Blog: Friends Influence Family Culture or Vice Versa

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Friendship and Family Culture

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I recently found this is a picture of my childhood “best friend” and me (right) (I’ll refer to her as BF). She was my very first best friend that was not a family friend.

I don’t remember how we hit it off in the beginning. We were in 3rd grade, and we spent many, many weekends together, mostly me spending the day or even the night at her house.

She lived out in the “country” of my already rural town. Her house was surrounded by woods with a few houses scattered nearby. Her lot must have been huge. She had a small house, but she had a large barn/garage on the other side of her driveway, and another barn deeper into the lot. She and I would spend hours and hours wondering down deer trails.

It’s hard for me to describe my friendship with this girl. It was a dichotomy in so many ways. So much of what we did together was uplifting and innocent and fun. Then, a lot of it was not.

Her parents were factory workers. I would hear them in the darkness of the morning at 4:30 getting up and leaving for work. BF and I spent much of our time together completely unsupervised. I remember very few occasions when her parents were around.

We built forts in her barn. She showed me how to help her cat give birth to her kittens. Those hours spent wondering around in the woods were the best memories. We would play at her neighbor’s house where they had a massive doll house and golf cart trails around their lot. We would wander down the road and play at a playground at a church. We actually took empty barrels, padded them with pillows, and rolled – or rather, tumbled – down the slope in her front yard. She would tell me stories about how she almost died when she was born so her parents gave her a name that would remind them of her miracle. So much innocence.

On the other hand, when her parents were around, they were generally grumpy, though still kind. They would watch inappropriate movies with us around at night, the images of which I still have yet to shake from my memories. The one night I remember she spent the night at my house, we toilet papered my neighbor’s house because a boy from our grade lived there, and got into trouble. She swore. As we got older, she started talking about things that were beyond my understanding.

We both had older siblings. My brothers and sisters were a lot older than me, and I watched them endure the perils of being teenagers! I learned from them some things I wanted to avoid. BF’s siblings were closer to her age, and becoming exposed to teenage life in front of her. She had started down the path of growing up very early. She exposed me to things like shaving our legs (!!), and set me up with my first “boyfriends” in 4th and 5th grades. (It wasn’t a mutual arrangement. It was silliness).

She also had a long bus ride to and from school that I never had. Once, I rode the bus home with her on the last day of school and we were aloud to have a paper fight with all our school work from the year. It was actually super fun, but I’m very grateful I didn’t have to ride the school bus every day. What an unsupervised mess that is.

I was active in my church, and that part of my life was important to me. When we were in 6th grade, she was making friends with other girls in our grade that I didn’t know very well. At lunch one day, she dropped a note in my lap (back when kids passed notes), that basically told me I wasn’t popular enough to be her friend anymore.

That was a rough day. I spent much of it in my room crying. But then, it didn’t take me long to figure out that this was actually a good thing. She and I were going down different paths. By 9th grade, she was already bragging about stuff like drugs and boyfriends, that I never wanted to know about.

The last I heard about her, maybe ten years ago, was that she’d had a couple of kids and was in the process of filing for a divorce. It’s funny how a hard thing like that can actually be a blessing.

I do wish all the best for her, and in truth, I have no idea how her life has turned out. We all have our own trials and struggles, and challenges we each endure in our own way.

When I reflect on my friendship with BF, I am grateful for the innocent times, and the freedom we experienced. But I remember that every time I came home from her house, I’d be crabby and rude to my family. I was attached to her in some ways that distanced me from my family at times. It’s funny how I didn’t even try to make friends with anyone else while she was my friend. Once the friendship ended, I was basically deserted at school. (Thankfully, I had some friends at church).

Still, I’m grateful that our friendship ended when it did. We were simply going in different directions. Now that I’m a mom, and my oldest is about the age I was when I met BF, I find myself a bit protective of her and the friends she will make. I know the influence a friend can have, and when we become attached to those friends, they tend to take the place of our parents. In the book “Hold On To Your Kids,” Dr. Neufeld discusses this concept of peer attachment. It’s like the blind leading the blind. When kids become peer-oriented, rather than parent-oriented, they begin to work on appealing to their friends rather than trying to seek approval from their parents.

Sure, some level of independence is necessary and inevitable, but kids are ultimately shaped by the adult interactions they have if they will be successful, socialized, and civilized. Our culture at large has lost much of this detail, but that is a subject for another post. My parents did well to establish a culture in our family of standards and values that anchored me enough to keep me from drifting down the same path as BF. They had written out this poster of all the standards they hoped we would uphold. Some were things like, no high heels until you’re 14. But some were things like, no dating exclusively until 16. They were all pretty specific. Those standards and guidelines taught me that there are boundaries for our moral compass, and that I have value to my parents. This is what I hope to establish for my own kids.

I know I can’t be with them for every experience. In my interview with Bolaji Oyejide, he talked about how we wish we could prepare the world for our kids, but that we actually need to prepare our kids for the world. It isn’t our job to walk them through every experience in their lives, but we can set the up to be ready for the challenges the world will throw at them. Another interview I had with Merrilee Boyack discusses this very thing. Her book “The Parenting Breakthrough” has an outline for what kids need to know in order to be prepared for real responsibility.

I know I can’t force my kids to have the “right” kinds of friends, but I can help guide them to be discerning (without being judgmental) of the kinds of friends that will help them on their path. I can establish values and standards to the intent that they will learn what our family does, and that they have value inherent to their being. These standards will act as an armor, much like the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18) to protect them from all the crazy stuff they will have to endure that we might not even be able to imagine.

While the standards of today might look a little different from the standards my parents established when I was a kid, they are that much more important today! Standards today will center around personal devices, social media, music and other media, and establishing roles and boundaries. These standards are so important to filter our family culture through the noise and messages constantly bombarding our kids today.

I have had so many amazing friends as an adult that I know have helped me along my journey. I’m grateful for the standards my parents taught me to know that It’s important to choose good friends. I have been pretty selective just because I know how hard it can be to have friends who don’t appreciate you. Still, friendships are a crucial part of health and happiness, so I know how important it is to have great friends! – for both men AND women.

Our children’s friendships will teach them and test them. As parents, it’s our job to counsel them gently, and be their mentor and source of orientation. We draw them in by showing them they matter to us, that we want them in our lives, and to make space for them. Family traditions, stories, and play are so crucial. Shelly Stasney told me about a story from the book “Why I didn’t rebel” that they had so much fun in their house, they didn’t have any need to look outside the home for fun! Our homes can be a place where our kids’ friends want to be, when our family culture is welcoming, inspiring, and even wholesome. We model for our kids what good friendships look like.

We model for them that we have worth in spite of our flaws, like I learned from Jeanie Cisco-Meth, that guards them against bullying.

So, (1) be a model of friendship and self-love. (2) Be attached to our kids by valuing our time and attention with them. And (3) establish standards that will be a safeguard and guide in this crazy world. Friends may come and go, but our family is forever.

Affiliate Recommendation: A great way to bond with your family is through experiences that bring you together, and create memories and stories. Concerts, sporting events, and theatrical productions, are also a great way to experience culture and art, and fun. Use Ticket Club to order tickets to your next family event, and make some memories!

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