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Being safe means being yourself

I am a bit of an information junkie. Granted, with the amount of free time I have (none), I am selective about the amount of research I do.

Working to end violence, I naturally gravitate to reading about how I can help violence stop. In the research, those things that help to prevent or protect against social ills; violence, substance use and abuse, criminal behavior; are called protective factors. They are particularly important in childhood in youth, yet their relevance never dies.

For example, children and youth with caring and safe adults that they can communicate with fare better than those who don’t. Children and youth with peers who engage in healthy behaviors are more likely to do the same. Sadly, the converse is also true. Today, I’m most interested in the positive impact of friendship.

Last weekend our family spent a few hours hanging out with some dear friends. We have a lot in common; kids close enough in age to play and entertain each other and our collective brood is just old enough to allow a few consecutive sentences of adult conversation. That’s a win all the way around. We forced ourselves to leave after over-staying our welcome and as we’re driving home, trying to make sure our children don’t fall asleep in the car, we looked at each other and simply said, “I really like being with them.” “Me too, and it doesn’t matter what we do, or where we are, it’s a great time.”

We don’t “live it up.” We’re all far too tired for that. Between chasing down our kids and feeding them, we often spit our water across the table laughing because we haven’t all sat at the table at the same time. So let’s get real, what makes this so special. Here’s what we’ve told each other over the past few years, and ironically, though we know it because we feel it, the research also backs us up.

1. Acceptance: Together there are no expectations. If a kid melts down, they melt down. No expectations, no judgment: Cheerios on the floor, overgrown lawn, running late (again), “no worries.” Likewise, we don’t expect perfection from each other.

2. Informality: We are not the “Pinterest” families, though one of us can make a cake unrivaled (not me)! We make mistakes with our children, our spouses, and each other. Oops. We treasure each other’s admissions and we move on. In fact, we feel relieved to be in the company of fellow imperfect beings.

3. Trust: We risk sharing some of the big stuff. True intimacy in friendship requires a bit of vulnerability. What is hard for you? What are you ashamed of? How do you wish you could be different? Admittedly, most of my friendships never get to this depth, but when they do, I feel at home, that I belong, and safe to be myself.

If I could send one message about whether to stay in a relationship or friendship, it might be just this. Do you feel accepted, safe, and relaxed to be yourself? If the answer is yes, cherish it. For the friends reading this, knowing I’m talking about you: Thank you. Our lives are better because you’re in them.



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