Friendship: To have a friend, be a friend

Above: Long time online friends finally meet IRL, Christie and Cath. Photo: Danimezza

This post is by regular contributor Cath Oehlman aka Squigglemum.

~ To have a friend, be a friend.

~ Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver the other gold.

~ The best mirror is an old friend.

~ A friend is one who walks in when others walk out.

As parents we spend a lot of time in the early years teaching kids how to make friends.  We teach our toddlers how to share their toys.  What it means to play fair.  How to take turns.  We tell our children to be kind, say sorry when they’re wrong and forgive others. We lovingly guide them and gently discipline them when necessary in order that they might be able to make and maintain friendships on their own by the time they reach the school playground.

But the truth is – it doesn’t matter what we say to our kids, if it isn’t what we do ourselves.  We are role models, and there are little eyes and little ears taking in more than perhaps we realise.  I’m reminded of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Sometimes our actions speak so loudly that people cannot hear what we say.”  It’s food for thought.

Consider how you handle the following situations, and take a moment to reflect on what your kids might be learning from the example you are setting:

  • Making new friends.  Do you introduce yourself to others? Do you initiate conversation?  Can you make polite small talk, and ask questions which help others to share?
  • Maintaining friendships.  Do you care for your friends by taking them a meal when they’re sick, or babysitting their kids? Do you pick up the phone just to say hi? Do you support them when life is tough?  Do you forgive and forget?
  • Groups of friends.  Do you accommodate everyone’s situation? Do you make an effort to ensure each member of the group is included?  Do you avoid gossip?
  • Long distance friends.  Do you stay in touch via phone, skype, emails or snail mail? Do you send cards at Christmas and for birthdays?
  • BFFs.  Not everyone has a bestie, and that’s ok.  If you do – do you treat them as an honorary member of the family?  Do you prioritise time together?  Do you share laughter, tears, heartaches, hard truths and honest opinions, as well as coffee?

Over the years friendships change.  Some new friends become deep friends.  Sometimes long term friends move interstate or overseas and become long distance friends.  Sometimes groups of friends drift apart.  Sometimes BFFs fall out.  As our adult friendships go through these changes, it’s important that we realise our children are watching.

I must admit that I wouldn’t score myself highly on all of the above.  I miss friends terribly when they move away, but struggle with maintaining long distance friendships.  I worry that this is a time when my actions speak louder than words, and perhaps my children will get the message that we only care for people who live close!!  Where do you struggle?  Are there any messages your children might pick up as a result?

Life isn’t always simple, but the road is travelled more easily with friends by your side.  If we want our children to have friends in their life, perhaps the best thing we can do for them is to walk the talk ourselves.


  1. Fantastic post. So much to think about here. You’re right about the role modelling and I agree that there are some areas in which I could do better. Thanks!

  2. Catherine says:

    I agree, there is a lot to think about in this post!
    I worry about my influence on my son’s making friends because I am introverted and they are both much more extroverted – I’m wondering at the moment if I need to just act more extroverted to allow them to grow their friendships.

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Catherine, introverts still need friends. Your extroverted sons might initiate conversation more easily, and feel more comfortable in larger groups – but they will still be watching and learning from the way you interact with your own friends. You don’t have to be someone you’re not 🙂

  3. Tenille @ Help!Mum says:

    Lots of great points in this post, and lots to think about. Like Catherine, I’m quite introverted and I worry that my daughter will end up the same. While we are the biggest influence on our kids in their youngest years, they all choose their own path eventually.

  4. Thought provoking. Not only did it make me think about my situation (most of my lifelong friends are overseas or interstate, as are my family) but it made me reflect on my upbringing. My parents didn’t have many friends around for tea or dinner parties and it’s not something I’ve done either. Maybe, in part, because it wasn’t modeled for me. I know others who are surrounded by childhood/lifelong friends and socialize often. I must admit wishing I could do that with my friends and family but the tyranny of distance prevents that for the most part.

    1. I completely relate to your comment, Veronica. I have to make a concerted effort to have people around too, it just doesn’t come naturally to me, which is just how I grew up as well.

  5. Im thankful for email etc these days. As a gypsie in recovery I feel like I never really put down my roots. Some of my besties are in Vietnam, NY, Sydney and Mackay. I have been lucky since having kids to meet some really wonderful people close to where I live. I do belive people come into you life for a reason, the length they stay depends on the reason.
    I have a mothers group who I catch up with approx every 3 months and I love it, I have known them for almost 5 years now and hearing how thier kids are going is fantastic. While they were part of my life up to 3 times a week in the 1st year we all had other commitments to go back to.

    It’s quite funny how day to day things spark a memory of a friend. Only at 7:30 today Mr 2 was ordering his weetbix – not that much, a bit more lol I know one squigglegirl who only ever had 3/4 not 1/2 not 1 🙂
    In a fortnights time we are catching up for coffee again and I cant wait. I’m glad to call Bernadette, Caroline, Kristen and Squigglemum my friends.

