Last month I had the opportunity to visit my son’s music class at school. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was excited to witness a wonderful music teacher and an engaged class of first graders. At one point, the teacher asked each student to find a partner. The rules she explained were simple, you could not say no and must partner with the first person to ask you. Immediately, students moved about the room, and my eyes locked in on my son. He was running to one boy who turned in the other direction. Then he looked around for his next friend. I saw him struggling, worried that he might not find someone. Finally, he found someone to choose him, if you will. I, too, celebrated. I was relieved, really. I knew going to observe my son’s music class would open my eyes. But what I didn’t expect was my need and desire to ensure my son was liked among his classmates.
Me, I like to be liked. There I said it. I have never been one of those people that was able to be like, don’t like me? That’s fine. I am a people pleaser, I apologize too much, and I don’t like losing friends. I am outgoing and social, and I can usually talk to anyone. Verdicts still out on my son, but at six years old, he is definitely more like my husband. Quiet, reserved, and wanting to sit and talk to one friend over meeting a whole bunch of others. It takes him a while to warm up to people, but he holds on tight when he does. He often says his cousin and buddy from daycare are his best friends, even though he doesn’t see them daily or even monthly. Our friend’s children and old classmates are now among his closest buddies, so it’s not like he doesn’t have friends. He does. So why do I worry?
Something changed in me the moment my son entered elementary school. Not only did I see my baby growing up quickly before my eyes, but I also found myself worrying. Worrying about everything under the sun, including whether he would be liked. Will he have a friend on the playground? Will he be picked for kickball last? Will he feel alone? It makes me emotional just thinking about it. But then I realized, is this about him or me?
Andrew is just six and has a whole life ahead of him to worry about friendships, among other things. He is energetic, fun, playful, involved, kind, and sweet; to us, he is the best. But I am also constantly aware of how he is doing. He doesn’t say much, but you can tell when it’s affecting him too. He went to a birthday party last summer and suddenly couldn’t find a partner for a game. He was emotional at first but rebounded quickly and survived as six-year-olds do. I tried to make it into some teaching lesson, but it killed me. So what do we do? How do we adequately support our children when we haven’t even scratched the surface of figuring it all out, either?
I will be 40 next month and still want to be liked. I don’t have it all figured out, and there are days I struggle to “find my partner in music class,” just like Andrew. We are human, and it’s clear to me that it doesn’t matter if you are 6 or 96; it feels nice to be someone’s number-one pick. So while I can’t control what is going on at school, I can control what my children feel at home. And I hope that Andrew (and his sister) can rest easy knowing that he is loved and will always be my number one. He’s got a friend in me.