Beyond Math and Music: Encouraging Excellence in Friendship

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?

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  1. I am all about expecting good things out of your kids, encouraging them to excel, etc. But I also agree with you. One of the saddest parts of life for me, right now, is that I have very few friends in the area where I live. I have people I am friendly with and talk with at work, but I don't have that person nearby to just gab with. I wish I had learned more about and prioritized friendships when thinking about where to live. I'm definitely looking to make a move in the next two years, and thinking about how to create an active social life is going to play a big role in where I move next.

  2. It's so good to hear about parents who do these things for their children. As adults we need to do this for ourselves too.

    One of the marks of friendship excellence that I have to work at is to listen WITHOUT COMMENT. Listening isn't hard for me, but keeping from adding my two cents' worth is very hard. I tend to think that this is also a mark of parenting excellence – listening without then preaching or teaching all the time. Very difficult for me! Thank you for asking good questions.

  3. Penn, I know what you mean. It always takes me a year in a new place until I feel like I have friends. It's so hard when you don't have someone to “gab” with. And I agree with Jenny_o! We need to making “playdates” for ourselves. Thank you!

  4. I totally agree that it's vital to be able to have some very good friends, at least one or two, with whom you can share life's highs and lows and absolutely anything. Pretty much my whole life, I've placed a high value and priority on friendships and spent a lot of time and effort trying to maintain them. Having a life and having friends is also part of why I don't ever want my job (or my schooling, for that matter) to take over my life completely. For short periods is one thing, but I don't want a job that in general will take over my life. People are too important.

  5. Journal: I know I am excelling in the art of friendship when I no longer think in any way, shape or form “that it's all about me.” I will step out into the unknown, out from under my comfortable rock, to stand and be with a friend – unconcerned about what that stance may reflect on me – I am there for my friend within the grace of God. Since my move here 16 years ago, I have several lesbian friends; I am hetero and I struggle with my perceived identity with those friends – not to worry. My mother was astonished when I told her my now 20+ year friendship with D. took off when I did NOT ask her why she and her boyfriend were not married. She finally asked me – I said “How you and G. live does not impact our friendship.” This week I dropped the ball by not attending the wake of the aunt of a dear fried who would have loved to have seen me there – I had a work meeting to attend….I could have worked around it. Another friend and I are going to the Roller Derby in February. It is not our cup of tea but they are donating to our no-kill animal sanctuary – and as my friend said “we need to get out from under our rocks.” I will be uncomfortable, maybe :). Another mark of friendship excellence is staying in touch – preferably by hand written note a couple times a year along with email, FB and IM. This is such a strong, very good topic. Thanks – and kudos to your priorities with your daughter.