Friend-ship: a lovely little boat that eventually enables our children to sail confidently away from us.
Surprised? Friendship isn't just for children, of course, nor is its sole purpose to support their leaving us someday, but it's a big factor in their ability to do so. We parents can make it easier for our children to make and maintain healthy friendships outside the nest if we've done our part to help them feel securely attached to us-inside the nest-in the first place.
To put it simply, the child who consistently experiences responsive and nurturing parenting develops a perception of herself as someone worthy of such treatment. She also develops the expectation that she should offer this kind of care, and receive it, from others. This is huge, and cannot be overstated.
Imagine that you are the anchor, connected to your child by a strong but flexible tether. Your child is attached but has the freedom to explore her world. The same thing can happen when our children are given the freedom to explore friendships while still 'in the nest.'
We may believe certain relationships are not going to last, but that's why it's cool that kids have the drive to experiment with friendship while they're still living with us. They can lick their wounds and, with our support, calmly explore what went well, what didn't and decide what they might wish to find in future attachments.
What if your child is short on friends? Giving her an example of how to make and be a good friend is a good place to start.
But what if this doesn't come naturally to you, either? Begin by putting yourself in situations where you're likely to encounter others with similar interests. Parents of young children often meet up at story time (or other free events) at the local library. You can also hang with your kid at a neighborhood park, where a simple comment about the weather can evolve into something deeper. Meanwhile your children, swinging on adjacent swings nearby, may suddenly and courageously agree to move on to the slide, a little farther from your park bench.
That's how it's done. Baby steps.
We may be the ones standing heartbroken on the shores of their childhoods, dear parents, but we must let them go. The less anxious our attachment to our children is, the less we 'cling' to them, the greater the likelihood that they'll return to us time and again.
We'll have our own friends to keep us company.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.