“I don’t know what to do,” my 11 year old said as she plopped down at the kitchen table.

“About what?” I asked her.

“About my friend. I mean, I think we’re friends. I don’t know. I don’t know if I even want to be her friend,” she said discouragingly. 

“Ok, do you want to talk about it?” I asked her.

Without hearing my question, my daughter dove right in, “What do you do, Mom, when you and your friends have different beliefs? When they believe something that’s completely opposite of what you believe?” she asked me.

“Yeah, that can be hard, kiddo. It’s also the beauty of friendship-discovering how other people think and act and that includes their beliefs,” I told her. 

“But I’m like afraid to be friends with people now. Because what if they say something and it goes against what I believe?” she said.

“And that puts you in a position to decide if that’s a deal breaker,” I said.

“What’s a deal breaker?” she asked me.

“Let’s say you want to buy a car. You have expectations of it based on the price and pictures. But then when you get in person, you see that’s actually not what you thought it was. Maybe there’s a flat tire. That could be a deal breaker for some people. Other people might say, oh it’s just a small expense, minimal effort, it’s still worth buying the car. But what if the whole engine had to be replaced? For some people, that would be a deal breaker. They’re not wanting to buy a car that requires that much more time, money and energy. Does that make sense?” I asked her.

“So the car is my friendship in this case?” she wondered.

“Essentially,” I said with a laugh. “We all have different standards and expectations for everything. Some parents expect their kids to only get straight As. Some friends expect their friends to have the same core values as them. Some couples expect to spend all their time together. There’s no right or wrong here. It’s a matter of what YOU value. What’s important to you. And what you expect from others.”

“So it’s not bad that I want my friends to have the same beliefs as me?” she asked.

“It’s not bad at all. But remember, everything has a cost. So the couples who want to spend all their time together, what is the cost in that?” I asked her.

“Well they don’t get to spend time with other people. That’s kind of weird,” she said.

“And what about the kids who have to get straight As?” I asked her.

“They probably have to study all the time so they don’t get to do things with their friends,” she said.

“Exactly,” I said. “Since you’re setting the expectations, you have to be aware of the costs. Are you willing to lose out on friendships with other people who may have different beliefs than you because you only want friends who see the world the same way you do?”

She considered my question, “I never thought of it that way.”

I asked her, “When we surround ourselves with people who only think like us, what does that do?”

“Makes us feel better about what we believe,” she said.

“Yes. But it also keeps us from seeing the world in different ways. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with their perspective, just like they don’t have to agree with ours. But we never learn and never grow if we don’t open ourselves up to different ways of thinking,” I told her. “Never be afraid to ask the tough questions. But never ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to.”

“So I should just avoid the topics that people argue about?” she asked me. 

“Maybe,” I responded. “Or make sure you’re in a state where you’re open to receiving what they have to say. Never assume that you are the only one that sees something the ‘right’ way. Also, make sure that you’re able to explain how you feel from a place of love and respect. And if your friend is consistently not able to do the same for you, then maybe that friendship isn’t a good fit. But I would encourage you to not immediately dismiss someone just because they believe something different than you. Especially at your age. A lot of what kids believe is just stuff regurgitated from their parents.”

“Thanks, Mom,” my daughter said as she got up from the table. 

“You’re welcome,” I smiled and told her. “Thank you for coming to me with this. I love these kinds of conversations with you.”

She smiled and said, “Me too.”

I laughed later to myself about this conversation with my daughter. Why? Because I’ve had these exact same concerns as an adult. I’ve grappled with deciding if a friendship was worth keeping when I found out who my friend voted for in the last election. Or after learning how a friend feels about my parenting or a hundred other issues. Only we get to decide when believing differently is a deal breaker. Only we get to choose what issues carry the most weight. 

Friendships are in a fragile time right now. We have instant access to not only other people’s information, but also the organizations they like and support, as well as their most recent Yelp reviews. We can see the comment they made on the local school board page and what politician they’re supporting in November just by spending a few minutes on social media. And it’s easy to let those things define them. And even easier to write them off if we disagree. 

I would encourage you (and I’m including myself in this too) to be the type of friend I told my daughter to be. One who is open to receiving what others have to say. One that speaks from a place of love and respect. And one that trusts in themselves enough to know when a friendship is costing you more than you want it to. Only you get to decide where that line is.

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