I have a very vivid memory of taking 12 week old Molly to a My Gym class with my close friend and her 12 week old, Olivia. The two babies just laid there drooling and spitting up, but we were so thrilled to be out of our houses we couldn’t stop discussing how much fun the class was. “Oh, look at them,” we kept saying, all starry-eyed. “They’re having so much fun! They’re best friends!” Four plus years later, and they really are “best friends.” They clearly didn’t have much say in the matter, having been told so since they were in utero. No pressure, right? They knew – from us – what they were to each other before they even developed a concept of friendship.
From the moment these two kids were born, they have done everything together. Preschool, swim lessons, endless play-dates…..They even became big sisters the same week with the arrival of their little sisters happening just days apart. They spend nearly everyday together, and when reunited after being apart for mere hours, they act as if it’s been months since they’ve seen each other last. The affectionate hugs and giggles are signs of true love. I realize we parents played a big role in the development of this relationship, but it’s such a positive one, I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with myself.
Reflecting on how we influenced Molly’s and Olivia’s closeness makes me think about other expectations we adults communicate to our kids about friendships and relationships. I mentioned in my very first post that Molly is crazy about a buddy from school named Jackson (“Tales of a Superhero Princess”). For the past few months I have watched this friendship develop and change with fascination. Perhaps this could be best illustrated with a little line graph (apologies to the fantastic social scientists I work with on the Sanford Harmony Program for my lame attempt at a bell curve).
No doubt I have pressed Molly to seek out other gender buddies, but there was little need for encouragement when it came to playing with Jackson. She was so drawn to this fun-loving, funny, action-seeking kid. She wanted in on his games and, for some time, was an integral part of the superhero circle. For several weeks, their friendship seemed very mutual. Both kids started asking for play-dates with one another, and they sought each other out on the playground and in the classroom. Molly would refer to him as her “other best friend” and tell tales of their mischief and adventures.
At the peak of their friendship, I sat at an all school assembly watching Molly’s interactions with both her best friends. When the kids filed in, Molly and Olivia basically sat on top of one another. The two hugged and cuddled, and I’m pretty sure they even smooched. When watching this, we grown-ups in the background exchanged glances, communicating to each other what we were thinking (and likely had already said time and again): “So sweet! They love each other.” No more than 5 minutes later Molly moved over to where Jackson was sitting. I watched as she rubbed his back and put her arm over his shoulder. They smiled, laughed and hugged one another. Again, we parents shared glances. These silent looks of knowing communicated the same sentiment, but with a much different tone, “So sweet! They LOVE each other….” We may as well have starting singing, “Molly and Jackson, sitting in a tree…..”
Why do we do this to our kids? We call opposite sex friends “boyfriends” or “girlfriends” with raised eyebrows and make nonsense comments about our 4 year olds getting married. It’s a little premature, no? While watching Molly and Jackson at that assembly, it became very clear to me that their best friend status was sure to be short-lived. They were basically set up for failure. It would only take one of them noticing the smirk of an adult as they snuggled close. Just one friend saying, “Oh you love each other.” One insinuation of romance (which is awkwardly inappropriate, right?), and they’d be put on the defense. “I don’t love her! You know what, I don’t even like her. How’s that?!” Embarrassment would set in and that would be that.
I’m not sure exactly what these two heard or saw, but messages about their friendship have been received loud and clear. About a month or so ago, Jackson’s mom and I talked about a play-date as we walked the two kids into school. I looked down at Molly expecting to see her eyes alight with excitement and anticipation for this potentially thrilling get-together. What I saw was more akin to horror, and I realized that Molly was feeling terribly uncomfortable. In a whisper she told me she didn’t want to go to Jackson’s house. Even more recently, Molly told me that Jackson just wants to play with the boys only now.
It’s really too bad too. This was a very fun friendship for the both of them. I can only assume that had they received more positive reinforcement and encouraging messages a balanced, healthy relationship could have endured….Well, thankfully Molly still has Olivia. The two of them can roll around on the floor and lick each other’s faces, and all anyone will say is what silly best friends they are.