Child’s Play

Last night I went to an orientation for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Matt and I have decided to volunteer for the program’s Couples Match, meaning we will get one Little Brother for the two of us.

I’ve always been interested in the program—I love kids, and given the fervor with which I read Harry Potter books and watch ABC Family, I basically am one myself. Still, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect or, more specifically, what would be expected of me.

You can probably imagine my sense of relief when the very first thing I read said a good Big Brother or Sister will “emphasize friendship over changing the behavior of the child.” Our orientation leader was quite clear in her instruction that the “Big” is not there to be a parent or tutor or babysitter. Just a friend.

This I can handle. In fact, having an 11-year-old buddy sounds pretty ideal. Finally, someone who will take seriously my adoration for children’s books, teeny bopper music (I’m sorry, but Miley Cyrus can be really catchy. Ditto Justin Bieber), and High School Musical.

Of course, befriending a child in a mentor capacity is not the same as having a new BFF. The behavior we might expect in a friendship of equals—reciprocation, self-disclosure, general non-flakiness—can’t be a requirement. Our “Little” may never say “thank you,” we were told, and we can’t go getting mad at him. Our focus should be on our own behavior and on being there for the “Little.” Period.

While Big Brother Big Sister is about a different sort of relationship than the kind I usually write about, this approach is an interesting way of looking at the other friendships in our lives. We usually spend a good chunk of our time focusing on what a friend did or did not do. She didn’t wish me happy birthday correctly or she did awkwardly hug me or she didn’t return my phone calls. And this stuff, or at least the bigger issues of two-way trust and camaraderie, is important to an adult friendship. Without a give and take there is no relationship. But what if, maybe for only a moment, we stopped obsessing over what we expect of friends and instead focused on what we expect of ourselves.

For me, that might get pretty eye-opening.

So this weekend, instead of harping on what makes someone else a friend (or not), I’m going to try to turn the tables on myself. Make sure my own behavior’s up to par and not concern myself with what other people do. Easier said than done.

Are you up for the challenge? Could you forgive—or, even better, just not notice—bad friendship behavior and focus on being a good pal yourself? What do you think you’ll find?

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Child’s Play

  1. I think its SO great that you are doing this! Such a great idea for you and Matt to do it together. (Just a quick plug for those of you reading from NYC…the GO Project is in need of volunteer tutors and mentors on Saturdays. The program takes place in the East Village and you do activities with other mentor/kid pairs so its a way to meet people your own age too! Visit http://www.goprojectnyc.org/get-involved/volunteer-opportunities to get the details!)

  2. anonymous

    This post made me reflect on the fact that I sometimes let myself be disappointed in friends I don’t think care enough. I get green with envy watching TV show/movie “friends” (or even real groups of friends I encounter) all going out of their way for each other and doing super thoughtful things for each other, and wonder why I don’t feel that I have buddies quite as proactive in their expressions of love. Do they not like me enough to be the thoughtful friends who do all sorts of things to show it?
    But I can often be less proactive in my love for my friends as well. I usually give the kind hug and the concerned ear and sometimes even the sage advice if I have it. That is how I express my love and be a good friend. But remembering to buy a nice gift or offering to take on their bridal shower or something? Not likely behaviors from me.

    To make others live up to expectations I don’t even live up to myself most of the time is foolish. Holding myself to those high expectations is what I should focus on, and perhaps my example will attract the kinds of buddies I hope to have more of one day.
    It is important to remember this sometimes, especially when you are wallowing in a “why are they not being what I want them to be” sort of mood. Thanks for reminding me to snap out of my judgments on others and instead control what I can control–what sort of example I present to the friends around me.

    • Anonymous

      “Holding myself to those high expectations is what I should focus on, and perhaps my example will attract the kinds of buddies I hope to have more of one day.”

      I completely agree with the above statement. It’s the law of attraction. I can think of some examples of not always meeting the expectations I have of others myself and it’s actually a bit disappointing. If all I can control is my own actions, I’d better step up to the plate! The whole “bad relationship behavior” is totally subjective (again the bday greetings, hello/goodbye hugs, etc), so what if I’m a big disappointment in someone else’s eyes?

      Plus, how much wasted time and energy could be eliminated by not focusing on what someone didn’t do? Expectations of others usually only leads to disappointing ourselves, yet we take the disappointment out on said friend. Not really fair for anyone.

      Challenge accepted!

  3. I agree wholeheartedly about holding oneself to high expectations. Historically I have not.

    I am currently suffering from the death of a best friendship (that’s friendship…not friend–she didn’t die, we just aren’t friends anymore). This friend was always very thoughtful and almost motherly in her concern for me. Mine for her didn’t even compare.

    I am not naturally a mother-er the way my friend was, so I don’t really feel like I took advantage of her. And our friendship ended over completely different issues from this one. Even so, as I examine this friendship posthumously, I find I am a little ashamed that I was not more thoughtful and generous to her. Here’s hoping I’ll make some changes in my next BFF-ship.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Suzannah

      Andrea-
      I think the very fact, that you recognized aspects of the friendship that you wish you had handle differently, absolutely means you will go into your next friendships with a new understanding…even if the previous friendship didn’t survive, you learned wo

  4. Suzannah

    Something from her, making you a better friend..it will be a better friendship cuz you are a better you!!!
    sorry for the 2 separate comments…pressed publish on accident!!

  5. Pingback: Giving Back, Friendship-Style | MWF Seeking BFF

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