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?