Four kiddos in five years and not one of them came with a handbook. So many questions…
A biggie for me was how can I foster healthy friendships that will benefit my kids and help them grow spiritually.
At a young age they wanted to have sleepovers, playdates at others homes or our house, be a part of sports and church activities, etc. So many opportunities to be with friends….sometimes too many.
Choices always had to be made, so we needed to come up with what we thought was important for them and what made our house a healthy place. When they are younger you decide for them the social situations they participate in. We make the choices of who they hang out with and have a sense of control over the friendships they have. So how do you teach them what a healthy friendship is and what isn’t? How do you help them decide on their own how to stand up for who they are, and make good choices on who their close knit friends will be? By far, we are not perfect parents. We have learned a lot along the way by making lots of mistakes. That being said, there were things we decided were important to foster, but they weren’t always easy or convenient to follow through with. Because we made those decisions ahead of time, it made it easier to stick with it.
1. We always had an open door policy at our house. It helped to get to know the friends that our kids were hanging out with and for their friends to know us. It was important for us that their friends knew that we cared about them, that we loved having them in our home and we loved that they were our kid’s friend. They were “part of the family”.
2. Being the “Taxi-Mom” can be a pain and super inconvenient but be willing. Again, you get to know their friends. It shows your child that their “stuff” is important to you. It also shows them and their friends that you are for their friendship. And, bonus, when you are the driver you tend to be invisible and learn lots about what’s happening in the world of your child.
3. Encourage church activities. The most valuable connections that my kids made were because they were involved in not just the weekly programming at our church, but the special events and camps as well. When they experience these things together, it gives them something to connect with and helps them to grow closer in their friendships. These experiences provide a unique opportunity for them to bond in a way that we as parents can’t make happen. We considered this a big investment in them. Our kids are certainly not perfect, however, we never used church as a consequence. This was not an option in our parenting tool belt, there were too many positives that came from these experiences. Missing these events wouldn’t teach them to get their school work done on time, but it certainly would be a lost opportunity for their growth.
4. Listen to your kids about what friends they choose. Sometimes we want friendships for them so much, that we miss what our kids are seeing in the choices their friend is making. This friendship may not be a healthy one to pursue. Our motto was always, “You don’t have to be their best friend, but you always need to be kind.” There are lots of pressures happening that they don’t know how to communicate. You may see them pulling from a friendship that you thought was a healthy one, but as they get older, they may be headed down different paths. Help them navigate the friendship, but they may not be the close friend that you thought they were.
As my kids hit middle and high school age, I noticed some friendships lessen and some become stronger. I noticed where their tight knit relationships were. The get togethers were different because they became a mixed group of boys and girls, but we stuck to our open door policy, changing it slightly of course. Groups have come in and out of our home: parties, student led Bible studies, best friend sleepovers, etc. It was awesome to see them grow in their friendship and their faith together with their peers. It wasn’t us telling them who their friends needed to be or what their faith was, it was them living it and owning it.
I’ve always known how important these friendships were, but even I didn’t grasp HOW important they would become. On Oct. 18th of this year our lives changed forever. We received the phone call no parent wants to get…Our 18 year old son had collapsed and CPR was being done without response. Paramedics were on the scene trying to help him. We needed to get there ASAP. Over the course of the next two days, we didn’t know if he would be ok. I watched all of my kids, but especially my daughter be surrounded by her closest friends. They didn’t leave her side. They knew what she needed because they knew her on a deep level. They prayed with her, walked with her, loved on her, made sure she was eating and just catered to her every need when I felt like I could barely stand. I was so thankful for their care so that I could focus on the difficult decisions that my husband and I had to make. Evan didn’t pull through. On Oct. 20 he was in the arms of Jesus. As we walked through the next days, weeks and now months her friends have been such a support to her. Not just in making sure she is ok, but making sure she is spiritually ok. They are there in a way that we can’t be for her.
As I think over the last months, I am thankful for the car rides, sleepovers, camps, special event experiences and any bit of craziness that went along with fostering these friendships. In the midst of tragedy they have been invaluable in a time that we could not have prepared for.
Written by Kelly Kongvold. Wife to Freedom and Mother to Zak, Bryce, Evan and Annika