On Raising Best Friends

I was sitting at swim lessons on Tuesday between two moms of 2 and a half year olds. Now, that in and of itself should say enough. Those mamas are in the weeds. Two and a half is a freaking nightmare. I can say this through the rose colored glasses of someone who just made it through the 2 and a half year old crud, is enjoying a sweet period with my technically still two year old and is a week out from 3…which, if memory serves me correctly, is worse than two if at all possible. Anyway, parenting two year old girls is another story for another day. This is about raising best friends. So, I’m sitting between these two moms I’d never seen before waiting for Tom’s lesson to start, and they are dealing with the two and a half year old crud. One of the moms had her three week old with her, too. Her two and a half year old was sobbing and kicking and screaming and refusing to go into the pool.  I could tell that she was seconds from tears. I wanted to give her a hug and a margarita and babysit her kids for a few hours.  Instead I said, “Would it be helpful if I held your baby for a minute?” She looked at me – I’m sure sizing me up to make sure I wasn’t crazy – and then said, “Thank you. Thank you so much.” and handed that sweet newborn to me.

So, things settled down, the kids all got in the pool, and Nell and Peter were playing near me and scavenging for snacks in the pool bag. Meanwhile, across the room from us, two brothers were kicking the sh*t out of each other. The moms flanking me and I all turned to look – it was hard not to look. In the midst of this, Peter stood up to go scavenge for other people’s snacks and Nell followed him, kissed his blonde head and picked him up saying, “Oh Pete McGete. You are a sneaky snacker, ” then she toddled back to me with Peter in her arms and pulled out a toy for him to play with. And the mom that didn’t have a newborn said to me, “She’s so helpful! Is it because she’s a girl?” I thought and said, “No, my son is my oldest and he’s an amazing helper, too.” And the other mom, still wearily glancing in the direction of the brothers who were still fighting and then looking through the window at her son, she asked, “How did you teach your kids to be such nice friends?” I laughed and said something self-effacing like, “It has nothing to do with me, we just got lucky.”

But I think, in reality, it probably does have something to do with me and B. And telling this sweet mom that I did nothing to encourage the relationship my three kids have wasn’t helpful to her. At all. So as I drove away from swim lessons that morning, I was thinking about it. My kids are best friends. If you ask them who their best friends are, they name each other. My kids fight, of course. Nell knows how to pick at Tom, she knows just how to get him. Tom frequently doesn’t care about anything until Nell has it and then a battle can ensue. Peter can do no wrong in their eyes right now, but that day will come to an end soon. But here’s the thing about the fighting: We don’t tolerate it. There’s no “Siblings, what can you do?!” around here or “{shrug} Boys will be boys”. B and I treat each other and our children with respect, and we expect our kids to do the same.

I think that’s what it comes down to, respect. Not just respect of your elders, but respect of your peers. And as adults, respect of children. My kids inspire me every single day. They also make mistakes every single day, but so do I. An expectation of mutual respect is the key to how our family works. We share toys, but we also respect each person’s private rooms. We laugh and dance and cuddle and play, but we also allow kids to take time for themselves when they need it. Because sometimes kids just need to be left alone. We speak kindly around here and we speak with love. This starts with me and B. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t yell from time to time when I’ve just had it – there was a lot of yelling when Nell was 2 and a half – but every time I do, I regret it immediately. It’s not how we speak, and I would never tolerate my children yelling at me or each other, so it’s unacceptable for me to yell at them.  So during those rough patches when I catch myself yelling? I walk away. I slow count to ten, I say a Hail Mary, and then I come back and I apologize to my kids. Because they need to see how you apologize. They need to know that everyone makes mistakes and that everyone can redeem themselves with kindness. And they need to learn to forgive. And when they mess up? They need to apologize, they need to redeem themselves with kindness, and they need to see you forgive them, too.

My children are not perfect, fights happen. I am far from a perfect parent, but I do my best to be better everyday. When fights happen or things come up, B and I are consistent in our discipline. In our house, don’t tolerate physical violence – it’s an automatic time out. My kids are hitters as toddlers. I have a wise friend who swears that you get either a hitter or a biter – obviously to different degrees depending on the kid, but I think she’s on to something with that. Anyway, my kid are hitters. Starting at about 15 months, they try out hitting as communication. It’s exhausting. I can’t tell you how many flights of stairs I’ve climbed taking a hitting toddler to their crib. To that end, we don’t use physical touch to discipline, either. I can’t spank a child as punishment for hitting…the idea that I can hit but they can’t confuses me, so it stands to reason that it’s confusing to them, too. We speak with loving but firm voices when a child is in trouble, they have time outs in their rooms until they can be kind again, and then we move on. We don’t dwell on the negative. If the kids are having trouble getting along – pestering each other for a toy or not speaking kindly, I send them to their rooms to have some time apart. Not time outs, just time apart.

