I have a slightly scruffy angel in my home. Her sweet looks belie a spine of pure steel and a will of iron. At age 5 she is a master of negotiation and emotional blackmail. If they pitted her against Donald Trump I’d put my money on her.
Sadly, this instinct does not translate well into interpersonal relationships. As a parent I have to negotiate this minefield each day and try and establish ground rules on how people are treated.
Small boy aged 6: “Mum, if someone asks me for a sweet and I say no and they say that then they won’t be my friend, is that okay?”
Me: “If someone is only your friend because of what you can give them, then they are not your friend.”
It sounds so obvious, but even as adults we fall so easily into this trap. It cannot be more prevalent than in the current crony culture of our society. It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. Friends are the people who’d still be there if you lost every penny, weighed the same as a baby hippo and drove a Kia Picanto. There are not a lot of them out there.
This circles back to my daughter because I realised how often I use blackmail to get her to do things like eat her dinner, have a bath or go to bed. I know the adult world revolves around basic logical programming – if this, than that – but the way it translates into life is less clear cut. Small girl aged 5 does not differentiate between, “Eat your peas or you don’t get dessert” and “Give me a sweet or I won’t be your friend.”
As an adult I have a lot more power. I have things. She doesn’t. The only things she has to negotiate with are who comes to her birthday party and who she plays with. As this is distressing and heartbreaking for her best friend in the entire world, she blackmails her into doing stuff she doesn’t want to do by threatening to withhold her friendship.
It is horrible and it is my fault. The ice cold realization of this made me feel sick to my stomach. My daughter is the instigator of peer pressure because I bully her into doing things she doesn’t want to do, but has to, by offering incentives or threatening to withhold rewards. Of course she is copying my behaviour into her life. I have to come up with a new way of parenting. It brings into stark relief how the actions of a parent can shape the child for life. It can happen so quickly, so insidiously that one day you wake up to discover your sweet child is Daisy de Melker because you tore the tail of Mermaid Barbie.
Small girl aged 5 and I had a long chat about friends last night. We spoke about how you love your friends because of who they are. I thought we were making headway and happily gave her a hug.
Me: “So, are you two friends?”
Small girl aged 5: “No.”
Me, utterly shocked: “You’re not friends?”
Small girl aged 5: “Mom! We are not friends. We are way more than just friends!”
I puzzled over this for a while and then thought about my own life. My best friends are women I sometimes don’t see for years. I am still friends with women I met when I was 5 years old. The girls I was at school with fall into the same category. We may have fought, we may have competed, we may have loathed each other, but aside from the notable exception of the little blond girl in Grade 1 who even the memory of causes waves of pure unadulterated hatred to bubble through me, I know that because of the years we shared, the years that shaped who we became, we will always have each other’s backs.
Perhaps that is what it means to be more than friends? A friend is someone you play with. Friends can come and go. More-than-friends are forever.