What is a True Friend?

Playing a story starter game at our homeschool Valentine’s party.

Note: This column was reprinted in the Barrow Journal on February 10, 2016. It was first published in February 2013. But we had another Valentine’s party with our same friends this year as you can see in the photo above.

On Valentine’s Day I will take my boys to a small party where they will exchange valentines with their friends. Watching them form their very first friendships, I reflect on what I have learned about friendship these past forty years.

A wise person once told me that she would not know whom her best friend was until she became an old woman. Only at that time, she asserted, could she look back on her life and say, “You have been my best friend.”

Young people throw the terms “best friend,” “best friend forever,” “BFF,” or “bestie” around like balls, hoping the person they throw it to will toss it back at them.  I have no doubt that for some people, the friends they make in their youth stick with them for a lifetime.  But as we grow older, we realize that true friends are rare.

Some friends are here for only an era of our life – school days, college, married with children, a summer vacation – and then when the ties that bind them loosen, they slowly (or quickly) exit our lives. I don’t think this lessens the value of the relationship.  We need various people to learn from and lean on during the different seasons of our lives.

What can weaken a friendship? Two friends may mature at a different pace, or sometimes interests change.  Distance can have a huge impact, if someone moves, or perhaps there’s a complete change in lifestyle. Are there friendships that can withstand any or all of these conditions?

True friendships withstand the test of time and the changes that can put obstacles in the way of a stress-free relationship. That is, it’s easy to be friends with someone who is available, who you have much in common with, and who you agree with on most issues.

I’ve learned that true friendship does not have much to do with what you have in common, though, of course, commonalities are needed, especially since they bring you together. What holds your friendship together is a deep love and concern for the other person’s well being. You care, so you continue to be there for that person.

  • Friends show up in times of trouble. When I lived in Japan, I had a friend at home who died of cancer, and I’ll never forget the e-mails she wrote to me before she died. In one of them she said that once she was bound to a wheelchair, she learned who her true friends were. I wonder if I had been at home, would I have been one of them?
  • True friends give each other space to grow and change though maybe not in the way you would choose for them. As long as your friend is happy, healthy, and living in harmony with the people around them, you cheer them on.
  • True friends are honest with each other, and they accept the other person’s honesty. They don’t let petty arguments come between them. They forgive each other. They realize that they don’t always have to agree.
  • True friends give you the freedom to have other friends. They are secure enough to know that if you are a worthy friend, they don’t have to do anything to persuade you to spend time with them. They know you have enough love in your heart for all your friendships.
  • True friends aren’t difficult to meet up with, and they aren’t hard to keep in touch with, if they live far away. While we all get busy at times, true friends inform each other that their friendship is still important, and both of them make an effort.

In the past I had a friend who pulled out a calendar and listed a handful of dates over the next three months that she could schedule a time to see me. Hmm, I thought, I’m busy too, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to find time to spend together (this was before we were married with children, of course). In contrast, I have a friend in Australia who I have been e-mailing for sixteen years. Our correspondence has ebbed and flowed depending on the demands of our lives, but both of us keep it up and neither of us wait for the other to write first.

  • True friendships are those that bring out the best in you. Your friend should give you energy – not drain it.  How many times have we stayed in relationships simply because the person was present, but deep down we know they aren’t good for us? When possible we should clear our lives of people who drain us and leave space to foster relationships that fill our wells.

A friend of mine told me she believed the mark of a true friendship was intimacy – your friend knows and wants to know what is happening in your life. On some level, they stay involved in your life. Indeed, that’s the mark of a true friend.

It goes without saying that to have true friends, we must work at being a good friend.  Even after forty years, I’m still learning how to be a better friend. I hope that I can guide my boys at fostering meaningful relationships that can last or at least serve a good purpose in their lives.

What do you think? What would you add to this list? And by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Play Dates

Note: This column was published on November 13, 2013 in the Barrow Journal.

I don’t remember going on “play dates” when I was a little kid. When we lived in Oklahoma, I ran across the street to play with a friend who lived there, and when we lived in Colorado, I had a friend down the street and other friends from school that I might visit on the weekends. But we didn’t call it a date, and I don’t think my mom scheduled these play times weeks in advance.

