Childhood Community: 6 Reasons Your Kids Need It

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Many of my childhood Sundays were spent at my uncle’s house listening to people holler at the television as football teams battled it out. I sat there snacking with a book and side-eyed them—like a pretentious little brat. I didn’t understand why these grown men, and my otherwise mild-mannered mother, were YELLING at the screen in front of them. Together this crew rallied, rooted, and debated all things football. The key to this gathering was that it wasn’t just football. They also amused one-another with stories of culture, movies, and life. I may not have understood the rarity of it then, but these people had mastered the art of adult friendships and are still doing it 25 years later. They remain one of my favorite communities of people.

Sadly, one of them died this year, and I mourned with them from across state lines. He died too young; he had a son he would have loved to see graduate high school, but won’t — because cancer is a jerk. This was a man who years before threw water balloons with me, played some fierce ice hockey, and recommended killer comics. He was a vibrant part of my family’s community and is dearly missed.

I realized in his passing: I want my kids to have this. I know it seems morbid, but I want them to know the treasure of feeling the loss years later when someone who took the time to bend down and talk to them is gone. It is a bittersweet gift born from intergenerational friendships.

As my husband and I have tried to integrate our own children into our friendships, I have seen clearly the following benefits:

We Are Modeling What Adult Friendships Should Look Like

We all want our kids to have healthy relationships as adults, and parents have the opportunity to show what that looks like. We can stamp into their memories how to communicate through conflict, how we help one another, and how important it is to have friends at all life stages. Whether we are bonding over coffee, board games, or serving the needs of the community, we are providing relational building blocks for our children as they watch us love and be loved by our own friends.

The Wisdom and Wit of Diversity

I have long taught my children to value and seek opinions different than their own; this includes people from a different generation entirely. They bring warnings children need to hear, wit that helps kids embrace clever humor, and wisdom kids need before they learn lessons the hard way.

Kids Need to Know How to Interact with Adults

In a world of Netflix binges and “friend” requests, our children are growing up in a time when real human interaction is increasingly less valued, or seen as necessary. They no longer have to greet the grocery cashier, stay patient while at the bank with a parent, or speak politely with the mail carrier. Etiquette, manners, and grace for the humanity in us all is being threatened by the increasing pace of life. If we don’t intervene carefully with our youngest and most impressionable generation, they may lose common courtesy. Convenience is swallowing community, and our kids are running the risk of being self-centered for life.

Real Life Role Models Help Children Dream

When I asked my five-year-old, “Who do you want to invite to your birthday party?” She began listing off the names of my friends, her childcare workers, and eventually got to a couple of kids. My children love our friends partly because they seem like superheroes with awesome skill sets. We have friends who are nurses, artists, engineers, firefighters, stylists, homemakers, lawyers, and pilots. Friends who have traveled globally, and stepped into the darker parts of our cities to serve those most in need. Being exposed to the lives of other safe adults allows children to find the inspiration needed to build more concrete dreams toward what they might want to do and who they want to be.

Sometimes Mom’s Words Aren’t Heard

Some of the words that penetrated the know-it-allness of youth were those spoken by my mother’s friends. Some I sought out advice from, some saw me faltering and spoke out with love, and some TOLD me what I needed to hear, when I wanted it the least. There were times when I would flat out refuse to listen to anything my mom said for no other reason except that she was my mom. But the voice of another adult saying the same exact thing felt like a revelation from heaven.

Adults Need Kids Too

Remember, our children inspire, remind, and share love as well, and often more freely and purely. We adults need what they bring as well. Community is comprised of us all. We just have to be willing to enter in.

An earlier version of this post first appeared at The Portland Moms Blog