A Guide To Friendship
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 away 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. 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 genuine bond there.
So, what makes a good friend? Being there even if they are not there. If you’ve listened to my podcast you will recognize 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 had than when I actually lived in Australia but it’s definitely quality versus quantity. Those friends from back home who have stayed with me and are only at the end of zoom if I need them. So, if I’m modelling friendship to my daughter then it’s a few good friends and that distance doesn’t necessarily matter.
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. They get the big picture. The worry about the future.
I think my daughter is already looking out for people like her. She liked her school because she felt everyone there was just like her. It was one of those occasions when a label, in this case DLD, was actually useful. 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 modelling there for my daughter so I’m going to be relying on the movies for this one. A quick search on Netflix for movies portraying friendships certainly provides plenty of good learning moments to be shared.
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 realize this is down mostly to the decisions we have made for our daughter about her education. 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 were residential students at her previous school. Now she doesn’t live in the same town as where her current supported into work program is. 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 still being rerun 18 years later, with my daughter a dedicated fan. 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 the sense of support we want for ourselves and 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 wanted was 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.