It was hard for me to control my laughter. Sami was straddling the ottoman, her little feet dangling off the edge. “I’m gonna catch you!”
Her friend Amanda squealed and pretended to gallop away. “You are not!” she yelled as she crawled quickly and hid behind the curtain.
Sami jumped off her pretend horse and, with all her four-year-old might, she pushed it a few inches. Then she jumped back on. “I’m coming fast now!”
She jumped off again and pushed it another few inches. Amanda squealed louder. “You can’t catch me—I’m a superhorse!”
“Oh yeah?” Sami said, going through her whole routine again. “Look how fast I’m coming!”
Amanda crawled out from behind the corner and giggled. “You’re not coming very fast at all; I think your horse is a slowpoke!”
Sami climbed off and looked at the ottoman. She pushed it; it only moved a few inches. “You’re right,” she said. “I’ll just chase you myself!”
With that the girls ran up the stairs, squealing and giggling louder than ever.
I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched them. Two beautiful girls totally consumed in chasing each other with an ottoman. I mean, when was the last time I’d straddled a piece of furniture and giggled my way through the afternoon? And I loved hearing Sami laugh. It did my heart good to know she was enjoying a friend on a Saturday afternoon. It made our family feel normal in a way I couldn’t really define.
Later that night, Sami curled up beside me during our bedtime snuggle. “I had so much fun today, Mommy. Amanda is my best friend in the whole world. Thanks for letting her come over.”
Moments later, as I sneaked out of the room and shut off the light, Sami was sleeping soundly, a smile on her face. This had been a good day.
Sometimes getting our kids connected to their friends takes a lot of effort. Here are some thoughts to help inspire you on the way.
Friendships foster laughter. Sami and I always put a high priority on laughter, but sometimes the tasks of life take over and life gets altogether too serious. Saturday chores replace Saturday tickles. “Getting things done” becomes the highlight of the day. Because much of our time is structured, playtime with friends (with no particular agenda) doesn’t come around as often as I like. But when it does, when we make it a point to invite a child over (even now that Sami’s a teenager), their giggles seem to light up the house in a way housecleaning never does. Think about it, single-parent homes can easily fall into the too-serious category—and not without good reason. There’s much to do and only one adult to take care of it all. But kids do need to be kids. It does them so much good to think about nothing more than how to make an inanimate object animate, to create a story out of pebble figures, or to giggle loudly and with abandon.
Friendships help kids develop social skills. It’s important for kids to interact with kids. They learn all kinds of social skills from a morning of play. They learn how to share, to imagine, to give, to laugh, to compromise. They learn what it means to fight and make up, to take turns, to talk, and to listen. We can talk about sharing all day long, but when a child is facing a good friend and that friend is pleading for the toy in your child’s hands, suddenly the lectures take on new meaning. They have to learn what it does to a relationship to share and what it does when they hoard. As they experience some of those natural consequences, they will grow socially and relationally. Our kids need friends to help teach them how to interact with their world.
Friendships expand a child’s world. One of Sami’s best friends was a girl named Amber. Amber and Sami hit it off big. Amber came from a bigger family—she had a little brother, two sisters, and a sweet mom and dad. Not only that, Amber’s mother loved animals. They had cats, dogs, birds, even a snake or two. Sami loved to spend time there because not only did she love the big family chaos, she loved the animals, the games, the wrestling, the tickling, and the teasing. There was always something happening at Amber’s house, and for Sami, it was very different from the quiet life she knew with me. Her friendship with Amber expanded her world.
Friendships give you a break. I’d had a stressful week, so when Sami asked to have a friend over, I was hesitant. It just felt like more work—even to go pick up the girl from her home. Finally, I agreed. With sighs meant to remind my girl how big this favor was, off we went. We came back home, and I sent the girls to Sami’s room to play with all her stuffed animals. I started working on the kitchen, piddling around, cleaning up and organizing drawers. I was totally surprised when Sami and her friend came downstairs two hours later. I had no idea that much time had passed. Not only does friendship offer play for your children, develop their social skills, and expand their world, it also gives you a break—and that’s a good thing.
So now you know friendships matter, but you’re not sure where to start. Here are two ideas that may help smooth the process as you help your kids build and enjoy friendships.
Develop opportunities. Keep an eye out for kids your child may connect with either at church, at your MOPS group, or at preschool. Your child will probably have no trouble voicing a few favorites. From there, hang around at the end of school or class and introduce yourself to the parent. Ask about a playdate. Something as simple as going to a park or a nearby playground would work great.
Trade off with another single parent. There are other single moms of preschoolers around, and I guarantee they could use a break as much as you. How wonderful it would be if you could trade off on alternate Saturdays. Even if you tried for once a month, think how nice it would be for you to have a Saturday free and for your child to have a regular playdate with a new friend. Keep your eyes open and make the request. It will be worth it for both of you.