How many friends do you have? Possibly not as many as you had before you had a child with additional needs. This is a harsh but true fact. Friends slowly disappear because they don’t understand or they’re afraid. I have both lost and gained friends because my daughter has additional needs. It’s a bit like when someone passes away some people come around others stay way because they don’t know what to say. Actually, it’s just like this when you have a child with additional needs; I don’t expect all my friends to understand but I do want to know they are there if I need them.
Of course, sometimes it’s been my fault. Maybe at the beginning, as I was so overwhelmed with what life was throwing at me I inadvertently pushed people away. It’s hard to think about your friendships when your life has been thrown into one massive spiral of professionals mostly telling you that your child doesn’t have much of a future. But actually, if I had been a bit wiser I would have realised that was exactly the time I needed my friends.
Someone once told me we have friends for reasons and friends for seasons. I find that quite true. A very long time ago I was the stereotypical backpacker and during that time had many friendships that lasted a summer in the sun or a winter in London, no more. When both my children were younger, it was the season of parent friendships where we all had a common bond of young children. As my children have grown these friendships have changed with only a few remaining, and they are the friends for reasons. The people who stick by you because there is a bond there.
Why all this sudden musing on friendships? Well, the latest podcast Stepping Back – Part 2 was about friendship and how as parents we need to be a role model and show what a good friendship is. This got me thinking about my friendships and whether or not I’m modelling the kind of friendships I want for my daughter, showing her what good friendships are like, and demonstrating how friends should treat each other.
So, what makes a good friend? Being there even if they are not there. If you’ve listened to the podcast you will recognise my Aussie twang, meaning that many of my friends are still in Australian while I now live in the UK. It’s a much smaller group of friends that I have than when I lived in Australia but it’s definitely quality versus quantity. These friends have stayed with me and are only at the end of skype/messenger if I need them. So, if I’m role modelling friendship to my daughter then it’s a few good friends and that distance doesn’t necessarily matter.
How do I treat my friends back home? Not the way that serves as the best role model for my daughter that’s for sure! I think there should be an apology in here to all of them for my complete and total laziness when it comes to regular contact. My excuse… honestly, I don’t have a valid one. I need to be a more regular friend if I’m going to be that positive friendship role model for my daughter.
What other things make good friendships? Common interests, so back to reasons really. We all have friends who have children with additional needs. Why? because they do understand even in their daily experience is very different. They get the big picture. The worry about the future. The desire to overprotect.
I think my daughter is already looking out for people like her. She likes her school because people are like her. I can, however, see a danger in here for both of us. If I only have friends who have children with additional needs, then I risk losing friends who maybe don’t have my experiences but can offer me something else when it comes to friendship. It’s hard not to think about your children, talk about your children when you are around other parents in a similar situation. So, I need to engender in my daughter that variety is the spice of life. She needs to have friends who are not just like her. How that will happen might be easier said than done. As I said earlier I have lost friends but so has she because she hasn’t moved forward at the same speed as her friends. Growing up is hard enough and sometimes, despite your best efforts, embracing the different is overshadowed by peer pressure to be like everyone else.
And what about bad friendships. I don’t know about you, but I worry about my daughter being taken advantage of by someone who pretends to be a friend but has an ulterior motive. I have dealt with bad friendships over the years and I guess my go-to move has been to step back; sometimes I’ve explained why other times the friendship has just evaporated over time. Not much role modelling there for my daughter so I’m going to rely on the media for this one. So, by the time you read this, I shall have searched on Netflix for movies on bad friendships so her and I can get educated.
I’ve lived in the UK for a long time and I could count on one hand the number of close friends I have here. Now on reflection, I realise this is down mostly to the decisions we have made for our daughter about her schooling. Not for a moment do I regret these, obviously, but it has led to good friendships being lost because of distance. This is something I need to help my daughter understand. Already many of her friends do not live near her, because they are boarders (students who sleep) at her school, so come from across the UK. Will those friendships endure? Probably not. Thus, should I prepare her for those friends that are for seasons rather than reasons?
I have often wondered why the TV show Friends is still so successful, and on reruns 15 years later with my oldest daughter and her friend’s avid fans. Maybe it’s because they are modelling friendship groups we all want, notwithstanding we would all like to be living in central New York. These guys love and support each other, and they laugh at and with each other. There is always the sense of support we want for our own children.
Being a role model for friendship is not something I had thought about as part of this parenting job. The last thing my oldest daughter wants is my advice on friendship. But my youngest who, to be honest, isn’t great on the friendship stuff, needs to see how I navigate friendships. How I treat my friends, what I expect from friendships, and what I put into friendships. I will be her guide.