A word on his choosing friends

When a home is a creative home it belongs to everyone in it and everyone in it belongs. The sense of belongingness that each feels in it seems to reach out in inviting fashion. Friends seem to feel it and to feel at home in it.

"Come on over, John. I'm cooking the dinner tonight and you can help," says young Milt. "We'll stop and do the shopping on the way."

"Your ma and pop going to be out?"

"No, we're all home."

"You mean you get a chance to go in the kitchen without your ma saying 'Run'? Boy! That's fun."

Many parents complain that they never get to know their children's friends. One reason may be that home is too uneasy a place for friends to be easy in. When home becomes more a place where one can let down and be oneself, this state of affairs may be remedied.

Even so, there are other things which may work against our girls and boys wanting their mothers and fathers to know their companions.

For one thing, our standards in the choice of friends may interfere with their feeling of being able to choose their own friends according to their lights and desires.

This does not mean that they will not in some instances enjoy the companionship of the sons and daughters of our friends. They may. They may not.

"Our dads went to school together," says Jock with great pride when he introduces his friend James. On the other hand, Florence sniffs, "You like their mothers, I know, Mum. But, honestly, those girls are so affected! I can't stand them. And I don't see why your going with their mothers has to mean that I have to go with them."

In a parents' group, one mother complained, "I can't stand the kind of friends Bruce is forever dragging in . . . Nor can I understand why. They're nice enough boys. But. . ." She paused, hesitant.

"But what?" another mother asked her.

"I don't know. It's just that they're so different from the boys I'd pick out for him to be friends with."

"Have you picked out some in particular?"

"Yes. There's the McMaster boy, for instance; he's the same age and just wonderful! I know Mrs. McMaster from the club I go to. The McMasters, you know, they live in that big white house with the gorgeous trees and that great stretch of lawn in front of it. The big house with the regal-looking columns . . ."

Several mothers smiled knowingly and Bruce's mother gasped, "My goodness, what am I saying? I didn't know I was such a social snob! I'm ashamed . . . But," more thoughtfully, "I guess there are reasons. My own reasons that go back to when I was a youngster."

There were.

As a child this woman had always felt "less good." "Less good" than the other girls. Inferior somehow, even though she had no actual reason to feel this. She knew from her school achievement that she wasn't intellectually inferior and many times she'd been told she was pretty. "And yet," she mused, "I've always had that feeling. As if I were less attractive than somebody. Somebody very attractive . . ." She paused, squinting her eyes as if trying to get a picture. And then, all of a sudden, the light came flooding. "Of course! My mother! She always came first. First with my father. And I guess as a small girl I wanted to come first. I remember that too."

Like all small girls, this girl had wanted to be more important with her daddy. And because Mother was more important, she had felt herself inferior.

"I've tried one way and another to make up for that feeling. And now I'm trying to make up for it through having Bruce bring home the sort of friends that will build me up. How foolish can you be?"

"But how natural!"

"Isn't it true?"

Being able to choose their own friends is important to our boys and girls. It brings them a sense of being on their own, of living their own lives, of making their own contacts--of growing independence.

It is true that the friends they select may not always fit in with our standards, or with their own standards, for that matter. They may pick friends, for one thing, to help them live through old feelings that need to be lived through belatedly before they can make more mature choices.

Just as Bruce's mother would have chosen Bruce's friends to help her live through an old sense of inferiority, so our children may choose their friends to help them live through similar feelings.

Little mousy Priscilla, for instance, chooses flashy, forward Enid as her chum. Enid is almost a part of her own self. When they go to parties together, she relies on Enid to engage boys
in conversation. "I learn from her, I think. She makes me feel stronger."

To Priscilla, Enid's allegiance is all-important. She has in her an ally who is helping her "get her man," just as she wanted to have Mother be an ally to help her stand in right with Father in the earlier days.

Lorna, a large, handsome girl, somewhat too heavy, chose unattractive, sallow Una as her favorite companion. Since Una's father was sick and unemployed, Lorna showered the girl with presents; gave her clothes, books, cookies. Through this friendship Lorna, in her way, was gaining the importance she needed at this time. As she grew older and thinned down and found herself appealing to boys, the intensity of her friendship with Una dissolved.

In one way or another, in their friendships, especially in early and middle adolescence, girls may be working out earlier rivalry feelings toward their mothers that they may still carry unrecognized in their unconscious minds. Similarly, boys may be working out their unconscious feelings toward their fathers.

As parents, we do not need to stop to decipher what each friendship means. The important thing for us to know is that they do have reasons for being. As we understand and accept this fact, we will bear with our children as they live through these friendships. We won't need to bestow the telling look of disapproval that gets our child's back up and makes him cling to a friendship harder and longer than he otherwise might.

We need not pretend or be dishonest about our own feelings. But our focus will not be so all-on-ourselves if we understand that the adolescent's feelings are important for him to live through. His wild enthusiasms need not be taken as enduring. In the early teens, especially, he is likely to vacillate from one type of friend to another.

Sometimes he will come to us, almost pleadingly demanding an opinion of his friends. For the moment he needs it; even though he throws it over the next.

In any event, if we resist him too strongly in his selection of friends, he may, just to resist us, persist harder and longer in making choices we dislike. He will then uphold his friends, do or die, in order to go against us and what we wish.

This is true not only in choices as to friends of the same sex but true as well in choices as to "dates." By the way we handle the matter of dating, we communicate to our young ones whether or not we approve, not only of the girl or boy friend of the moment, but also of their ability to handle the whole boygirl situation and themselves in it.

What to do, though, when friends are actually antisocial, "wild" or "destructive"? This is a far more serious state of affairs. Then the parental foot may have to be put down heavily. "No, this is out. We cannot have this." However, even these strong, direct forbiddings may be ineffective if the youngster's drive to work out his problems through such friendships is too compelling. By hook or crook he may find ways of continuing with them, secretively behind parental backs.

Such was the case with Sheila, a little fair-haired girl as innocent-looking a child as one could find. She came from a home where "she had everything," from a swimming pool to the most gorgeous clothes.

"I don't know what went wrong." Her father's knuckles showed white as he told the story.

"I can't imagine either," her mother sobbed as she chewed at her lips.

Sheila and three of her friends had been caught shoplifting. In the knitting bag that Sheila carried demurely, one day's "haul" included a sun suit, a blouse, nylon stockings and three pairs of ear clips.

"But you don't need them, Sheila. Why did you do it?" her mother wailed.

"It's clear enough," asserted her father. "It's all on account of the friends she goes with. She's got to drop them. Then it will stop."

Under duress, Sheila did drop them. But soon she was in with an even wilder gang. There were sex offenses this time instead of stealing.

It was only after long-term psychotherapy that Sheila came out of it, equipped with self-understanding that brought new wisdom and health.

To Sheila, the forbiddings to go with the "gang" had been echoes of other forbiddings. Recently, her parents had disapproved of the one boy with whom she most wanted to date. Before that . . . "so long before" . . . Sheila couldn't remember exactly . . .

From Sheila's mother, however, many of the facts were brought to light. In her anxiety to train her small daughter, she'd striven too hard. The initial forbiddings had come very early. Sheila had not been fed when her small body had craved food; she'd been fed by the clock. Her little hands, seeking pleasure, had been tied to the bedposts. She'd been kept starched and clean and had not been allowed to play in mud or suds. When Sheila, grown a little older, had sought her father's company in tomboyish fashion, she'd been reprimanded. "Be dainty. Be sweet."

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