By Lisa Sugarman
There’s this saying that I love (and use often), and it goes like this. We’re only as happy as our least happy child. And I’ll bet there isn’t a parent alive who wouldn’t agree. But while there are always a lot of moving parts associated with our kids’ happiness—like health and home life and sugar and Snapchat—none seems to have a bigger impact on their mood and general wellbeing than their friendships. Having them and not having them.
To our kids, who they’re friends with is often the end-all-be-all; and this perception they have that being friends with the “right” people can make or break their life is making many of them crazy. Because even though they shouldn’t be preoccupied with being in the right crowd and constantly being social, they still are, regardless of what we say.
Any of us could list off the names of the popular kids who went to our high school without even thinking twice. And chances are good that if you weren’t friends with them, like me, you wanted to be. Also like me. It was about social status and image instead of being true to who we were and who we really connected with as people. What mattered was the perception that being friends with them upped our stock.
Anyway, what I’m really getting at here is that there’s not enough emphasis today on the quality of our friendships versus the quantity. I mean, look no further than social media. For a lot of people out there, particularly kids, it’s a numbers game. It’s about how many followers you have or how many friends you have in your Facebook profile, regardless of whether or not those friendships are authentic.
Yet for me, at this point in my life, I’d so much rather have a small handful of good, quality, healthy friendships with people who have my back and bring out the best in me than dozens of fake relationships with people I think should matter. And I want the same for my kids. We all should.
See, friendships should never be manufactured. Not by us or by our kids. And it’s our responsibility as adults to model and stress the importance of doing what feels right, in our own heads, and not what public perception dictates is right.
I mean, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with our kids choosing to hang out at home by themselves if their close friends are busy, instead of trying to motivate them to make plans with someone else just for the sake of having plans. But when our kids make the choice to stay in, we panic and try to push them to reach out to someone. Sometimes just anyone. And I think, on some level, all parents feed into that mindset at one point or another with our kids. I know I have.
As a parent, I can honestly say that it’s tough to resist the urge to encourage my kids to get themselves out there. All the time. But what I’ve realized (or at least started to realize) is that our kids manage to find their way in spite of what we think might be best for them—especially with friendships. We did. And like us, our kids know when they’ve had a busy week and just need some downtime to decompress. Alone. They know, exactly like we do, when they feel like being social. And when they don’t.
Ironic the arc that friendship takes as we age. In the beginning, when we’re young, we want as many friends as we can find. They’re a commodity. We go out every chance we get, even if it’s not always with the people we want to be with, because most people dislike being alone.
And that continues for the better part of our young adult life. We want to be included in everything that’s going on around us. We seek out the invitations to all the parties and the get-togethers. Then, as we grow older, we realize that it’s not about how many friends we have, but more about the quality of those relationships. And once we’ve settled into ourselves as grownups, we become even more selective; we become even more judicious with the plans we make because we learn to treasure our downtime. We actually start declining plans because we want to savor the time we get with our closest friends and families. Our circles, in lots of cases, get smaller and more selective out of choice.
So I think, as parents, we can all benefit from dialing it back—both for our own sake and for the sake of our kids. Because if we don’t, we’ll raise a generation of little stress balls who are all hyper-consumed by having tons of friends. And that’s not good. For us or for them.
It’s important to remember that friendship should always be grown organically, just like tomatoes. They’re sweeter that way, I think.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.