Sunday, May 31, 2009

Friends for Life

I always assumed I’d have kids, in the same way I always assumed I’d go to college, or get married, or buy a home. I wanted kids, but I didn’t spend vast amounts of time fantasizing about the kids I’d have. In fact, I don’t think I ever really tried to picture my future children at all. I know women who’ve desperately wanted a baby since childhood, and women (even young girls) who’ve wanted a baby so they’d have a lifelong friend. It’s taken me a few years to accept the insane amount of love I feel for these girls I never spent any of my youth dreaming of, to realize that even though I never felt that drive to have children, I’m chock full of mothering instinct just the same.

I’ve made many comments about women who seem to want a child for the unconditional love and lifelong companionship. I felt they were having kids for the wrong reason. After all, your job is to raise them and set them free, not insert them into the role of your best friend from birth on. I’d see some movie about a woman whose only friend was her five-year-old daughter and I’d pity the poor, burdened child and wonder why the mother didn’t want a friend her own age. So here I am, deeply rooted in my belief that my children are little people that I’m shepherding into adulthood, and not my pals, but I’ve noticed a couple of recent changes in my relationship with my four-year-old.

The first one came a couple of weeks ago, when hubby was out of town on business, and the toddler refused to sit down for dinner (as usual), so my older daughter and I sat down for a quiet dinner together. She looked at her sister’s empty seat and shook her head, “That girl isn’t eating dinner,” she told me. “I know,” I said, “I’ll chase her around with something later.” “Yeah,” she suggested, “maybe try yogurt. She likes the berry one.” It struck me that this could have been the exact conversation I’d be having with my husband, had he been present. When had my baby become a decent dinner companion, capable of chit chat, commiseration on the complexities of raising kids, even shooting me knowing glances and eye rolls each time I lured the toddler back into the kitchen, just to have her rush back out again?

The second thing she does now is finish my sentences. My sister and I do this to each other, always have, so it feels very familiar to pause mid-sentence, distracted by the sight of, say, a spreading pool of spilled juice or a toddler about to launch herself off the back of the sofa, and have someone else finish my sentence for me. The surprising part is how well and often she does it. How can this 4-year-old be in my head already?

Don’t get me wrong, I hoped we’d be chat-on-the-phone pals someday, but I figured first we’d get through the adolescent years, those rough teen years of scowling girls who thought I knew nothing, those distant college years of independence. So after college, we’d be a friendly mother-daughter pair, who could do Christmas shopping together while chatting about her love life or career ambitions.

But, now, I think maybe I was wrong in my bias against mothers who are buddies with their young children. Maybe it’s not so much that certain women have kids to breed themselves a new best friend. Maybe some kids just grow into the role without you doing anything to usher them along. Either way, as a woman who spends far too much time in the company of kids, and far too little with her real, adult girlfriends, I’m glad to see more of a give-and-take sort of friendship developing. And grateful that when I lose my focus mid-task or mid-sentence, there’s a little sidekick standing nearby to remind me what I was about to do or say.

1 comment:

  1. I think that such friendship can be a healthy thing, but it depends on how the mother handles it. If she makes sure to have *other* friends as well, and is able to offer guidance & boundaries from experience, it should be fine.

    Chances are that the telling thing is how mentally healthy the woman is otherwise. If she has something severe, like one of the personality disorders (like Dependent or Borderline) then she IS having kids for the wrong reason. In that case, the "friend" she wants isn't a real human being, it's an ideal that she thinks would make up for her problems. (It doesn't make up for them, it just imposes worse ones on her kids, speaking firsthand...)