Now play dates dominate my calendar. Our homeschool revolves around them, and calling them dates is appropriate because some of them are planned a month in advance. Others are ongoing, bi-weekly play dates.  They are exactly what they are called: it’s a date to play with friends.

I make them a priority for my homeschooled children, but they are also for me. I just can’t stay cooped up in my house with my kids all week.  We don’t know many of the neighborhood kids who are different ages and on a traditional school schedule, so I have to drive my children to parks or other people’s houses, usually 20-30 minutes away.

While I would love to say that I get to have nice conversations with other moms during these play dates, they are usually a lot of work.  Younger children don’t always like to see Mama preoccupied with someone else, so they can make more work for her. I’ve experienced entire 3 or 4-hour play dates when all I achieved was a five-minute conversation because either the other mom or I were dealing with one of our children.

Very small children don’t interact with each other very much, but fortunately, my four-year-old is beginning to get more independent, and he wants to run off with the bigger kids. My seven-year-old rarely needs me during a play date. So I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, and in the past few months, I’ve finally experienced a few face-to-face conversations with another adult besides my husband!

When we first decided to homeschool, I was worried about finding friends for my children. Though there are many homeschool families looking for friends, and local homeschool e-mail lists coordinate play dates, classes, field trips and other social get-togethers, my eldest son is introverted, so joining a big group of kids he didn’t know was difficult for him. He also needed to be with kids his own age or younger, so potential friends with older siblings weren’t the right fit, at least when he was four and five-years-old.

I kept my eyes and ears open for other families with children the same age who were also new to homeschooling, and now, in our second year, our calendar is full. My son has bonded with these friends over long, regular play dates. Sometimes we get together in big groups, and since he has already met them one-on-one, joining group play is no longer a problem. This is in addition to all the classes and camps he participates in.

Critics of homeschooling say that homeschooled kids won’t be socialized properly, but now I’m in the thick of homeschooling and see plenty of opportunities for socializing with people of various beliefs and backgrounds. If a parent is willing to find friends for their children, they have the opportunity to socialize for long periods of time when real interaction and old-fashioned play can happen.  My son’s friends are polite and inclusive, and he encounters new children in his classes, camps and whenever new homeschoolers come on the scene.

I’ve noticed that the new homeschooling moms have the same concerned look on their faces as I did just a year or two ago. I want to tell them that there’s nothing to fear. Get out there in the homeschooling community, and in a year or two, you’ll be wishing your calendar weren’t so full either.

What does your calendar look like these days?

My Homeschooling Rant for the Year

What irritates me is that if my kids are shy around strangers or don’t want to try something new, people will blame it on homeschooling despite the fact that our schools are full of quirky, sometimes socially awkward, unmotivated and terribly misbehaved kids! I remember plenty of misfits, mean kids and bad kids in my high school. I also remember some very nice peers and outstanding students.

Please take note: In the homeschool activities and classes I have attended so far, the kids all have different personalities. Some are quiet, some are very outgoing, some are attentive, some are not.  Most are polite, but not always. They chatter and want to play just like all kids. They group together with friends, find one friend or go it alone. Basically, homeschooled kids are the same as their traditionally schooled peers: it’s a mixed bag. Please don’t assume that a child’s personality is only the result of homeschooling.

All children are unique. They have individual needs, and not all of them hit the milestones at the same time. Every kid deserves to have someone who notices their unique style of learning and interests. They deserve to have a loving and emotionally stable adult to help them navigate a course that’s best suited for them.

The goal of education and child-rearing should be to create competent, confident, compassionate, creative, problem-solving and honorable adults.  Let the kids get there at their own pace.

Mr. Rogers Is My Hero

 

Image search through creative commons
found via creative commons image search

Note: This column was published in Barrow Journal on April 3, 2013.

