It’s Not All Mary Poppins


“Look at the friends!

There’s a woman in my neighbourhood who I see quite often as we stroll with our children. We never seem to be heading in the same direction, not for more than a block or so. I’m going to the park as she heads away from it, I’m heading down my street as she crosses the intersection to proceed down the street perpendicular to mine. And every time she sees us approach, it’s the same thing,

“Oh, guys! Look at all the friends!

Or, on occasion,

“Careful! You don’t want to bump into the friends!”
“Squeeze over, honey, and let the friends go by.”
“Don’t poke your stick at the friends, sweetie.”

“Friends”? Lady, we don’t even know you.

I understand why she does this, of course. She wants to engender a positive attitude to other children; she wants her children to see other children as potential playmates, not as threats. She wants her kids to lean into life with a smile of welcome, not a frown of suspicion.

(Not that she seems to be succeeding in her efforts. Her children almost always shove mine and/or menace them with sticks or aggressive roars. Rotten little cretins. Probably sick to death of having total strangers fobbed off on them as “friends”.)

I really, really don’t like it — the friend thing, I mean. It’s a bad idea on so many levels. First off, it’s insufferably patronizing. Why should agemates be automatic friends? When she’s out for a coffee with a girlfriend, does she enter the coffee shop, see a couple of tables of thirty-something women, and call out to the room at large, “Oh, Suzie! Look at all the friends in here!”

They’d be carting her off in a padded wagon in short order. Or at least muzzling her saccharine outbursts with stony faces and averted eyes. (“Don’t look up. The crazy “friend” woman just walked in”)

And she is so saccharine. Her voice just oozes ooey-gooey preciousness. Ick. I’ve managed, so far, not to sneer, but I can tell you the very last thing she’s engendering in me is any desire whatsoever to encourage friendships between her children and my tots. Because then I’d have to hang out with her. Ugh. That lilting, squeaky-happy voice. Those earnest, earnest mommy sentiments. The way she patronizes the kids, while at the same time letting them treat her with huge disrespect. Could I stand it? I could not. I’d be fighting the urge to beat her senseless with a sippy cup within moments.

On a more substantive level, do you really want your child thinking that everyone is a potential friend? No, you don’t want to encourage hostility, but a little social caution is only sensible. Firstly, with other kids: The children who do best socially are those who follow a consistent set of steps: they stand back and watch the other children play, then enter the game and do as they’re directed, and only after they’ve been accepted into the game do they attempt to direct the game themselves at all.

Children who skip steps one and/or two tend to be ostracized. If you are successful in teaching a child that everyone is automatically their friend, no breaking-in required, you will almost certainly create a child who is shunned by the others. A little counter-productive, no?

And with adults? It’s a sad fact of life, but not every adult out there is a child’s friend. Not every adult is benign. You absolutely do NOT want your child assuming every adult is a friend. That’s just plain dangerous.

You want your children to be open to friendship? Teach them how friendships are formed. Model open, friendly behaviour. But don’t set them up with false definitions and dangerous assumptions. Good heavens.

June 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 19 Comments