What my four-year-old taught me about making friends

Somewhere between age three and thirty, we complicate the process of making friends. Here’s what my four-year-old is teaching me about reaching out to others.
Somewhere between age three and thirty, we complicate the process of making friends. Here's what my four-year-old is teaching me about reaching out to others.

This morning I was at the park with my two little boys. It was one of the first really warm, sunny days of the year, and I was thrilled. So we packed up a picnic, and headed to the park for lunch.

There was obviously some kind of play group meeting there because there was a whole group of moms on the grass talking and a gaggle of kids running around on the play equipment. I didn’t recognize anyone, so I played with my boys for a bit and then settled down in the shade under a tree to take a much-needed rest.

As I sat there watching my kids, I saw my son, who had been running around by himself, walk up to a little girl who was also alone. Without any hesitation, he said “Hi, what’s your name?” Without waiting for her reply, he took her hand and they ran off together to play.

How easy it is to make friends when you’re four, I thought.

I looked across the park at that group of moms, wondering to myself what they would say if I approached them the same way my son had approached his new friend.

“Hi, what’s your name?” I would ask as I plopped down on one of their blankets and started chatting about kids and life and anything else we might have in common.

Yeah, probably not.

It’s too bad though. We moms spend so much time isolated from other adults as we raise our kids–especially when they’re little–that we could really use the camaraderie.

What is it that changes in us between age three and and age thirty that puts up such social barriers?

Perhaps it’s fear that if we initiate a conversation with a stranger, we’ll come off as creepy. Perhaps we feel like real friendships should “just happen” spontaneously. Perhaps we worry that if we call the mom down the street to set up a play date, she’ll say yes out of obligation, but she’ll secretly wish we hadn’t bugged her. Perhaps it’s just that we’re too tired to put in the effort.

Whatever the reason, we seem to hesitate much more as adults about reaching out to those around us. My kids will play with just about anybody, anytime. Little Man will see a random kid walking down the street, and he’ll call out, “Hey, wanna play with me?!”

I don’t have that kind of confidence.

Not that I don’t have some awesome mom friends. I’m blessed to have a great group of women in my neighborhood that I love to go do things with and chat. But it took me years of living in my current house to feel really comfortable with this now wonderful group of friends.

Even still, there are days when I get so excited to have a 30 second conversation with the friendly grocery store clerk because she is the ONLY adult I have talked to all day.Somewhere between age three and thirty, we complicate the process of making friends. Here's what my four-year-old is teaching me about reaching out to others.I’ve been thinking about my son and his new friend since we left the playground today. He’ll probably never see that girl again (we weren’t at a park in our own neighborhood), but that didn’t stop him from being friendly. He really lived and enjoyed the time he had there.

What a blessing that attitude is for him and those he comes into contact with.

Maybe I won’t go up and grab the hand of the next mom I see at the park and ask her to go down the slide with me, but my son’s example has made me want to reach out a little more.

When we first moved into our house four and half years ago, I struggled a lot with feeling lonely and isolated (with only an eight-month-old for company all day). One night, I remember my husband saying to me, “Everybody wants friends. Most people are just hoping the other person will break the silence first.

That is what my son has figured out, even if he doesn’t realize it. That’s also what I tend to forget.

Here’s my “making friends” challenge to myself:
(and any of you who want to take it up as your own)

  1. Think more about others.
  2. Be willing to make a call, send a text, say hello, wave, smile, or do whatever I think will help brighten someone else’s day.
  3. Stop waiting for someone else to reach out and break the silence. Break it myself.

In a nutshell? Be a little more like my four-year-old. It turns out, he has more of the important things in life figured out than I tend to give him credit for.

What do you think? Do we over-complicate the process of making friends as adults? How have you found success connecting with other mom friends?

Somewhere between age three and thirty, we complicate the process of making friends. Here's what my four-year-old is teaching me about reaching out to others.

18 thoughts on “What my four-year-old taught me about making friends

  1. A great reminder. Also appreciated you sharing about seeing a group of moms and choosing not to approach them. I DO THAT ALL THE TIME TOO. Helps me not feel alone!

    1. A big group was just too intimidating. If it’s one on one, I feel like I can approach much more easily (although I still don’t always do it). We are SO not alone, even though we often feel like it. Funny thing about motherhood.

  2. I’m going to make it my new mission to actually plop down and say “Hi, I’m Stephanie.” Except that, like you, I’m too terrified to actually do that. But what if I train my kid to say “Hi! This is my mama”?

    1. I love the idea of employing our kids to help. I will say, I have a much easier time striking up conversation with strangers when I have my kids nearby. They make for an easy commonality to discuss, and they also make a good excuse for escape if you get totally weird looks. 🙂

  3. We just had a speaker at my moms group talk about making friends. She said we need to be a “Oh there you are” person instead of the “Here I am” person and be the one to approach someone to talk. Its totally easier said than done!

  4. -“Everybody wants friends. Most people are just hoping the other person will break the silence first.”-

    LOVE THIS! It really is true, most of us just get a bit awkward or shy. Maybe a little nervous as well. Just go for it!

  5. I love this post, and I read it thinking, “yeah, I’m going to try make more friends!” I immediately went into my head and started talking myself out of it because I feel like I’m so bad at making friends, it must be a reflection of something wrong with me or my character. Thanks insecurities. But your post is wonderful!

    1. That darn negative voice inside our heads (I have a particularly convincing one, too). I’ve felt all the things that you expressed, so hopefully we can encourage each other to reach out. If you ever see me at a park, feel free to say hello. I’ll even go down the slide with you. 🙂

  6. The difference is experience. Our experiences in friendship have filled our heads with lots of complicated thoughts and feelings that inevitably get in the way of reaching out or sustaining new relationships. At least, that’s what I’ve had to work through to make mom friends.

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