Modern Family: Their Friends And Ours
For weeks, he’d storm into the house, his face a picture of misery. Our teen son was hurting from his first break-up (a savage rejection as it turned out), only, we had no idea. Strange; a communicative kid who usually wore his heart on his sleeve and openly confessed to a series of crushes, he had kept this relationship under wraps.
He’s growing up, wants his privacy and for everyone to mind their business, my husband and I thought. Difficult, for parents used to being confidantes, but understandable – good, even. But then, a shock: Our boy had been confiding in my best friend who had helped him heal. An initial stab of insecurity followed, a feeling of being let down, questioning: Why couldn’t he just have told me?
“Because you’re his mother,” my friend, a professional therapist, said later, after my son told us he had been consulting her, sometimes at her home, sometimes at her office. She had never hinted even once of these meetings to us. “I’m sure it was hard,” she acknowledged, giving me a hug. “But he’s hurting hard too. And we should be glad our children can chat with us like this.”
With the tact I so love about her, she steered clear of referring to what we both knew: that my boy and I weren’t on the best of terms during that tumultuous transition between school and college. For a whole year, I had found him incredibly rebellious, and he thought me completely unreasonable. So he had sought solace from my friend, my soul sister, a woman known to offer warm, reassuring, and practical advice to tide over young and old in any crisis.
It is perhaps this that kept my initial surprise and sadness from hardening to resentment or jealousy. She had advised my son and kept his trust. How could I be upset by my son turning to the same source of comfort and advice, the same reliable confidante to whom I so often turned?
We’d like to believe, as parents, that we can be everything to our children. The truth is somewhat less all-encompassing and a lot more sobering. Kids cannot help seeing even the most liberal parents as figures of authority, while viewing other adults more as equals in whom they can confide without repercussion. The most obvious way to fulfil their need for such relationships is with either their friends’ parents or adult friends of their own parents.
It was otherwise for me and my brother. Our older-than-most-other-parents zoned us off from their friends. We were excluded from extended time with visitors dropping in – “Say hello and go back to your room,” was the strict request. We obeyed, but hated being banished. By the time we were grown up and finally invited to step out and socialise, there was a near-total disconnect. We were bored stiff by people who were nearly strangers and reluctant to make forced small talk with them. The thought of turning to one of them with a broken heart or any other problem would have been inconceivable.
I was determined to do the opposite with my own children, but I don’t think I was prepared for my level of success. (I certainly never anticipated my son keeping a secret from me with the aid of my best friend.) Or for it going both ways; my soul sister friend’s daughter, too, has relied on me to plead her cause on issues ranging from going alone for a residential horse-riding camp, to matters of more gravitas as she grew older. I found myself a bit less ready to rush in with advice, though, thinking: My friend is someone who “mothers” my child so easily – surely she must already be doing the right thing by hers?
I took up the girl’s cause here, backed her mother there. And by allowing each other to support our kids, I realized we were both doing the right thing by them all. The result is, just as we love our children’s friends, they love ours, too. Perhaps because our friends can offer what we can’t: interest, without being overly nosy, exhibited over the course of a lifetime of shared outings and weekend holiday trips – the opposite of being banished.
As I sit writing this, the son, on the cusp of a career crisis, is of his own accord meeting a friend of ours with great mentor skills. The kids declare his guidance is “way better than any boring career counsellor.” And probably way better than mine. So I’ll say good-bye, go back to my room and leave them to it.