Childhood friends are so much more than meet the eye. Our children’s first relationships outside the home are noteworthy insofar as they're our kids' first conditional relationships. Different from their relationships with family -- in which they've little choice about with whom they associate -- childhood friends give kids the opportunity to decide for themselves whom they hold dear.
Childhood friendships are our children's first major foray into greater independence and self-sufficiency. Perhaps for the first time in their lives, they'll be hearing about perspectives, priorities, and values that differ from those they've encountered before. Peering into the lives of friends give children glimpses into the beautifully diverse world that awaits them.
While beautiful, there's also a hint of bittersweetness in this awakening; in these budding friendships. It may feel like only yesterday that our little ones were toddling around, barely able to stand on their own -- and here they are, having full-blown conversations and connections.
Our children are taking baby steps away from us emotionally now...and into something that, if we're bold enough to admit it, is wonderful in its own heart wrenching way. People besides mom and dad start to matter to them.
As children grow into this whole new chapter of their lives, one gift that they impart to us is that we get to bear witness to the gift of early friendship. We get to recall some of what makes it so very special. And perhaps, part of the reason for our ability to observe this is also a tender reminder of how we all might strive to live together.
Have you ever watched children at a birthday party? When it's time to present the birthday child with their gifts, it can become a veritable chorus of, "Open mine first!" Friends nearly trip over each other to be among the first to put a smile on the receiver's face.
Each one wants to have given the "best" gift, but not for reasons of vanity or prestige. Rather, they want the childhood approval that demonstrates how much joy they're capable of offering. It's a selfless act of generosity.
More than gift-givers, they're joy-givers -- a true childhood friend is the one who's gotten it "right" for another. The friend who "wins" is the one who's shown up with their heart on their sleeve, and to have their offering of love be accepted. It has little, if anything at all, to do with the monetary value of the gift.
In childhood, it is truly the thought that counts. It is among the most innocent forms of approval, with the greatest reward being a genuine smile.
"Childhood friends are the benchmark of our lives, no matter where we go, what we do. They will always come by and take you to the place where you belong." - Unknown
Among the gifts that childhood friends offer to one another is their near-unconditional joy for each other's blessings in life.
How common it is for a child to enjoy something at a friend's home -- be it a toy, a pet, or even just a special rock -- and rather than returning home with envy and resentment, they'll often ask, "When can we go back there again?"
They're simply happy to take part in the joy that their friend has to offer, without immediately coveting it for themselves. Perhaps it's not even a "thing" at all; it may just be the simple goodness of cherished time together.
These gentle relationships give us permission to be genuinely happy that others have things or qualities that we don't. Childhood friendship isn't about keeping up with the proverbial Joneses.
Friends remind us that we can tiptoe into others' worlds and stay for awhile, smiling together. We can be happy for each other without finding fault. For that matter, we don't need to make it about "us," at all. We can love purely and with admiration, without a hint of jealousy.
Up until this point, most children have safely and correctly made the assumption that their family relationships are fairly static and immovable. Their natural default, of course, is to want that type of stability outside the home, as well. The whole of humanity is naturally wired for deep connection.
Perhaps kids are onto something: statistically, the friendships they have in childhood may offer protective benefits against loneliness when they get older.
Indeed, lest we be naïve, friends can also be flighty. The title of "best friend" might be transient; tried on and cast aside like a piece of clothing. At the end of the day, though, be it at school or on a playground, kids want to matter to one another.
The earliest heartbreak, and often one that stays tender long afterwards, is a love between friends gone awry. Indeed, empathy is a learned skill, and to be dismissed or bullied by a peer can be devastating when all the child wants is to simply "fit in."
At the same time, the ability to move on from a hurtful childhood friendship can illuminate a child to a previously unknown strength. How healthy, necessary, and empowering it is for a child to move forward from that heartbreak. From there, they can find their kindred spirits -- and recognize them when they have. These are the friendships that endure; that weave the fiber of their belonging.
"Blessed are they who have the gift of making friends, for it is one of God’s greatest gifts. It involves many things but above all the power of going out of one’s self and appreciating what is noble and loving in another." - Thomas Hughes
Childhood friends -- those that cast us aside and leave us temporarily broken and breathless, alongside those that teach our hearts to sing their first love songs -- are going to be among our children's first memories. These memories will help define their relationships as they get older.
Will they see themselves as being good company? Will they deem themselves worthy of others' time and energy? Will they seek out others who make them feel as a kindred childhood friend did when they were younger? There is always comfort in the familiar.
Although some childhood friendships are fleeting, those rare few that endure the test of time can be among the sweetest relationships we'll ever know. They can provide the most genuinely fond memories to cherish long after the bygone days of our youth. They remind us who we really are at our core.
And maybe, just maybe, a gift of friendship will help us uncover the very parts of ourselves -- the hidden, buried jewels of compassion -- that we'd never have otherwise unearthed.
Perhaps their purity isn't lost on us. Perhaps, instead, it's here to remind us of what matters.
This post is dedicated to several of my forever friends; my chosen family, whom I met between ages 6 - 18, and who bring me some of my greatest joy to this day. Years pass and not a whisper of time travels between us.