I've got to the age of 42 and if I'm honest I can probably count on two hands the number of really good friends I've had in my life. I don't find it that easy to make close friendships and certainly not to keep them going. I suspect there are all sorts of reasons for this but today doesn't feel like the day to dissect it and examine it.
There really is something about friendships shared over a long period of time though. Take those three ladies I'm pictured with above, I've known them since I was 18, that is 24 years and there we were earlier this month supporting our friend Kate who had lost her sister. Julia and I had a coffee before the funeral and I felt tears in my eyes as I said to her 'gosh I miss you' as I hadn't seen her for about three years. Purely because we had moved house and she had moved house and now we were a couple of hours apart. This reunion made us both take stock and we will be meeting again very soon.
I'm in a comfortable place now where I realise that friendships come and go with different seasons and stages in life. It was quite a wretch a few years back when a couple of friendships just started to tail off and I didn't see people as much as I had before and this was just because I/ they had gone back to work, or our kids had grown older and were not so friendly any more. Moving away has also had a big impact and I'm not the best person at keeping in touch, as much as I might think about it. I just don't like telephone calls, they make me all sad.
In many ways friendship was much easier as a child. You saw your friends each day at school and then you played with the kids that lived down your street. I remember that about ten of us would play together and our ages would span about a decade but we all got on and played together, no-one left the little ones out. It seems different nowadays, I suppose many kids don't play out in the street anymore, they only play if friends come over on pre-arranged play dates.
Each of my three children are quite different in their approach to friends and over the years there have been some difficulties and fallings out and it is painful as the parent to watch your child hurt as some friends are leaving them out. Or even to realise they are the one not being so kind. My twin girls are enormously lucky to have each other as it means they do not seem to have quite as much friendship angst as some children.
I've been chatting to one of my kids recently about good friends and how a good friend doesn't set out to make you feel bad or disappoint you. I think sadly this person they offer refer to as their 'best friend' is actually just using them when they are bored and has no real respect for their friendship. These kind of conversations are not so easy to have with your own child as it tugs at your heartstrings but of course it is all part of parenting and very necessary.
However, if you are the kind of parent who wants to do the best for your child but is not sure where to start then my lovely friend Becky Goddard-Hill of Emotionally Healthy Kids has developed some FINK conversation cards that can help you to create those kind of exploratory conversations with your child. The 48 cards in the Healthy friendships pack are divided into four main sections -thinking about friendships you have right now, how to make friends, how to be a good friend and how to manage friendships difficulties. Each question is open to allow your child to think through their own answer and these FINK cards can also be used in schools, youth groups or other formal settings.
Becky says "Learning to seek and maintain healthy relationships as a child is key to developing strong relationships in the future and making good relationship choices. Our relationships have a huge impact on our emotional health so it is vital to help our children develop and explore the skills needed to have positive and healthy friendships."
Perhaps if I had more awareness of what makes a good friend as a younger child it might not have taken me until I was 14 to feel like I had a real friend, one who enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed theirs. I pray my children have an easier journey with their friendships and that when they are older they can make some wonderful long term friends like I have.
I can't wait until September this year when this group of friends can all reunite again as it will be the first time we have all been in the UK together since my wedding in 2002.