When I learned I was pregnant with my daughter, I did what I always do. I started to pray. Every morning since that day, I have said the same prayers for her. One of the things I request is that she have good friends and that she be a good friend. I want her to realize that friendship is important. It is something you have to work at, and it should never be taken for granted.
I spent a lot of time talking about feelings with my daughter. I wanted her to be aware of how she felt about things her friends said or did, and I wanted to make sure she realized the effect of her words and actions on others. As a little girl I would point out her facial expressions and body language to her so that she could understand what she was feeling. I would say something like “Your eyes are wide open and you have a big smile on your face. You look happy! What made you so happy?” Or “Your mouth is frowning and I see tears in your eyes, you look so sad. What made you sad? How can I help you feel better?”
I would also point out the expressions her friends were making so she could see how the things she did or said made them feel. If they were upset with her or angry at her, we would talk about things she might do to make them feel better. We would also discuss what had gone wrong and how she could do it differently next time. We did a lot of talking about how sometimes when we say something, we intend it one way, but the person hearing it interprets it in a much different way. When that happens it’s important to be able to talk about it and not just assume everyone understood it the way we meant.
Children are not naturally sympathetic, empathetic, understanding creatures. It’s our job as parents to teach them to be that way. Children are usually self-centered. They don’t automatically see things from another person’s point of view. They are self absorbed and want what they want when they want it. They are not born wanting to share and take turns. They are not always so patient. These skills have to be taught and practiced over and over.
It took years of talking about this to finally see results. I was beginning to give up hope that she and her classmates would ever come together and form real friendships. But it did happen. It seems like one day, virtually overnight, this group of girls pulled themselves together and formed a tight bond. They learned to appreciate each girl for her own special talents and personalities. They figured out how to laugh at things that they used to get so upset over. They began including everyone and trying so hard to make sure nobody was ever left out. It is so beautiful to see how much they care about each other.
Friends make life so much more bearable. They cheer us on and back us up. They give us strength when we are weak. They push us forward when we don’t want to move. They do not accept excuses, and call us out when we should know better. They know how to make us laugh. They know all of our secrets, and we know theirs. Friends can tell us the truth when nobody else can. Friends will do for you because they know that you would do the same for them.
I don’t just pray for Emuna to have friends. I pray that she will understand friendship and appreciate it. I pray that she will realize the importance of friends in her life, and that she will work to maintain those friendships. I pray that she will give more than she gets, and that she will be the person her friends know they can count on.
You’ve gotta have friends, but you’ve also gotta be a friend.