We just passed what would have been Fred McFeely Roger’s 85th birthday. If you are like me, you remember him as “Mr. Rogers,” and you couldn’t wait to visit him everyday in his friendly television neighborhood.  Recently I discovered that I could share my childhood favorite with my sons because many of the full episodes are available for viewing at http://pbskids.org/rogers/index.html.

My six-year-old loves it, and watching the show with him, I can see why I loved it too.  Mr. Rogers doesn’t speak down to children. He treats them with the respect they deserve, and every episode deals with real situations that children encounter in their young lives like having to share, fighting with friends or having to buy a new pair of shoes.

Mr. Rogers is my hero for many reasons, but what I most admire about him is how he saw the potential to use television for good, and he didn’t just give that lip service – he actually got into television to try to change it. He says he went into television because he hated it.

As a mother living in a time when many parents restrict media for their children and scoff at other parents for using it, I find his stance refreshing.  He saw television as I see it: a valuable tool.  In a video clip I watched of him online he said,

The space between the television screen and the person…whoever happens to be receiving it…I consider that very holy ground. A lot happens there.”

He was a patient, kind person who never acted phony because he thought children were smarter than that.  He stood up for what he believed in. When he accepted his Emmy award, he made everyone in the audience take ten seconds of silence to remember the people in their lives who had helped them get where they were that day.

He was a Presbyterian minister, a vegetarian, a puppeteer and a songwriter.  He worked and voiced most of the puppets on his show, and he wrote all the songs for it. He taught children that music was a good, healthy way to express their feelings. Much of his work had to do with teaching children that all their thoughts and feelings were okay.

His messages made long-lasting impressions. When I wrote on my Twitter feed recently that “Mr. Rogers is my hero,” I got two, quick replies. The first one: “Are you going to write about him? He was my first friend.”  Another said, “He was my surrogate parent because my biological parents were so crappy.”

This is exactly why Mr. Rogers advocated for government funding for children’s programming. Kids need this kind of programming. We all do. We don’t always get the role models we need at home.

In another interview Rogers said,

There are those people who sometimes say that T.V. doesn’t affect us all that much. Well, all I can say is then why would advertisers pay so much money to put their messages on a medium that doesn’t affect us all that much? I do feel that what we see and hear on the screen is part of what we become.”

I don’t restrict my children from watching T.V. or playing on the computer, but I do monitor what they are watching, and by taking advantage of Netflix, I have eliminated advertising from their viewing. I would never use these mediums to replace real-life relationships, unstructured playtime, or other modes of learning, but good television can provide excellent social and educational lessons that compliment their other experiences.

There’s a lot of bad television, computer games, websites etc., but thanks to people like Fred Rogers, there’s also a lot of awesome television, computer games and websites that we can all use and benefit from.

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Links You May Be Interested In:

My Previous Posts on T.V. Viewing and Children:

In addition, I have begun a Pinterest board of our favorite Netflix shows which I’m adding to (with commentary) as we watch them. Check it out here.

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What are your childhood television memories?

What Is a True Friend?

Note: Due to space restrictions, this column was not published this week in the Barrow Journal, but it will appear next week on February 20, 2013. I’ve received permission to go ahead and post it here for Valentine’s Day.

On Valentine’s Day I will take my boys to a small party where they will exchange valentines with their friends. Watching them form their very first friendships, I reflect on what I have learned about friendship these past forty years.

A wise person once told me that she would not know whom her best friend was until she became an old woman. Only at that time, she asserted, could she look back on her life and say, “You have been my best friend.”

Young people throw the terms “best friend,” “best friend forever,” “BFF,” or “bestie” around like balls, hoping the person they throw it to will toss it back at them.  I have no doubt that for some people, the friends they make in their youth stick with them for a lifetime.  But as we grow older, we realize that true friends are rare.

Some friends are here for only an era of our life – school days, college, married with children, a summer vacation – and then when the ties that bind them loosen, they slowly (or quickly) exit our lives. I don’t think this lessens the value of the relationship.  We need various people to learn from and lean on during the different seasons of our lives.

What can weaken a friendship? Two friends may mature at a different pace, or sometimes interests change.  Distance can have a huge impact, if someone moves, or perhaps there’s a complete change in lifestyle. Are there friendships that can withstand any or all of these conditions?

