Last night, a friend arrives for a sleepover. She has a green envelope that she presents to my daughter. It’s a homemade “friendship award.” She awards it to my daughter for “always understanding her.”
I nearly burst into tears. I run and get the tape and slap that thing to the wall where we will all look at it for as long as the tape holds. Just last week, several girls at school received a friendship award as a trait of good citizenship. My daughter wasn’t called up to receive that award, and she cried outside of the school.
The sleepover friend wanted to set the record straight.
As I watch the two little girls celebrate their true friendship, I realize what I so strongly react to in all the articles circulating about parenting and the need to force math drills, excellence in piano, and various other versions of academic success. The philosophy of parenting that prizes academic success above all else misses the one component of life that makes all that success worth it: friendship.
So I’ll continue to host slumber parties, play dates, dance parties, and spontaneous trips to the movie theater. I’ll continue to put the homework aside for an afternoon so my daughter and her friends can go sledding, play dolls, and paint their fingernails. I’ll display cupcakes instead of math flashcards. I’ll let her blast music in the bedroom instead of shaming her into another piano drill.
If I raise a daughter who wins every prize in school, it won’t mean a thing without friends.
I’m so thankful for my friends. Happiness comes from sharing our lives with one another. The day I defended my dissertation to earn my Ph.D., I felt profoundly empty. I’ll never forget leaving that exam room, after 5 years of work, and wondering what it was all for. What mattered so much more were the friends waiting with flowers down the hall.
I had a friend who received the highest promotion in her job track at an Ivy League school. She called me in tears because at the moment she received the news, she realized she had no one to tell.
I don’t want my children to excel and have no one to tell. It won’t be worth it. They might become math geniuses, but if they don’t know the value of friendship and living in community, their intelligence might be directed towards selfish or even harmful ends. Without friends, we lose our way. Living with flair means I fill my wall with as many friendship awards as math scores.
Journal: How will I know I’m excelling in the art of friendship? What are the marks of friendship excellence?