Choosing your children's friends
Do you find yourself trying to decide who your child should be friends with, and who they shouldn’t? You’re far from alone, reports Justine East.
‘It’s such a coincidence that our Cameron has become great friends with George – I’m so excited about it,’ a friend said to me at a dinner party recently. Her husband laughed so hard he nearly spat out his wine. ‘You instigated the friendship,’ he said. ‘You’ve invited George round so much that they had no bloody choice!’
Many parents are guilty of trying to steer their children into certain friendships and who can blame them? In this case, the mums of the boys are great friends. If their sons became friends, they’d have an opportunity to spend even more time together and they both admire each other’s family values.
In other cases, parents live vicariously through their own kids’ friendships, guiding them towards the kind of children that remind them of way back when. ‘I absolutely love it when I hear Emily and Alicia playing – it takes me right back to when I was that age,’ a mum told me the other day, seemingly unaware of what she was doing even when she bought them the same arts and crafts and took them on the same activities that she remembered fondly from her youth. As with George, Alicia is invited round to play a lot more than Emily’s other classmates, who – frankly – rarely get a look in.
Other parents push their children towards some kids more than others for less self-gratifying reasons. ‘Of course, I’m going to encourage friendships where the other child is nicer to them – that’s common sense, right?’ said one mum whom I told her I was researching this article. Or, as another said, ‘See that house over there? The dad drinks and I think he might be violent. Over my dead body is my son going round there to play and if that means they can’t be friends, so be it.’
Probably, if we search deep inside ourselves, no parent is immune of trying to manipulate their offspring’s friendships to a greater or lesser extent. Whether it’s the over-boistrous little five-year-olds you try to avoid, or the parents who let your tween kids hang around town all day when you thought they were going to be at their house. Whether it’s the families for whom education doesn’t seem to matter two hoots, making you look like the most Draconian mum ever just by asking your child to do their homework, or the kids who just don’t seem to make sensible choices, we have all been there itching to pull some strings behind the scenes.
The bottom line is, said my best friend whom I’ve known since the ripe old age of 13, friends (and their families if your child spends any time round their house) have a massive influence on kids’ behaviour. ‘Look at us – for all the great stuff, we also got up to all sorts of naughty stuff that we probably wouldn’t have with other friends,’ she laughed.
But whatever the reasons for forging your child’s friendships, it can be fraught with problems, particularly as they get older. ‘Why do you have it in for Evie? I like her and she’s my friend!’ will have a familiar ring to many parents, if only from remembering uttering the words when they were young. The more the parent dislikes one of their child’s friends, the more (in some, although not all cases) they go head-first into being bosom buddies. Instead of saying ‘You’re not hanging around with her – she’s a bad influence’ you might as well buy them matching BFF necklaces right there and then.
It was certainly the case with my best friend (whose family my parents actually once accused of brainwashing me when I started to have similar political views). No way would my controlling (as I saw them at the time) parents have a say in which friends I had, thank you very much. The same went for boyfriends, but that’s another story. Over the years, they softened, but possibly only because they didn’t have much choice – 35 years later, my best friend and I are still thick as thieves. And the ultimate irony is that over the years she become as much a part of our family as I did of hers and both our families now spend Christmases altogether. I guess you could say we had the last laugh, pushing our parents into a friendship they would not otherwise have had.
What are your views on parents trying to pick their children’s friends? Let us know what you think on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #chalkandchat