True friendships withstand the test of time and the changes that can put obstacles in the way of a stress-free relationship. That is, it’s easy to be friends with someone who is available, who you have much in common with, and who you agree with on most issues.

I’ve learned that true friendship does not have much to do with what you have in common, though, of course, commonalities are needed, especially since they bring you together. What holds your friendship together is a deep love and concern for the other person’s well being. You care, so you continue to be there for that person.

  • Friends show up in times of trouble. When I lived in Japan, I had a friend at home who died of cancer, and I’ll never forget the e-mails she wrote to me before she died. In one of them she said that once she was bound to a wheelchair, she learned who her true friends were. I wonder if I had been at home, would I have been one of them?
  • True friends give each other space to grow and change though maybe not in the way you would choose for them. As long as your friend is happy, healthy, and living in harmony with the people around them, you cheer them on.
  • True friends are honest with each other, and they accept the other person’s honesty. They don’t let petty arguments come between them. They forgive each other. They realize that they don’t always have to agree.
  • True friends give you the freedom to have other friends. They are secure enough to know that if you are a worthy friend, they don’t have to do anything to persuade you to spend time with them. They know you have enough love in your heart for all your friendships.
  • True friends aren’t difficult to meet up with, and they aren’t hard to keep in touch with, if they live far away. While we all get busy at times, true friends inform each other that their friendship is still important, and both of them make an effort.

In the past I had a friend who pulled out a calendar and listed a handful of dates over the next three months that she could schedule a time to see me. Hmm, I thought, I’m busy too, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to find time to spend together (this was before we were married with children, of course). In contrast, I have a friend in Australia who I have been e-mailing for thirteen years. Our correspondence has ebbed and flowed depending on the demands of our lives, but both of us keep it up and neither of us wait for the other to write first.

  • True friendships are those that bring out the best in you. Your friend should give you energy – not drain it.  How many times have we stayed in relationships simply because the person was present, but deep down we know they aren’t good for us? When possible we should clear our lives of people who drain us and leave space to foster relationships that fill our wells.

A friend of mine told me she believed the mark of a true friendship was intimacy – your friend knows and wants to know what is happening in your life. On some level, they stay involved in your life. Indeed, that’s the mark of a true friend.

It goes without saying that to have true friends, we must work at being a good friend.  Even after forty years, I’m still learning how to be a better friend. I hope that I can guide my boys at fostering meaningful relationships that can last or at least serve a good purpose in their lives.

What do you think? What would you add to this list? And by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Susan Cain on the Power of Introverts

pink columbinesI have already written about my thoughts on introverts in my post, “Introverts and Coffeeshops.”  In that post, I reviewed Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, PhD, which is a great book on this subject. I am introverted, my husband is introverted, and I know that at least my eldest son is probably introverted.  But it’s sometimes hard to be introverted in our culture. I think those who worry too much about a homeschooler’s so-called socialization is not considering the different needs that children can have.

As Helgoe wrote:

As a psychologist, I have yet to see a child brought in for therapy because he is too social and his parents are concerned that he seems to have little access to his inner life.  Yet, child after child is brought in for not talking enough, only having a few friends, and enjoying time alone—for being introverted.”

After I read Helgoe’s book, I noticed that Susan’s Cain book, Quiet, was making its way through the media.  I have not read her book, although I’m sure I’d enjoy it.  But I finally watched her TED talk the other night, and I loved it.  If you have any interest in this subject, I suggest you watch it. You won’t be sorry!

Homeschooling and Socialization

my boys playing with their cousins during a trip to Chicago

Note: This column was printed the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, September 19, 2012.

The biggest criticism against homeschooling is what many people feel is its “lack of socialization.”  Critics believe children ought to spend their whole day in a classroom of peers, and they give no thought to the opportunities homeschooled children have to meet many people of various ages.  Perhaps they are afraid homeschooling parents won’t take advantage of these opportunities.  This, of course, is possible, though most homeschooling families I’ve met make “socialization” a priority.

