Regarding Children: Learning What It Means

By  Audrey Ward   April 2022

Observing the fragility of relating to each other in these heavily freighted times has caused me to ask myself how we teach our children to be a friend. So now I’m asking you as well.

Sometimes such basics are assumed to be an automatic response to life as part of a household. And they are. Offspring learn by watching how their parents connect both with each other and to the outside world.

But then I have to question whether my protective nature–shaking the bully on the bike in a preschool playground off his ramming vehicle—may have overcome my more delicate moments of training.

“The courageous make the best friends,” is a phrase indelibly traced in my memory. “They won’t turn and bite you in a panic.”

Those words are from an article found in a women’s magazine long ago. They struck with unforgettable force because at the time I required true companions as I never before needed them. So I was ready to recognize the accuracy that people once called friends sometimes flee at the very time you need them.

Lessons in friendship have a habit of arriving just when the worst news imaginable upends the day. Just when you’re looking for a comforting place to land and instead you’re met by a basket of slithering eels.

Usually there’s a backstory: where our own personal lessons in friendship began, for example, and from whom.

If those who trained us had a hard time trusting, or were isolated, reclusive, our observations may be limited. On the other hand, our ongoing example might have thought that the ones who provide shallow compliments and chardonnay are the way to go. 

You know, the happy and uncomplicated kind where you won’t be bothered to engage in complex dialogue or troubling subjects. A frothy kind of friendship where only those who cater to you are allowed.

It takes a long time and many mistakes to learn true friendship. Aristotle said it requires sharing a ton of salt. That’s a lot of meals. Plus many tears shed; sweating it out together, hours of sunshine and rain.

The first betrayal felt crushing when we discovered the person to whom we told our secret was sloppy about keeping our confidence. Or when someone we love smiled away our feelings as if they didn’t matter. It turns out they didn’t matter there, that’s all.

But when those things happen that’s not the time to give up. Rather, here’s an opportunity to face the disappointment and tally what we’ve learned about courage, steadfastness and the view from the high road which does have better scenery. 

Forgive. And then, whether once we’ve forgiven we choose to trust this person again may be the next question. But forgiving keeps our own hearts from becoming brittle.

My pal Bobby reminds me, “Rejection is protection.” A cryptic phrase whose meaning may not immediately be obvious. Although, as time goes by we see how true it is that being rejected by a fickle person we trusted proves to be a bonus.

However we learned to be a friend ourselves is what we are teaching our children and grandchildren. Every day. 

When family is too busy or cannot be found, a beloved companion from along the way may be the most valuable one in our lives. Strong relationships make life worthwhile.

In all of our years, there may only be two or three such people. But oh, those two or three.