Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Boy Friendships versus Girl Friendships

One of the more fascinating and moving things for me as a parent is to watch my child befriend another. "The better part of one's life consists of his friendships," stated Abraham Lincoln. And is it ever one of the better parts.

Observing the way females friend and the manner in which males conduct a friendship was something I didn't truly begin to do until I became a mother. I believe I really started to sit up and take notice when Kenny was about 13 and I overheard him lacing a conversation with his then best friend with some choice expletives.

"You are a (expletive deleted)!" he said into the telephone. "I really hate you." I was shocked and stormed into the living room where he was on the phone, scolding him not to speak that way to Joe, or to anyone else for that matter. He just laughed at me and insisted that Joe didn't mind; he knew Kenny was joking. I refused to believe him until I called Joe's mom later to apologize, and she relayed that Joe referred to Kenny in the same sweet terms. "That's just boys," she counseled.
Yikes! And yes, boys can often get away with that.

I was in recent email contact with a woman who has been one of my dearest friends since the sixth grade. Apparently I didn't respond in a timely manner to one of her messages, so she emailed back: "Are you mad at me?" Now that's a trademark of girl friendships pretty much no matter what your age or how long the friendship. We're more sensitive. We're prone to imagining that our girlfriend is "mad" at us if they even look at us cross-eyed. And we try not to use wounding words, at least when we're older and wiser. I still don't think even a 14-year-old girl could get away with calling her girlfriend some of the demeaning things boys seemingly casually lob onto one another.

A quick Googling of "children's friendships" revealed that despite the common belief that girls are better at relationships, "most boys consider their friends a vital part of their lives." Apparently a recent study of 10- to 15- year old boys and girls found that girls' friendships are actually more fragile, and, my experience to the contrary, girls allegedly say and do hurtful things to each other more frequently than boys. Girls are additionally hurt to a greater extent at the end of a friendship.

As a child morphs into a teen (or "teen wolf" as a friend of mine hilariously dubbed her daughter), friendships become even more important, with the confusion and turbulence of this period leading both sexes to form even closer bonds, not only with same sex individuals but also with members of the opposite sex. I watched this in action with my older three and now that Jack is a seventh grader, he and his male buddies have
suddenly overnight formed a small posse of boys and girls. Whereas last year he would troll Elm Street with just the guys, now when I pick him up on a Friday he is lounging with a mixed group at the Outback or by Dunkin' Donuts, et al. Of course, with him being my baby, it is with a sense bitter sweet when I spy on his new set of friends; he's growing up and I'm not entirely ready. But I digress...

I look back fondly at the relationships that I formed growing up in small town Weston, where the majority of us who graduated high school with one another had been together since kindergarten and first grade; several since the sandbox in nursery school. The male friendships forged in teenage-hood were often stronger than those with my girlfriends, or at least they were a distinctive type of stalwart. I observe my daughter Jess' platonic bonds with boys and share what my experiences were. I will often pass on the knowledge that her female friendships not only with her New Canaan buddies, but also with those up at her boarding school, will more than likely still be alive and well and precious when she is old and silly like me.

My kids have chosen friends with opposite personalities than their own, they've chosen clones. And most importantly, they have by and large chosen well.

I have recently been "found" on Facebook by a dozen or so men and women (whom I still think of as boys and girls) from my youth. It has hurtled me back in time, reviving memories of how vital their friendships were as I grew; how we all helped one another grow. It makes me picture Blake, Kenny, Jess and Jack as 50-year-olds, waxing nostalgic with Sean, Jenna, Joe, Bria, Caroline, Drew or Cole or Kit. Friends then, and friends in their present time.

You can be seven with a new buddy, or 70 with a crony of decades, and -- to paraphrase Bette Midler -- "friends are the wings beneath our wings." Friends are one of the sweetest things to be thankful for. On Thanksgiving, remember and be grateful for those friends; remind your children to be indebted. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Persuading Our Kids That We're In Charge

How many times have you repeated the following sentence to your child or children,"Because I'm the mommy, that's why!" And on how many occasions have they muttered under their darling little breaths, "You're not the boss of me."

I have one of those platitudes-of-the-day calendars. Last Tuesday it read: "One of the hardest things about rearing children is convincing them that you have seniority." Oh my goodness; a truism if there ever was one. My kids go back and forth on recognizing that their father and I are, in fact, in charge. We are in charge of setting rules and following through on consequences when - notice I didn't day "if" - the edict is broken or bent. We have the power to overrule a decision of theirs that we feel is perhaps iffy, dangerous or not well thought out. This is in theory anyway.

Children seemed to be hard wired to challenge our authority even from a young age. During the "terrible twos" - an aptly named period if there ever was one - they begin chanting "no!" at every turn. They constantly screw their otherwise adorable faces up into a fierce visage and decry "why?!" And our response is the patented one from above:"Because I'm the mommy, that's why." Both my daughter Jess, now 15, and one of my older sons, Kenny, 23, disputed me on that one from toddlerhood through their teens (Jess I'm afraid has a few more years of the annoying line of questioning "why?"). Each whined and still whine that "because" isn't answer enough, I need to be more specific, which more times than not leaves me a bit stumped, if not also stupefied.

My litany of reasons include,"Because you're not old enough, responsible enough, because you can get hurt, because it costs too much, because I'm older than you, dammit!" Yeah, the last one is pretty lame. I don't endorse the occasional swear word, but it works sometimes. I'm older, I have been where you are now, I made mistakes and I am wiser for it. So just shut up and do as I say. Again, I don't really say "shut up" out loud, of course, except when one of my kids has really pushed my buttons too hard or campaigned for their way to excruciating proportions. This honest declaration in print is a little awkward, but something tells me that I am not alone with these particular verbal parenting indiscretions.

I don't think the phrase "You're not the boss of me" was really employed much when Kenny and Blake were younger, but Jack and Jess certainly never tired of during their stints in elementary school and perhaps through the fifth grade. In their heart of hearts they do know that I am the one with seniority, yet when has a teenager not challenged their parent's authority? It is part of their job description. But - and this is an important "but" - they can and eventually do realize that rebellion often comes with a price; left to their own devices, their own rules, situations don't routinely turn out quite the way they envisioned. Heeding mom or dad's advice might have been the better part of valor.

I can feel quite elderly and stereotypically parental when I utter the words,"When I was your age, these are the mistakes I made..." yet every so often my kid will actually pay attention. It appears that they will take in the obvious fact that yes, mom is indeed older and wiser than me, and battle-scarred. And if she didn't love me she wouldn't forbid certain behaviors or decisions I would like to act on. Sometimes even the simple one word comeback of "because" is enough.

So hang in there everyone. Do not abdicate to your offspring; do not negotiate - whenever possible - with your tiny or teenage terrorist. You are in charge, even if the whirling dervishes temporarily make you feel out-of-control.