Some homeschoolers don’t give socialization much thought because they don’t need to.  They have plenty of friends, or they may belong to a homeschooling co-op or a large church.  They might have a big family too.  More seasoned homeschoolers who are past the stage I’m in – that of meeting and creating a community for their youngsters – feel this is not a topic worth discussing anymore.

I’ve been giving this issue a lot of thought, though, mostly because my eldest son’s personality didn’t make meeting other kids easy at first.  And he’s a lot like me –introverted – so perhaps it’s because of my personality too.

When my son was younger, he was reserved and cautious, and he didn’t jump into playtime with large groups of kids.  Going to park days or joining a homeschool group never worked for us.  The other kids would play together, and my son – the little biologist – would explore the wood chips or other natural environment.

While I, too, think socializing with people of various ages is a plus for children, I had to find friends that played well with my child.  Finally, in this past year, I’ve met some families with kids who love my kids – How did I do this?  I kept my eyes focused on local homeschooling e-mail lists, and I responded to those infrequent requests from other homeschoolers looking for friends.  I also let it be known online that we’re looking for friends, and I’ve had some people contact me.  It’s not easy finding people within driving distance, but now we have regular playdates, and I couldn’t be happier.

My second priority was thinking outside the box and considering different ways my children could be socialized.  I’m still doing this, but these are some ideas I’ve pursued.

  • Community Classes – My son blossomed after a year attending the knee-high naturalist class and homeschool science classes at the Sandy Creek Nature Center.  He seems to enjoy following the lead of the teacher without the pressure of having to “play” with all the other children. Now he’s more at ease with large groups of kids, and he even enjoyed attending some summer mini-camps there by himself.
  • Lost but not forgotten friends – After these last grueling few years of rearing infants and toddlers, I’m coming up for breath and remembering all the friends I had before my marriage.  Many of them are older than me and without children of their own.  I called one couple and took my boys to visit them.  My son fell right in step with the wife, who is a gardener.  Now we’re committing ourselves to monthly visits, and my friend has been teaching my boy about gardening and plants!
  • Family – I don’t think anyone should discount family when it comes to socializing children.  Indeed, these are relationships that will last the longest.  I’m grateful that our family is large and diverse, and my boys will be exposed to different cultures and belief systems within it.  Unfortunately, I also feel disconnected from some of my family. Busy lives and distance can do that to you. But I’m hoping that somehow we’ll stay connected through Skype and e-mail and occasional visits.

For homeschoolers who need other ideas on how to build a community or who live in remote areas, I would suggest the following:

  • Be sure to join local, state, and even national homeschooling e-mail lists (do a search for Yahoo groups in your area).  In the subject line of your introduction e-mail, put your county or town and state and ask if anyone knows of other homeschoolers or groups in your area.
  • Check Facebook for groups in your area.
  • Contact your local library and see if there’s a homeschool group using the facilities.  If not, try asking the librarians to help you get the word out that you’re homeschooling, and you’d like to start a group of your own.
  • Is there a community center in your area?  Nature center?  Art center? Check to see if they offer any classes for children, and if they don’t, see if you can help them start one.
  • If it’s hard to find homeschoolers in your area, become friends with school children.  You’ll have to work around their school schedule, but it’s better than not having any friends at all.  (I know this can be hard though – kids who go to school and especially kids who have both parents working just don’t need the same kind of community.  Their weekends may be family time.  Still, it’s worth a try.)
  • If religion plays a part in your homeschool, check local churches for homeschooling groups.  Even if religion doesn’t play a part of your homeschool, ask if you would be welcomed into their group.  (And see my previous column about homeschooling and religion.)

Whether children are homeschooled or not, parents must think about building a community of support for their children as they grow up.  Parents can’t do it all, and every child eventually turns to other people for role models. Parents need to make sure that they trust the people whom their children turn to.  Homeschooling parents have the opportunity to be more involved in cultivating their child’s social outlets.  

My lists certainly aren’t exhaustive.  What would you suggest to new homeschoolers seeking to build a community? Thank you!