We do a lot together as a family. We are fiercely protective of our family time. We don’t pack our days with classes and outings and activities and play dates – those are special occurrences, not the norm. We spend a lot of time just playing at home or outside. We go for bike rides. We cheer for each other when someone does something for the first time. Or for the hundredth time. We read books and play games and have dance parties and play pretend. We eat dinner together at night and we talk about our days. And we enjoy it – all that time together, we look forward to it, we laugh, and we have fun. Simple as that.

I’m the youngest of 3, and I remember my mom saying to my sister, brother and me when we would start bickering, “You are each others’ best friends. You three will know each other longer than anyone else you will ever meet, so why on earth would you treat a stranger on the street better than you treat your brother and sisters?” That has always stuck with me. I cherish the relationships I had with my brother and sister growing up. They’re the ones who knew me as a bratty, tattle tale 8 year old and loved me anyway. Sisters let you sleep on their couches for two nights in college when you break up with your boyfriend and are heartbroken, and brothers tell you to get off your sister’s couch and go back to class and that everything will be okay. We all have grown-up lives of our own now, we’ve all had our great days and our terrible days, but I know that anyone of us would drop anything to be there for the other. We have, and we will continue to do so. Because we’re built-in best friends – we’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst, and we love each other anyway. Having grown up with that, I want that for my children. So we work hard to foster it.

So what would I have told that sweet mom at swimming lessons? I would have told her that she’s doing just fine. That two and a half is tough, and that moms who survive it with a newborn in tow deserve a medal. And then I would have told her that our kids are best friends because we respect how important their sibling relationship is, and kids follow their parents’ lead.


  1. Oh, I love this! You have a way with words and I love how encouraging you are to other parents. I totally relate to what you are saying about yelling. I find myself getting angry and have to keep myself from doing things I would never allow Henry to do. I was doing an interview with a local child psychologist and she made a comment about our kids being the reason to stop the ugly habits we have. I’ve found that to be so true in my own life.

  2. Wow, this is so simple but so powerful. I don’t have any kids, and I’m not planning on it any time soon, but advice like this helps me interact with cousins and others in my life. Thanks for taking the time to share what works for you and your family. I strive to practice this in my daily life.


  3. Grandma of a 21-month old here – what an excellent post! I only wish I could have had such wise counsel when my boys were young. It took me years to learn how to discipline without demeaning, and there are repercussions of that in their lives today. Fortunately, there is also forgiveness and healing, and our granddaughter is being raised in a much more respectful environment. God is good!

  4. I loved all of this. There’s so much wisdom here. For me, I was reminded again that as we enter into a pretty busy summer with a lot of (worthy!) commitments, we need to be really intentional about scheduling some family time too.

    When I thought about this, I was also reminded of something I heard a friend tell her daughter recently. She said, “Having character is when your actions are better than how you’re feeling.” Man alive, if that isn’t something that *I* need to keep in mind too!

  5. What a great post, Emily. So much of this rings true in my own parenting. In the past few months, I feel like I’m seeing the fruits of my ladies between Isaac and Miriam more and more often, where they play well and even reconcile differences without my intervention of guidance. It’s a beautiful thing! I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve become far more conscious of how I speak to Chad (I bark orders without even thinking of it…Chad is so gracious, he won’t point it out but the kids were definitely picking up on it). It’s amazing how me showing respect translates to my kids showing respect.

  6. Labor, not ladies. Haha!

  7. Emily, I don’t get to come here very often but when I do it’s always a treat. I agree with the other posters that you have a God given talent with words and presentation. So grateful for the perspective but as a mom of children who aren’t best friends… At all. I want to give those moms some encouragement and love. David and I are raising 3 beautiful children and we’ve drained every resource available to us with regards to our parenting. Of course as the parents, like you, we take partial responsibility, except in our case it’s the negative side of things. We’ve giving our marriage attention, our relationship with God full attention, and our parenting too but our first born has severe special needs and raising him has been a bear. We’ve loved unconditionally, we’ve disciplined, we’ve read books, we’ve spent quality and a massive quantity of time together. But it’s not enough and when I heard “boys will be boys” and “this will pass” or “they’re just siblings” I cringe because I have yet to experience my children getting along, exhibiting anything close to a friendship and if it wasn’t for the Grace and Mercy of God I don’t know how I would get through a day, let alone the last 7 years. My point… (I do have one) some parents don’t get dealt (or haven’t done a good job of cultivating) best friends of children and in these cases I am relying heavily on prayer and God’s goodness that my children, someday, love and respect one another in the same way that the majority of siblings do when they’re young. The way you respect and love your children is admirable and I certainly believe you have absolute authority on this subject. Grateful to know you Friend!

  8. I love your perspective! My kiddo’s a hitter, too…we try the time outs and stern but calm speak. Hoping Theron will love his little brother fiercely!

  9. My friend and I went camping the other day. It was a horrible experience, as he wouldn’t let me sleep all night. He kept talking about random subjects and cried about his anxiety. I totally told him to interaction and deal with it.

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