How I’m Raising My Son To Have Friends He Can Talk To
By Yasmine Abbasakoor
PHOTO © chelseysomohano/Twenty20
Jun 7, 2018
Despite the inherent privilege, lack of monthly bleeding and simpler hairstyles, I do not envy men. I do not envy men because, generally speaking, the men in my life don’t have the outlets that women do.
If siblings need help navigating their natural bonds, shouldn’t this same advice apply to friendships?
(Please DO NOT go crazy with your personal anecdotes in the comments. We all know men who share, but generalizations can be useful in life. Especially when attempting to give advice! But please DO enjoy my own personal anecdotes below.)
When something goes wrong or right in my life, I dissect it with about 10 or 15 people. My mother, sisters, in-laws, childless friends, friends with kids, the butcher, millennial coworkers… OK, I’m an extreme example of sharing. But at least I distribute my burden, so I’m not left trying to carry it alone, dropping detritus on my partner and children as I go.
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With that in mind, I’ve been wondering how we raise a son who can talk to his friends when he has an issue. I want him to be a man who can find the right person to solve the right problem. A grown-up who isn’t afraid of exposing his vulnerabilities, sensitivities and weaknesses. A man who can ask for directions — wait — can we still use the "ask-for-directions" analogy now that we have Waze? You know what I’m getting at.
We’ve got the social science to prove healthy humans don’t happen by accident, they’re a lot of work. If we won’t put the work into our own kids, who will?
A recent article in the New York Times cited a study that showed parents who were deliberate about building healthy relationships between their children had kids with better relationships. Seems obvious, but assuming your kids will get along without intervention is pretty common. So, if siblings need help navigating their natural bonds, shouldn’t this same advice apply to friendships?
My son and his best friend have known one another since they were two and a half. In the early years, myself and his friend’s mother bridged the gaps when they were fighting. We gave them the language to accept each other’s differences or work through frustrations they experienced in their play. I often wondered if we were doing something wrong. If we should let the relationship take a more natural course. I now stand firmly on the side of healthy interference. At the age of seven they have been known to say “what I like about him is that he supports me no matter what." That’s special. If it took a couple of grown women with too much time on their hands to achieve it, maybe that’s OK.
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Recently, my son and another friend were losing patience with each other at school. My first instinct was to let the disagreements run their course, but as time passed I worried about what my son was saying to him and vice versa. So I put on big-girl-busybody pants and hosted a playdate I knew they’d both enjoy. At the end of it, after they’d been kind and supportive and, most of all, had fun, I said to them "just because you like different things at school, doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends." It was so simple, but not simple enough for a seven-year-old to figure out on his own. Since then, when my son has a bad day, it’s often this friend who he cites as "the only one who respects me." Yes, my son is a bit dramatic. No, I have no idea who he got it from.
I want [my son] to be a man who can find the right person to solve the right problem.
I make fun of myself for being overly involved in my children’s friendships (stereotypical helicopter parent), but I believe a framework for supportive friendship is something that can and should be taught. My parents never got involved with my friendships and I’ve turned out OK — that’s the argument one might make. But why can’t we aim higher? Why can’t we do better? We’ve got the social science to prove healthy humans don’t happen by accident, they’re a lot of work. If we won’t put the work into our own kids, who will?
We know that adults with community live longer and happier. I hope my son’s friendships can be a piece of his community puzzle. Partners who unload their problems on multiple people are easier to live with. A man who’s been taught to voice his concerns, fears and hopes can only be a great addition to the world. So get in there, parents. Time to get your noses dirty shoving them up in your kids’ business. Help them navigate their differences and let them build friendships that will stick through the good times and, especially, the bad.