Jessie and Ashley fundraising for Special Olympics

Learning How to be a Friend

As I think about my blessings this Thanksgiving, near the top of the list of things I’m thankful for, are the friends Jessie has in her life.

My life is so much richer because of several close friendships I’ve had for more than 15 years.  My two older kids have friends that they have loved since childhood.   Jessie is so social, and I have seen that she too wanted to have close friends, but it has been a hard process for her.

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For several years now, Jessie has desired closer friendships than what she really was mature enough to cultivate.  Although she has always had friends, it’s just been in the last couple of years that she has had the ability to give and take in the ways that are necessary for a more mature and deeper friendship.

Brandi has been like a big sister to Jessie, looking out for her at swim meets and cheering her on. She has been such a sweet example to Jessie of how to be a good friend.

Until the last year or so, she would beg to have a friend over and then after just a short time I could tell she was ready to be alone.  Talking (all that processing), having to take turns with what her friend wanted to do (communicating and decision-making), and after only a couple of hours of being “on” she needed at least a little break.  It sometimes seemed to be sensory overload for her.  Maybe sensory isn’t the right word, but it was a lot of mental processing and it made her feel stressed.   After a lot of input she seemed to need, not just want, time to veg out watching something on her Kindle.  In the last couple of years I have watched her grow so much in this area.  

While the root of some of the difficulty is selfish behavior; it is also a developmental issue.  

For all kids it can be challenging to find good friends and to learn how to BE a good friend.  Add in slower maturation, communication challenges (either too much to process or having a hard time understanding each other) and it can be difficult to get beyond the surface level of friendship.  

Helping our kids with friendships is also a lot of work for the parents.

 I’ve been doing this parenting gig for 23 years now.  All kids go through phases in their development where it’s a lot of work for the parents when they have a friend over.  If I’m honest, I’m tired of this phase.  It sometimes feels like I’ve been doing some of the same things forever.  When Jessie has company, it has (most of the time) required a lot of my time and attention.  I have needed to be the interpreter if they have difficulty understanding each other, mediator when they are negotiating what to do or watch next, or helper with whatever activity they couldn’t  do alone.  Therefore, Jessie hasn’t had friends over as often as she would like.  

For most of the year, Jessie has a pretty active schedule with her Special Olympic sports and Miracle League baseball.  When our schedule is full, I haven’t been willing to work in having friends over very often as I also need  time at home to get my mama stuff done, and some unscheduled time to keep mama sane.  Sane might be too strong of a word.  Unscheduled time is necessary to keep mama from completely wigging out 🙂

I have so hoped, and prayed, that as Jessie got older that she would have mutually fulfilling, rich friendships.

I know some adults with Down syndrome that have the kind of friendships I have wished for Jessie.  I’ve hoped that she would have girlfriends with shared interests.  I’ve hoped she would have a friend that “gets” her and that she enjoys talking to.   

These two don’t see each other as often as they’d like but they love each other dearly. Michaela was the first close girlfriend Jessie ever had.

While she certainly still has room to grow in this area, I see Jessie maturing.  She is becoming more capable of being a good friend. She is more easily willing to compromise and is able to attend to an activity for a longer period of time.   Jessie realizes too, that she needs to enjoy her friends while they are with her and that later she can choose to do whatever else it is that she likes to do when she’s alone. She enjoys her friends for longer now before she needs down time.  

Since Jessie got her iPhone a few months ago, it has made keeping in touch with friends much easier for her.  She has several friends that she talks to.  When she and Ashley began to talk on the phone, it was the beginning of them becoming better friends.  

Jordan and Ashley were able to convince Jessie to give something new a try. She didn’t like it, but I was impressed that she was willing to try something different.

Jessie and Ashley are on the swim team together.  Sometimes they share the big dressing room together instead of going in separate dressing rooms.  Jessie and Ashley both enjoy Barbie’s (with a friend but won’t play alone!), they like many of the same foods, they enjoy coloring (in adult coloring books) while they watch tv. They both enjoy being silly and giggling over nothing and they both enjoy chill time.  They are content when they’re together and don’t require much intervention – mama can do laundry or dishes or whatever!

These two girls have been FaceTiming a lot.  Sometimes there is a lot of giggling.   Often they’re doing a “makeup challenge.”  I don’t really know what means, but it involves putting on a full face of makeup while FaceTiming.  Jessie has been into all kinds of “challenges”, something she has learned from YouTube, so sometimes they do other challenges too.  Sometimes they have colored while FaceTiming.  Jessie is usually scheming to see when they can get together again.  

They enjoy hanging out together.  They’re silly.  They’re giggling.  And hearing my girl giggling with her friend makes this mama really, really, happy and thankful.  

Hope you have had a great Thanksgiving!


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