Teaching the kids about having their own ‘Tribe’

There’s a Facebook ‘meme’ that does the rounds every now and again. I like it. Try as I might I can’t attribute it to anyone, but here it is:

When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of “Me too!” be sure to treasure them because those weirdos are your tribe.

I recently used it to make my kids feel better when they were upset.

I was brought up to think that everyone who was ever nice to me was my friend and that we give friends chances when they mess up. And that blood is thicker than water. And that we turn the other cheek. These messages don’t make for very positive relationships with other people in my experience. All it did for me was to teach me that all my ‘friends’ could treat me how they liked and even though I was upset by their behaviour I should give them many more chances to repeat that unwanted behaviour because ‘friends forgive’. Nor was I to stand up for myself or fight back verbally or physically because I should turn the other cheek like Jesus did. Family had carte blanche to behave in equally damaging and destructive ways because they should always be forgiven, always have another chance. They are FAMILY and blood is thicker than water.

By the time I was a grown-up with a small child I was on the other side of many failed relationships: I had been bullied by kids at school for years, I’d been treated badly in my romantic relationships and my family were domineering and bullying to boot. Over the years I, like every other adult have had to find my place in the world. I have tried on lots of beliefs, different religious convictions, political ideologies etc and the resulting person is a mish-mash of all of my life experiences. In short, there isn’t really any one person who shares all my beliefs and ideals. I would struggle to find anyone who shared all my quirks and beliefs. Probably the person who shares the most with me is my husband Paul, mostly because for the last ten years we have done the journey together and we have walked the same path but even we differ. So in order to find my tribe, I’ve had to find people who don’t necessarily share all my beliefs and quirks but they all share SOME of them and they all celebrate me and accept me for who I am (despite not necessarily agreeing with me all the time).

One thing all the people currently in my life have in common is that they treat me right. I can trust them, they are kind to me and respectful. If they stop treating me right I get rid of them. Fast. For this reason there are friends who have been deleted off Facebook without a backward glance and family members that I haven’t seen for many years. I just won’t put myself through heartache at the hands of others any more. And I won’t teach my children that they should put themselves through that either. Not for friendship, not for Jesus, not for blood. People should treat them with love and respect no matter what. And if they can’t offer them this basic respect and acceptance then they shouldn’t be in their lives at all.

The other week the children were playing with other children that they considered to be their friends when there was a falling out. It was petty childish stuff that is water under the bridge now, but it gave me the opportunity to chat to them about what makes a good friend. And to teach them about how to make their own trusted tribe of people.

We got ourselves a big piece of sugar paper (all the best discussions involve a big piece of sugar paper) and some of those lovely fat Berol pens and I asked them what they thought a friend was. They began by saying that a good friend liked roller skating or a good friend should be free to come to Legoland or for a play date. They listed all the children and grown-ups that they knew and said they were friends (mostly because they played together or shared common interests) and whilst I could see their point that people who belong in our tribe should share our common goals and ideals (in their case being able to roller skate helps) I could see we would need to go back to square one with this  because having a tribe is more about acceptance and respect than agreeing with everything a person says. Sometimes the person will accept your quirks and shout “Me Too!” and other times they will accept your quirks and despite not agreeing with you, would defend you to any critic. Through much discussion the children and I came up with a list of attributes a true friend should have. Here’s what we came up with (in their words)

A friend or tribe member should

  • be honest and not lie
  • accept me
  • be understanding
  • be kind to me
  • stick up for me
  • be kind to others (they all agreed if their friend was mean to other people they wouldn’t like that)
  • love me
  • respect me
  • never let me down
  • have kind hands
  • be responsible
  • keep my secrets (I know, I know…there’s big secrets but they were talking about crushes and what-not, not the BIG stuff)

On their own pieces of paper they drew three concentric rings.  The centre circle was a list of people in the children’s lives that they felt satisfied all their criteria, trusted people who could be in their ‘tribe’. The next circle was for people that they liked well enough, but who did not necessarily meet all their criteria. Maybe they were fun to play with, but had let them down in the past. They could be on the next circle because we can still be nice to them and have fun with them as friends, but we keep them at arms length because they are not part of our tribe. In other words we don’t expect them to behave like those in the inner circle do, so if they let us down it isn’t too hurtful, they were not trusted tribe members anyway so they haven’t let the children down. We talked about second chances, we talked about the fluidity of the circles on our paper. People can betray our trust and then work hard for the chance to come back into our tribe but the children could see that if a person failed in one area of the list, they were likely failing to satisfy the rest of their criteria too. For example someone who is mean to others is likely to be mean to you. A person who doesn’t keep your secrets obviously doesn’t respect you either. People who make fun of you are showing that they don’t accept you. Lastly we talked about people not on the paper. People that are no longer in our lives because they are hurtful people such as my parents and others.

We also talked about how if they want to be in other people’s tribes they must treat them as they want to be treated and that we can make our own family out of all the people we love. Blood doesn’t make family, family is who you love and who loves you.

How do you explain trust?

Do you think my idea would work for you and your children?

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  4 comments for “Teaching the kids about having their own ‘Tribe’

  1. November 6, 2015 at 10:50 am

    LOVE this! Really good idea 🙂

    • Mel Bridge
      November 6, 2015 at 1:22 pm

      Aw thanks Lucy! 🙂 phew! Glad you don’t think I am barking mad!

  2. November 6, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    That’s a tricky one… great way to handle it though. Thanks for sharing

    • Mel Bridge
      November 6, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks for the response! I worry sometimes about my creative methods..

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