Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why Friending is Important

So, I have a fifteen year old. Let's just let that sink in for a moment.

I am the mother of a fifteen year old. A fifteen year old boy whose voice is deepening. A fifteen year old boy who has grown more than 8 inches in the past year. A fifteen year old boy who wears cravats and top hats, who showers regularly without argument, who uses hair products and cologne and who gets love notes from girls. Yes, that is the trauma of the situation. I can deal with the height, the sudden interest in hygiene and the voracious appetite but I can't handle the girls and the notes and the asking him out on dates.

Can't even!

But, at least I'm not alone on this one. I've been chatting with some pals who are in the same boat and a few who have paddled a little further down the river than I have. This has brought much comfort to my traumatized mother-heart but it's also brought a few head scratching moment … on both sides of the conversation, I think.

A couple of years ago I was talking with a pal whose daughter had just turned fourteen. I had heard through the middle school gossip grapevine that this girl had already dated two boys in grade 8 and was currently in a new relationship with the son of another friend. The girl's mom was lamenting this. She complained that she had told her daughter that she didn't want her to date yet but the girl just wouldn't listen. Another friend, who was coffeeing with us, just shrugged and said, "Kids will be kids. What can you do?"

Both moms agreed that there was nothing you can do when your teens want to date they will find a way to date. When I asked my friend with the dating daughter why she didn't want her fourteen year old to date yet she told me that she didn't want her daughter to get a 'reputation' … y'know (with a wink and a nod). Both moms tisked and chuckled. When we said good-bye a few minutes later, my friend grumbled about having to drive her daughter to her boyfriends house to hang out.


Okay. Really, what did I know? My oldest kid was only twelve, at the time, and had no more interest in girls than he did in wearing clean socks so, whatever. But seriously, this whole scenario seems off. Fast forward three years and now I'm the mom of a kid who is keenly aware of the female presence in his world and would love nothing more than to be the leading man in some girl's love story. But he's not. He's just friends. He's towing the company line and sticking to the rules - so far. But we have no expectation of him to do otherwise for the foreseeable future because he knows 'the why' to this standard.

I'm no parenting expert but I have learned a few things from some pals who have walked this road before me. One of my favourite parenting mentors told me that whatever rules or standards we set we better be able to explain The Why behind them if we wanted them to stick. Because we wanted our guidelines to stick we became very intentional about the the boundaries we set and why we set them - especially when it came to dating.

Our kids are not allowed to date. We won't even discuss the possibility of dating until they are at least sixteen. Here's The Why …

1. Teenage Brains are Only Half Baked. Teens go through tremendous change and growth during these key years - including their brains. Their ability to reason, problem solve and assess situations is an 'Under Construction' zone. For this reason alone we think it's a bad idea for people under construction to have that much access and influence on each other - never mind adding in the unpredictability of hormones and emotions.

2. Boys and Girls are Different. Duh, right? But seriously, until my kids understand how boys and girls are different, how they relate to each other in different ways, how their expectations in relationships are different they shouldn't take on the emotional responsibility of caring for another human being. In our home we talk about governing our emotions responsibly, communicating with respect and having realistic expectations on people. We talk about the difference in how men communicate and how women receive information and visa versa. We're different and until that is understood and respected it is better for everyone that we learn friendship first.

3. You Can't Take Back What's Already Been Given. And I'm not just talking sex, here. We talk to our kids a lot about WHO they are becoming - who they want to be, what kind of character they want to develop, what dreams they have for their future. We want them to have a strong sense of themselves before they enter a relationship. We want them to know who they are and what they stand for so the temptation to give important pieces of themselves away won't be so intense. We want them to be teens, to have friends and to share experiences with their peers. We want them to love deeply. To love people enough to respect them and treasure them as friends without looking for some kind of romantic attachment. We want them to value solid friendship above infatuation.

Our kids all understand this and they've seen how this works long term. There are several people in my life that I love deeply - and have loved for most of my life. At one point or another I may have had a crush on a couple of these guys but I came to love their friendship more than I desired a romantic attachment. And because of that these dudes have loved me and been part of my life for more than 25 years. These guys have all become friends with Mr. Awesome and are part of our extended heart family. My kids see true love in action through our friendships with these very special guys. And that's what I want for them.

I want my kids to have the people who they love the most in their lives for their whole lives. I want them to learn that friendship is the foundation to all lasting relationships. I want them to know the security of self-respect and dignity . I want them to be free to love with abandon because they know their heart is safe and in tact. I want them to Friend. I want them to Friend in groups and one to one. I want them to Friend deeply so that they learn to care about the whole of the other person and not just the pieces that serve them. I want them to Friend so they know safe, true love when they find it. I want them to be a good Friend as much as I want them to have a good Friend.

I'm not saying this is the only way to tackle the teen years but this is the way that makes sense to us - and so far it's working. Dude has had a few tough but respectful conversations with the girls who have asked him out and for the most part the girls are respecting his Friend requests. Some of them thought it was a brush off at first but as the weeks have passed Dude has continued to talk with them, laugh with them and learn about them. He is realizing how great it is to not feel the pressure to date yet have the option to have some pretty great people in his life.

And that's it. That's the why of Friending.

Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.

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