A Lesson in Friendship

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Friendships are wonderful, beautiful, essential things. They can also be incredibly difficult to understand, especially when you’re a child. These days, my six-year-old daughter is navigating the world of ever-changing friendships. One day her best friend is one person and the next day it’s another.

Recently, I’ve noticed how much work she has been putting into her friendships at school. Our rides home from school are full of stories of disagreements between friends and other such things. Cleaning out her backpack, I’ve found notes and friendship bracelets they spend hours making. This is her thing: she loves making art for those she cares about. My husband and I often find love letters from her all over our house. If you’re getting a piece of custom art from our daughter, know that you are deeply loved by her.

One night, I noticed she had spent all of her free time making an elaborately decorated letter for one of the friends. When I noticed how hard she was working, I sat down with her and asked her why. Her response? “[Insert name] has a new best friend now and I miss her.” That broke my heart. My daughter was trying to cope with a breakup by begging her (former) best friend to take her back. Instead of allowing her to finish this project, I chose to share what I wish someone had told me at her age.

“Honey,” I said, “I know you miss her and you hope that this letter you’re making will make her want you back as her best friend, but I have to tell you, you shouldn’t have to try this hard. Sometimes in life, the people you want to so desperately be with don’t always feel the same about you. I can tell you’re very sad but you are an incredible little girl and you shouldn’t have to beg people to like you and be your friend.”

She nodded and said, “Mmhmm,” and she started to cry.

As my own eyes started to well up with tears, I continued on. “If she doesn’t want to stay friends, it’s ok to be sad, but I don’t want you spending another minute of your precious time thinking that you have to fix who you are to make her want to be your friend. I love your letters but you’ll never have to write me one to make me love you. Your best friends will be the ones who never ask you for anything and love you all the same.”

Whoa. Did I just say that? When did I become so wise? In all seriousness, it has taken a lifetime for me to learn this lesson about myself. So many failed romantic and platonic relationships had to happen for me to get here. And it was worth it because now I have some truly incredible friends. We pick up where we leave off whenever we see or speak to each other. We don’t judge each other’s decisions but rather find ways to support each other.

 If I can give my own kids a head start in understanding this then I will. And they won’t always get it the first time, they will try and fail at relationships just like everyone else. But I want my kids to know now that they do not need to bend over backward for people to accept them.

That night, Gabi quietly stopped working on her letter and put her markers away. I never saw the letter again, I left it up to her to decide what to do with it. My hope is that she remembers what I said and carries it with her throughout her life. I hope she learns to choose to be with those who value and love her as unconditionally as I love her.

 

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