A song made up of one word…a name.
Jesus. Read more
Last week an article appeared in the New York Times questioning whether or not it was in a child’s best interest to allow them to have a best friend. Hilary Stout, the author of the article, spoke with various adults working with children in an administrative capacity who feel that allowing a child to foster a close friendship could potentially lead to the formation of cliques and create a culture of bullying. These administrators contend that the exclusive nature of a best friendship is detrimental to the social well-being of all children involved.
Stout reports that one New York summer camp takes active measures to prevent close friendships from forming. “If two children seem to be too focused on each other, the camp will make sure to put them on different sports teams, seat them at different ends of the dining table or, perhaps, have a counselor invite one of them to participate in an activity with another child whom they haven’t gotten to know.”
Along with presenting the camp’s negative perspective on close friendships, Stout quotes a director of counseling from a St. Louis school, who also takes active measures to prevent such friendships. “I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults – teachers and counselors – we try to encourage them not to do that. We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”
Reading the article, I found myself getting a little angry that adults in authority would manipulate a child’s natural bonds of friendship. As a parent, I appreciate their concern and desire to prevent a culture of bullying. However, I think their perspective is simply wrong.
No one would argue with promoting kindness and respect for all, but by making it impossible for kids to naturally form close friendships, I think administrators are actually making the situation worse. Psychologist and professor, Dr. Irene Levine points out on her Psychology Today blog that children, like adults have different friendship styles and preferences. Some children are naturally more social, while others are simply more comfortable spending time alone or with a close friend. Also according to Levine, “When teachers (or parents) hover too closely or meddle at the first sign of a tiff between kids, children are denied the opportunity to learn friendship lessons they will need as adults.”
I’ve written here briefly about my own experiences with my childhood best friend, Jeannie. Our friendship taught me invaluable lessons growing up. Jeannie lived down the street and we were nearly inseparable from kindergarten through high school. Our friendship continued in college and although we now live in separate states, when we do get together it’s as if no time’s passed. Husbands and children have been added to the mix, but our friendship still remains. We’ve both expressed how grateful we are for our longstanding friendship that weathered the storms of growing up. Loyalty, honesty, encouragement, selflessness, perseverance and grace are some of the life lessons I learned as our friendship spanned the years.
Even though we were “best friends,” we didn’t exclude people from being with us; rather our friendship enabled us to share with others. Reflecting on those “growing years,” any cliques I remember seemed to exist with those who desired to fit into a group, changing themselves into whatever was acceptable according to current “group think” mentality. Having a “best friend” was a strong support to simply be me, and not to struggle with being a chameleon and only acceptable when put into a mold. I’m bothered that adults would prevent kids from having such valuable, essential developmental experiences. I’m not sure I’d be the same person had Jeannie not been a part of my life. Dr. Levine closed her piece with, “It’s a mistake to make the leap into thinking that close friendships lead to bullying. In fact, when children are bullied or excluded, it is their true friends who “have their backs” and can buffer them from that trauma.”
In the Times article, psychology professor Brett Laursen questions the wisdom of encouraging kids to have “…all sorts of superficial relationships.” “We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.” I wholeheartedly agree with Levine and Laursen. Relationship skills are honed in the wonder years and it’s those skills we carry with us into adulthood; into our marriages, friendships, and workplaces. As a mother of two, I know it’s natural and necessary to help kids by providing needed wisdom and discernment. But taking steps to prevent any close friendships, I believe, robs our kids of the skills they’ll inevitably need later in life. Sometimes it’s better to just get out of the way.
Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress
It’s not everyday that something out of the ordinary happens, but when it does I try to take notice and give it my full attention. I find myself asking, “Is there some meaning behind this or maybe a lesson to learn? A few days ago I tweeted about going for a walk with my daughter, down the long gravel road leading to our house. It was a perfect day for a walk with sunshine, blue skies, green popping up all over and lots of singing. “What could be better?” I threw out to the twitterverse, not expecting an answer.
Our walk began with Sofia asking for her animal of choice. “Cow?” she asked with her big blue eyes pleading. “No, no cows, Sofia,” I replied. “Why don’t we sing a song? How about Old McDonald?” I ask, happy with my motherly ingenuity at fitting her current favorite animal into our walk.
“And on his farm he had a ….?” Pause. Silence, followed by more silence. “What, Sofia?” I ask. “What did Old McDonald have?” She came back with a resounding, “COW!” Every time. It occurred to me, she might have thought we were going to visit the nearby farm center. Every since our recent visit, she’s been quite taken with cows. All the baby lambs, fuzzy ducklings, goats and piglets at the farm center were met with a nonplussed nod of acknowledgement, followed immediately by a request for that special animal. “Cow. Cow, mama,” she’d say directing me to push her stroller onward in her quest.
Thankfully the farm had in residence at least one cow, a really big mama cow with its’ tiny baby calf snuggling up next to it. They didn’t seem to mind being gawked at by an inquisitive little girl and her mom. So it really came as no surprise that while singing Old McDonald on our walk, I’d be subjected to multiple rounds of “Moo. Moo.”
Singing and strolling along, I began reflecting on what a dichotomy life can be at times. Most of my friends’ children are school age now and way beyond toddler songs and potty training. Many of these women have returned to the work force, after having taken leave to be with their young kids. Yet here I was still singing Old McDonald.
The truth is I’m happy to be doing this. I love being with my daughter. I wouldn’t want to miss out on all the little things like singing about cows for the millionth time, while taking a slow walk on a beautiful day. These are the things I get to do with Sofia. And like any parent, I’d hate to miss the wonder in her eyes when she sees things for the first time.
Still walking, we reach the end of the road and turn around to head home. I begin another chorus, while contemplating the complexities of my life. “Moo…Moo,” Sofia sings, and I catch something out of the corner of my eye. I turn to look to the side of the road, to see what’s caught my attention.
Up the hill overlooking the road, scattered between the trees, staring us down was a multitude of bovine. Not just one cow; a herd of cow. White cows, brown cows, black cows and multi-colored cows stood statue still while watching us intently. Shifting their frozen gaze to the new, soft grass carpeting the ground beneath them, they began to graze. Bovine heaven on a long dirt road.
“Sofia! Oh my gosh! Sofia, look!” I say. “Cows…look! Look at the cows!” She looks and grins wide, not nearly as surprised as her mom. “Where in the world did they come from?” I ask out loud to no one in particular, knowing no one else is around. I pull out my phone and begin taking pictures of these cows that seem to have materialized out of nowhere. Seven years I’ve walked this road, not once ever spotting a cow, much less a multitude of cows.
We continue our walk home, me laughing at the unbelievable. What do I make of this? I ask myself in true form. I’m stumped. All I can come up with is that God must have a really good sense of humor. He had to be laughing if he was watching us that day.
Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com