I’ve always believed that the goal of parenting is to create independent adults.
If we do this well, I believe we will also create the kind of adults we like and enjoy spending time with; the kind of people we would select to be our friends.
But even more than that, we are creating the kinds of adults who will truly befriend each other! Truly nothing has made me happier than seeing my girls, all adults now living in Raleigh, seek each other out for dinners, shopping, hanging out, going to games together, pet-sitting, and truly being one another’s go-to call when any one of them is in need! They are real friends to one another, in addition to being sisters. It’s true joy when our kids become friends.
As you make that eventual shift from sippy cups to cocktails with your children, here are a few lessons learned from my real-life experience that just may have led in some small ways to my children befriending each other – and their parents as well:
- Be real. Starting as young as teenage years, I think children need to see that their parents are real people with some lived experience. You don’t have to (nor should you) tell them everything, but to share occasionally, without preaching, can be a welcome door-opener to building that eventual friendship with your children as they become adults.
- Be open to their friends. I’ve written in a past blog about “befriending the friends,” and I think it is critical to becoming your own child’s eventual friend as well. Many of my friends still recall advice given to them by my mother on topics their own mothers would never have broached with them. Those are valuable relationships.
- Offer advice as guidance. Our children don’t always want to hear our advice, even if it’s really good advice and they need it. So try this technique: ask open-ended questions to get them talking. This can lead to an opportunity to offer some guidance that won’t feel so parental-preachy. It also helps teach them to become a good friend themselves.
- Know when to push and when to drop it. You can read your kids’ moods. Pay attention and listen to the unspoken signals they give as much as their words. There are important concerns we need to help them pursue, but some topics are best left alone. They don’t always need our advice; and knowing when to drop it can really help build their independence and their trust in you.
- Let them know when you are disappointed. Very often, better than getting upset with your children when they’ve made a mistake is to simply say that you are “disappointed.” That word hits at the heart and means more than anger. Plus, you won’t regret it later and it leaves room for more conversation and a deeper relationship.
- Fend off anger. Speaking of anger, our therapist is good at reminding us that anger itself is a fine emotion; it is acting out in anger where we run into problems. To grow friendships with your children, let your anger simmer, write in your journal, maybe talk with your spouse, but don’t lash out at children of any age. Who wants angry friends anyway?
- Quality time. If you have more than one child, finding QT with them one at a time can be challenging, but worth it. Even if they’re away at school, call them about once a week (more than that is overwhelming and stifles the independence they need), and try to make an occasional visit with an activity you both enjoy. That time invested really pays off! Solid friendships are based on it too.
- Let them call you. This was good advice I received when my oldest left for college, and it really works. I call my college-age kids mostly on Thursday evenings, so they have my voice in their head as they head out for weekend nights. But they call me plenty, and especially when they need something (which is often enough). Again, this builds trust, the basis of good friendships, especially when our kids become friends with each other.
- Be available. The calls we are most likely to accept at any time are our kids’ calls, right? But listening with a well-attuned ear is a skill to exercise with our children too. Try shifting from a critical ear to the discerning, helpful ear we use with our friends and see if you don’t start to see your children differently too. They need and want your thoughts a lot more than our judgments.
- Be present. When older teens and adult children come home, stop what you are doing and pay attention to them. Put your phone down. Plan some fun outings and meals to make together. They will appreciate your presence more than anything and want to come home and talk with you more. Isn’t that how friendships are grown?
I am no expert; just a mom lucky enough to have children she actually likes and wants to be around, and who want to be around me as well. Better even than my daughters’ friendships with me now are their friendships with each other. I am so grateful for this time when my kids become friends with one another and with me. I can’t imagine a closer bond and a greater gift!
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