Recently a friend of mine and mother to my daughter's playmates told me she had allowed her oldest son and daughter to email regularly with other children from families they knew. One of the mothers objected that it wasn't appropriate for her daughter to email with the son but she could with his sister.
My friend felt bad that she had not checked with each mother before allowing both her son and daughter to exchange emails with their friends. Now duly chastened she asked me if my daughter could email with both her son and daughter since she is friends with them both to which I easily assented.
Both of us can read these emails at anytime, plus it's normal for girls to want to communicate regularly with chattering updates and some boys enjoy this past time as well, even if done differently. Perhaps the other mother had very good reasons for limiting her daughter to only emailing with other girls; there are certainly some scenarios in which this could be wise for a time. My point here is not the limitation but to think through the wholesome wideness that friendships between girls and boys can enjoy.
My daughter also exchanges written letters and drawings through the mail with the son of family friends in another part of the country that we do not see frequently. He first wrote a letter to her for a homeschool assignment as part of his language arts curriculum about two years ago. She faithfully writes back and now they look forward to these mailings especially as travel plans have become so uncertain and limited.
I have a few thoughts on these friendships as they wax and wane through the years.
First, boys and girls may be different in their interests, but they both want their interests to be acknowledged and even explored in conversation and/or activity with others. Dismissal of each other's interests as weird, boring or dumb will not grow a friendship. They need to have sufficient character development that they can listen and respond to the other's interests even if they do not share that interest.
Second, in order to grow the friendship further, there should be shared experiences that help bridge the gap even if they cannot be enjoyed together. Here is a partial list of interests that I think can be discussed and explored to help cultivate the friendships between girls and boys in a wholesome manner.
* family trips or travel stories
* outside adventures
* inside play or activity
* pet or animal stories
* projects with making/building/creating
* unusual activity or event in your family
* books, movies, music, television, theater or other media enjoyed and recommended
* questions about each other
* planning for next in-person visit
* discussing kindly mutual family, friends or acquaintances
* favorite or disliked food or drink
* future plans and dreams
* humorous jokes and stories
There are plenty of other topics that could be explored including recalling past adventures or moments shared. As parents we sometimes inadvertently help our children cultivate these friendships further by simply showing an interest in the stories and conversations they relate to us. If we ask a pleasant question or make a encouraging comment about what we have heard or read between these friends, we are showing how to be curious and interested in the lives of others in an appropriate way.
Finally, by looking at both familiar and unfamiliar wholesome interests with another child, but especially from the opposite sex, I can see that my daughter's perspective and understanding of the world she shares with others causes her to grow beyond her own self and makes her a better friend and playmate.
While there certainly may come a time when the kindly and comfortable friendship between girls and boys takes an awkward turn or sudden end, the memories of those childhood days goes a long way in pursuing good friendships for life.
If we can give our children the opportunity to develop good friendships with each other, the adult friendships that we savor as we grow older can be bolstered by the warmth of those nourishing and nostalgic years as children.