    1. SquiggleMum says:


  6. Thanks Cath, for a really thoughtful post.
    Like many of the other comments here, I’m extremely shy. My biggest downfall in life has been sitting in the corner and waiting for people to approach and start a conversation with me. It just doesn’t happen.
    The man I married is certainly not extroverted but he is wonderful with people. He just seems to know how to connect with people. I once asked him his secret. In which he told me that the secret is that humans love to feel special. So whenever he meets someone new or is chatting to someone he consciously asks them questions about themselves and makes a point of complimenting them.
    It really is so simple but so important. Since he told me that, I also make a conscious effort to do the same. It truly is amazing. People open up and feel comfortable.

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Your husband is a wise man! He’s right – everyone likes to feel special. People who learn the art of making eye contact, smiling and asking questions find social situations a breeze.

  7. I think I have always been a good friend – generous with help and support, listen to others and work hard to keep in contact with those not close by.
    Since my son was diagnosed with autism in march 2010, I can say that there are friends in my life who have been utterly disappointing in the support they have given….sad but true. There are even a few friends who have never acknowledged our boy’s diagnosis even though we wrote/emailed to tell them about it. I get that sometimes people don’t know what to say etc etc but if it’s hard for them, imagine what it’s like for me…I’m his mum. With some people it is a very subtle drifting away, less calls, texts, emails until you realise there is a group that you would normally have been included in that has gotten together without you knowing. It hurts. I don’t want to come across as all bitter about it….it’s human nature and it’s sometimes what people do. Now with my son having 30 plus hours of therapy each week, it is hard for me to keep up with friends but i do try hard to do it when i can. My online community….fledgling and developing with my blog….have been amazingly supportive. Rambling now but lots of thoughts swirling! Thank you for a fab post

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Suz I am so glad to hear you are building an online community for yourself. Parenting a child with special needs is full of unique challenges and joys, and it’s important for you to have friends to share the ups and downs.

  8. Terrific post, Cath. As a mum I think I worry about the ‘friend’ thing more than any other. As my kids get older, I see that they are managing just fine with the skills I must have passed onto them via osmosis. I think they share my genuine love of other people’s company. They seem to be good friends to many and it is very satisfying as their mum to see that. x

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Top job mama 🙂 We can’t manage our children’s friendships for them, but we can equip them with the skills they need to manage their own.

  9. I’m afraid I’m not a great example to my kids. I have virtually no time for friends as I’m too busy with 3 under 5, but that’s not to say I don’t love and value my friends dearly. I know I need to improve in this area, and am to be far less housebound next year when my eldest heads off to school. Then we can all get out and make friends and spend more time with our old friends. Great post.

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Be kind to yourself Karen. Handling three kids under 5 is quite the challenge! I try to schedule one night a week which is my “me time” and either spend it on my own, or with a friend (generally shopping!) Just an idea you might like to try too…

  10. Francesca says:

    Great post! Funnily enough I’ve had this discussion with my 5 yo recently. He’s quite introverted as am I. His shyness is not textbook but I do know that he doesn’t find social interactions that easy. I’m similar but of course, much more adept at dealing with this.

    Anyway, I’ve been telling him that each time he bumps into someone he knows and they say hello, that it is polite to say hello back but that he doesn’t have to speak to them at any length if he doesn’t want to. I know that his preference is not to. I try and model this myself. I always say hello when I see someone I know and often stay for a brief chat (of course depending on who it is).

    I want him to be who he is but also to be able to appropriately socially interact with his peers – I guess, I want him to have friends in a way that works for him. He does have a BFF and he’s only completely himself with this friend.

    So, I don’t want him to be socially isolated but he has to determine his friendships in his own way.

  11. Excellent post Cath.
    I think I work hard to be a good friend and have a vast circle of people whom I call a friend. I have friends who are closer then others and some are recent friends and some I have been friends with since school.
    I can make friends quite easily and love to meet new people and I hope my kids are like this too.
    I totally agree with what you say about role models for our children and I hope my kids think I am a good role model. I know I could do better in some of the areas you have mentioned so thanks for the great post and the reminder 🙂
    Airlie is very much like me and Mason is very much like his Dad in respects to the way we make friends which I find interesting too.

  12. Laura@art4littlehands says:

    I struggle making friends. I am not real outgoing. I never invite people over. It seems all the friends I ever make are with people who are outgoing and work hard to get me out of my shell. I just moved to a new city about a year ago and I have yet to have a friend here. It has been a terribly lonely time for me. I have met people, but because of my personality of being a bit standoffish I haven’t made any lifelong friends yet. I am going to work on this.

    We have moved a lot in my life. My daughter is so good at making friends. She has always just gone up to kids at the playground and said lets play and then they are off. I admire her personality for that. I generally am quiet until spoken to. Just today I was at a playgroup date and I felt awkward because there were several conversations going on, but I didn’t feel I was part of any of them. I felt like I was eavesdropping on everyone and it didn’t feel good at all.

    Thanks for the post. I am going to reflect on this in the next week and try to improve my own friendship making problems.

  13. i really think when kids reach a certain age they ultimately do whatever they decide for themselves regardless of what their parents did. you could be the best parent who turns out the worst kid or vice-versa. to much thought into “whats going to affect my kids in the future” way of parenting prevents them from parenting them in the present.

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