I have three kids, and when they were babies and toddlers, it was so easy to find “friends” for them, i.e., I found friends for myself who also happened to have kids my kids’ ages. Now that my kids are in school, they have to make their own friends, without mom around. Thankfully, we have mostly lived on military bases, so it’s been easier for me to know their friends and the parents.
But now I’m faced with a new conundrum, how do I teach my children to value friendships that are worth valuing when we move around a lot, and my kids are used to friendships changing every couple of years?
Don’t get me wrong, we should teach our kids to value all people; however, our kids can’t expect to be friends with everyone they meet. That may have been true in kindergarten, but by third and even second grade, distinct differences in personalities and preferences start to become more apparent.
I’ve met people who grew up as military kids, and they have commented that as adults, it has been hard for them to be themselves because they were so accustomed to blending in. They would move somewhere new and try to jump in with the first group of kids they met. Even if they didn’t have much in common with the kids and sometimes didn’t like them, they would just assimilate, knowing that they would move again in a few years, and maybe then they would find that best friend.
The other issue I’ve seen is that when children find their best friends and then move, it can be so hard for them to even want to make new friends. They soon learn how to blend in and accept whatever friendships they can make, after trying and finding that they can’t find a friend just like the one they had.
With my own kids and the kids in our area, I have seen so many of what I call “friendships of convenience.”
These kids have friends who they like and the “friends” they kind of keep to the side, so when the friends they like aren’t around, they at least have someone else to play with. I’m sure, as moms, we will all feel different about the friends of convenience. Some parents just want their kids to have someone to play with, and they really don’t care who it is. There have been plenty of times when my kids have been inside too long. and I tell them to go out and play with anyone who is out there. (We do live on base right in front of a park. I probably wouldn’t “kick” them out if we were in a city!)
Growing up in the civilian world, I lived in the same town from preschool to high school, and I basically had the same regular group of friends.
My dad often told me, as a child, “If you only have one best friend in life who you know you can trust, you are truly blessed.” I fully agree with him. That is what I want my kids to believe. It’s not quantity or convenience, it’s quality.
My oldest son is 9 years old and just finished third grade. He has been in three different elementary schools so far. With each place we’ve lived, he’s been able to find at least one good friend to whom he was easily able to connect. And when that friend wasn’t or isn’t able to play, he’s content hanging out at home or just playing with his siblings. My other son, who is 8 years old, is the complete opposite; he will knock on every door until someone can come out to play. Although it is clear that he has “friendships of convenience,” he also has that one friend who he easily connects with and is able to be himself around. As a mom, it’s important to me that my kids are able to be themselves and not feel like they have to try to be something or someone they are not just to have friends.
So the role I play in my kids’ lives when it comes to friendships is that I try to help them get more time with the quality friendships. Everyone will not like them. Nor will they like everyone they meet, but they are expected to be kind to everyone.
I’ve seen my child be a friend of convenience for others. I’ve seen other kids be mean when they didn’t need to play with my child and incredibly kind when they did need or want his friendship. As parents, we should be aware of this. So I expect my child to always be kind to those friends of convenience even when his bestie is around.
Kids develop socially and emotionally often based on the friendships they hold throughout their lives. Military kids have it a little harder than most. With so many moves, so many goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous, it can become hard to find their place among their peers. However, I believe there is always someone around that they have something in common with, they just have to find that person. We can help encourage our kids along the continual friend-making journey, while teaching them how to be a good and kind friend along the way. It also is good to remind our kids that they are not replacing friends; they are making new ones.