Thank-you note affirms value of congenial home

Thank-you note affirms value of congenial home

This article was originally published in North County News.

It’s the thank-you note to die for. It arrived not from a friend or family member, but from one of the best friends of my 18-year-old daughter.

“I have such fond memories of the time that I spent at your house,” Lauren wrote when she acknowledged her graduation gift. “Thank you for always making us feel welcome. I will never forget all the fun times and memories.”

“Yes!” I cried with clenched fists drawn to my belly. “I did it.” I secretly shouted to myself as my eyes brimmed with tears of happiness and a small sense of accomplishment.

Years before that magical 13th birthday, I’d set a goal of creating a comfortable environment to encourage my children’s friends to spend time in my home.

A well-stocked refrigerator and nearby pantry framed an eat-in kitchen with easily accessible barstools. A finished basement included areas for music, movies and lounging, as well as plenty of room for snacking. And a large coffee table, hemmed in by a comfy sectional, provided a great area for “Catch Phrase,” “Salad Bowl,” jigsaw puzzles and other group games in our family room.

Although I wanted my home to make the children comfortable, I also strived to protect the parental prerogative by allowing plenty of room for “parenting by wandering around.” It’s a delicate balance for a parent to be welcoming, yet still have ground rules that remind all who is in charge.

Granted, I don’t know every single thing that’s happened in my home during this teenage reign. However, I do know the children are comfortable enough to open the fridge, pull out the taco dip and heat it in the microwave. I am also comfortable enough to ask them to rinse off their plates, put them in the dishwasher and wipe off the counter.

Through the years, friends have come and gone. As children navigate the teenage years, their friends reveal so much about the contours of their journey. Our roles must evolve too.

Gone are the days when we called parents to “straighten things out” between friends about disagreements or hurt feelings. A new day arrives with the middle school years when we struggle to teach children how to take care of themselves as they experience different relationships. Often it can be difficult to watch them learn the complex but joyful rewards of true friends.

Drama often rules.

Being included or excluded from a party at 13 can be as traumatic as a college acceptance or rejection. Gossip’s raw edge has found a new medium through e-mail, voice mail and the menacing instant messaging. One errant communication can be copied, pasted and blasted out to the world, torpedoing the best of friendships.

Our children learn the painful lesson of deciding how to trust another person. They sometimes learn the comfort of finding a good friend only after experiencing the heartache of misplaced trust.

As my girlfriend says, “With a true friend, you feel safe.”

True friends can indeed enrich our lives.

Perhaps it is worth the trouble to create a comfortable place where children can “hang out” and develop friendships. Building safe and trusting relationships may improve, enrich and even extend their lives.

And if we’re lucky, we may be thanked for our efforts.