The students in my college classrooms often rate friendship far more highly than romantic love. They say that it is a more reliable source of warmth and companionship.
This is not unprecedented. The importance of friendship is attested to by those who think very seriously about the important goods of human life. Aristotle says,
“The complete sort of friendship is between people who are good and are alike in virtue, since they wish for good things for one another… And those who wish for good things for their friends for their own sake are friends most of all.”quote from Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
Aristotle suggests that friendship is rooted in the mutual pursuit of what is good and in the desire to do good to our friends for their own sake, not for anything we might get out of the bargain.
Great friendships abound in literature, such as that between Jane and Elizabeth Bennett in the famous novel Pride and Prejudice. These two sisters display an affection and a tender compassion for one another, and a loyalty through thick and thin. Indeed, one of the important lessons of this novel is that friendship beatifies the relationships around it, such as family or neighborhood, and provides a crucial precondition for human flourishing.
Another insight we find is that people who flounder and make crucial mistakes also lack friends.
How does this relate to strategic grandparenting? The first question to ask is not, “Am I a friend to my grandchild?” but rather “Does my grandchild have friends?” And, what can be done to help them gain and keep friends?
I am a father to a 4-year-old boy who was finding it difficult to acquire a friendship or two. Enter a grandparent – my dad. He decided to do stuff together with two of his grandsons from two families. It wasn’t just a break for the parents. He intended to build friendship among his grandsons. Time together and shared experiences provided fuel for the friendship. The two boys helped my dad in his workshop, they went on walks, and they helped a neighbor in need.
It soon became clear that something special was afoot. My son began to talk about his cousin at the dinner table or at bedtime. He would bring to light what his new friend would say or think about something going on in our lives. He would express affection for his cousin to anyone in the vicinity and speak positively of his character qualities. Even the very young can have profound admiration and regard for others – and this is a characteristic of friendship.
Now the two boys are inseparable. They beg their parents for ever more time in each other’s company. My son is experiencing one of the great ornaments of life, one of the things that call us to forget ourselves in pursuit of the good of others. My “Aristotelian” Grandpa saw a possible friendship and worked to facilitate it, to the lifelong benefit of his grandchild. I am thankful.
This article is excerpted from Grandly, copyright © 2023 Grandly Missions, Inc. Grandly recently launched an online seminar for grandparents who are seeking to pass on their faith to their grandchildren more effectively. To learn more or to register for the seminar visit https://grandly.org/doitgrandly/.
Top image credit: photo of three boys with grandfather on a hike, from Bigstock.com, © by Stu99, stock photo ID: 340055923. Used with permission.
Michael Giles teaches political science in Lansing, Michigan, USA.