Dave, Alex and I are making new friends all the time. It comes easily to them, but they choose who they want to be friends with. Their friends are not necessarily the same age or in their same class (obviously, because they aren't in any class - social, scholastic or other). They just get out there and click with some people, and with some others they don't. I am the same and I'm proud to say I have a big variety of friends. They have different nationalities, values, beliefs, dreams... and different parenting styles. (Some don't have children but they still have strong opinions about how to raise them.)
One of my new-found friends is Ann (not her real name). She has two boys, around the same age as mine. It was actually not the boys who drew us to each other, but other things we found we had in common. The boys became friends because of us, not the other way around.
A few weeks ago Dave, Alex and I went out to dinner with Ann, her two boys, and some other friends and their kids at a family restaurant. The kids didn't sit at the table for long and were soon outside playing. Then Ann's oldest kid, who I will call Jack, hurtled in the restaurant and announced that another child, Lisa, was crying because Dave had pushed her while they were racing. Lisa's mum and I got up, but then Jack stopped me and said, 'It's okay. Dave already said sorry.' It shocked me to realise that Jack had instantly assumed I was going to tell Dave off or at least to ask him to apologise.
The children went on playing but later, while still at the restaurant, Dave came to talk to me. He said he was very upset with Jack and his younger brother Daniel because they had accused him of something he didn't do. He asked me to tell Lisa's mum that he hadn't hurt her; she had stumbled and fallen over all by herself. I did and Lisa's mum said, 'It's okay. She always cries for nothing.'
Both Dave and Alex (who was feeling his brother's pain) were terribly upset at what had happened at the restaurant. We talked about it in the car on the way home and then on following days. According to them, this is what happened: They were all racing. Lisa was ahead of Dave. When she saw Dave was going to overtake her, she extended her arm to block him. In doing so she lost her balance and fell over. She started crying and Jack and Daniel immediately blamed Dave for her fall. Jack said, 'You have to say sorry.' Dave refused for two reasons: one, he didn't think he had done anything to feel sorry about, and two, he doesn't say sorry when someone asks him to say sorry. Jack (or Daniel, or both) insisted, 'You have to say sorry because your mum says so.' Dave said, 'My mum doesn't say I have to say sorry.'
Dave was sad as he was telling me this the next day, and I felt so sorry for him, especially when he said, 'They kept blaming me. I told them I didn't push her, she tripped, but they wouldn't listen and kept saying I had to say sorry.' After a pause, he added, 'Because their mum tells them to apologise all the time, they think you do too.' I hugged him and told him I could see he was hurting.
The thing is I have never, not even once asked my kids to apologise for anything. It's one of the things I've stayed strong about over the years and I'm so glad I have. I don't think asking (or forcing) children to say sorry teaches them any social skills. But most importantly, "sorry" to me is something you feel, not something you just say because it's good manners. Children learn to feel sorry by example. So when they were very little I always apologised on their behalf and I apologised to them when I felt sorry for something I had done (still do, of course). And then one day Dave started saying sorry and really feeling it. Just like that. He would say it to me and he would say to Alex and to other kids. Alex does it too; he started when he was about two and a half.
Dave was so angry at Jack and Daniel that he said he was not going to invite them to his birthday party. I said I understood and decided to let the matter cool for a few days. I would also be angry if a friend of mine demanded that I apologise to someone else. But we are talking about children here, those fascinating little creatures that are here not to make our lives difficult, but in fact to please us. So this is what I think happened from the other kids' point of view: Jack, being the oldest of the lot (there were about six children) self-appointed himself to the role of adult and consequently did what he sees adults do. If his mother had been present she might have said that it was not up to him to discipline the other kids. But she wasn't there and Jack was doing something he thought the adults would be pleased about, after all, he was helping out, he was doing their job.
After a few days Dave and Alex were still upset and Dave insisted on crossing out Jack and Daniel's names from the birthday party list. The problem was that we had already sent out the invitations, and I pointed this out to him. 'It doesn't matter,' he said. 'I don't want them to come anymore.' I found myself in a predicament. While I respected Dave's decision, I didn't want to offend Ann, of whom I am very fond. Dave said, 'Ann can still come to the party. She'll just have to leave the kids at home with their daddy.'
'Ok, but since it is your party and it is you who doesn't want to invite them, you can tell them that,' I said, glad I had found a way to get off the hook.
Next time we saw them Dave had forgotten all about the sorry incident. After a while, though, the four boys started arguing over something else, and Dave said, 'Oh, I just remembered. You are not invited to my party anymore.'
'I don't care!' said Daniel.
'Well, we're going to have a big piñata...' said Dave in an enticing voice.
'I don't even like piñatas.'
'Yes, you do! You love them!' quipped Jack.
Ann and I were trying not to laugh. I was amazed at Dave's frankness. But this is what children are like, they say what they honestly think or feel, without stopping to consider if it is socially acceptable or politically correct. I wish I was like them.
Ann, Jack and Daniel came to the party, and we all had a great time. The four boys are still friends and Dave is now 6.