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We’re Wired for Friendship, Whether We’re 5 or 45


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I still have the handmade pillow I sewed with a friend in fourth grade. We wrote “best friends forever” in puffy paint across the surface. I also have the “slam book” my friends and I created at a sixth grade sleepover. In it, we listed each other’s flaws, then discussed our findings. It amazes me that we considered that a good idea. At 12, peer approval was everything, and those comments stuck. It was 30 years before I cut bangs again. We alternately loved and tested one another, and it wasn’t always pretty.

That was back in the eighties, but not much has changed. As a school counselor, I know that girls holding hands in the hallway on Monday might be ignoring each other by Thursday. Boys playing tag at the beginning of recess might be shoving each other off a slide fifteen minutes later. The upside to all this boundary-pushing is that kids are learning about trust, conflict resolution, and resiliency. It’s good practice for future relationships. To an adult, the extreme highs and lows look exhausting. But although our own friendships seem sedate in comparison, they’re no less important.

I moved to Maryland 15 years ago, and I got pregnant three months after I arrived. At the time, I edited a daily publication, and I’d take the train downtown at 5 a.m. so I’d make my deadline. The early start worsened my morning sickness. Like clockwork, I’d get sick when I reached Metro Station. It was a miserable routine that I repeated in reverse on my way home.

My first friend at my new job, Liza, watched this play out each day. She would drive me home as often as she could, unfazed by my frequent need to stop for air. I was happy for the ride, but even more grateful for the friendship.

As I approached my due date, I started to feel lonely. I knew few people in DC to begin with, and I had no idea how to meet other new moms. I half-jokingly told Liza to quit her job and keep me company during my maternity leave.

When my son was born, I remember passing packs of mothers pushing strollers and wondering how they met. As the first of my friends to have a baby, it was all a big mystery–until I discovered the miracle of playgroups. I finally met equally frazzled women who considered the day a success if they took a shower. We counseled each other through baby reflux and food allergies and crushing fatigue. I hadn’t craved that much concentrated time with friends since I was a child, and we formed tight bonds. Although the days were tedious at times, the years passed quickly.

Fourteen years and three children later, I have an even deeper respect for the power of friendship. Our kids are older, time is in short supply, and our needs are different, but my friends still play a central role in my life.

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To read more continue to Phyllis’s original article in the  character.org  series ‘What’s Happening in Character Education?’ Character.org is an organization Phyllis feels passionate about; please support their mission to provide leadership and advocacy for character worldwide.

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Phyllis Fagell

Phyllis Fagell is a licensed clinical professional counselor, certified professional school counselor and journalist.

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