Part of my heart became sad as I watched my little boy sit alone with his scissors. The classroom was filled with other children playing house and building with blocks and chasing one another around the room. Surely out of all these people there was one boy or girl that mine looked forward to seeing, to talking with, to playing alongside?
On the other hand, the scissors-to-paper activity reflected my little boy so accurately. He’s a determined little man, intent on action. The fact that he gets to cut and glue and staple makes school the best. place. ever.
My daughter-of-socialite light comes on when I ask H Boy who he plays with at school and he says, “No one. I like to play by myself.” I grew up with a steady flow of friends stopping by. Every holiday or Saturday seemed a good reason for my parent’s circle of friends to get together. JJ and I long for new to this place “comfortable friends” who come over on boring Saturday nights to play a game of cards without it becoming an event.
So is socialization learned? Is this a skill we need to press into like others do the alphabet? And how does nature play into the picture? Surely we don’t believe that everyone needs to have a social butterfly personality? What about the kids who enjoy a few people very deeply rather than listing the entire class for a birthday party*?
Now, don’t paint my boy as a complete anti-social freak. He made a few friends last year at school (and still asks where they are. In the afternoon class, I’m afraid) and his best friend ever is his cousin, Jack. When we have “our friends” (small group) over, he’s beginning to engage the other kids and when we meet at our home he’s quick to show them around.
A friend stopped me after having (all) my children in her class at church. “H boy is such a good brother,” she remarked. Though they drive him crazy when he doesn’t get what he wants, the boy does love them. When we arrive on a social scene, he usually defaults to playing with the girls. It’s what (well, who) he knows.
Now I look at the bigger picture of the world. For 13 years we push our kids out the door to schools and games and parties and dances to socialize, meet friends and develop relationships. All good things, I say.
But aside from those few, special, close relationships, our adult social life largely centers around family. Parents, siblings and cousins make our list of people with whom we love spending time. This seems par-for-course for many people I know. I have a friend who lives across a field from her sister and they’re regularly together. My dad’s best friend is his older brother. Based solely on my phone call history you could correctly ascertain that my sister is a central part of my social world. Even my 87-year-old grandma spends her time touring restaurants with her brothers and sister-in-law.
So if, after those 13 years of asking kids to learn to become friends, they naturally incline themselves toward their kin, why should I have concern? If my kids are learning the skill of becoming a loving brother or sister, they’re developing healthy and loving attachments to one another which will serve as the foundation to their relationships in 15, 20 and 50 years from now.
Now my kids get to go to school to escape siblings and have a moment to themselves. To cut and glue and staple and “make books” – something little-sister hands won’t let him complete at home without interruption. I suppose we all have reasons why we love particular activities and places. Perhaps my role as mother calls me not to judge his happiness by the number of his friends but rather the depth and consistency of his relationships.
The point of socializing isn’t to mark a tally or grow a collection of names and faces, but rather to learn to love others. Being a good friend grows our character. Where we find those friends may not be as important as the person we’re becoming thanks to our time with them.