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Raising kids is hard. Probably one of the hardest things we do. Having people beyond you and your parenting partner who are actively involved in your child’s life can go a long way to lightening that load. For my children, this list included grandparents, aunts, and uncles who cheer them on in school or sports, show up at the games, drive them to practice, take them for the weekend, provide guidance and a safe place to fall, and so much more. Our list of people who have helped us raise our children also includes my three best friends. So, this is my thank you to them. The women who have been an integral part of helping my children become who they are not because they are family, but because they have chosen to love my children.

This spring we lost my friend, Jenny (Jae), to cancer. This was not only a devastating loss to me but also my children because she had been a huge part of their lives. Jae was always there for my kids, in big and little ways. There was the time many years ago, when I was experiencing morning sickness all day and the idea of getting into the pool for swimming lessons with my girls was too much for me to handle. So, Jae showed up every Wednesday for 8 weeks to take them to lessons with my husband. She was on their short list of people to call in case of emergency or if they had something they wanted to talk about but didn’t want to talk to mom or dad. She helped my girls pick out their dresses for semi-formal dances, took all my kids get pedicures, asked them about school, talked to them about their hopes and dreams and loved them like they were her kids, all this while raising her own children. And we all feel her loss every day.

My two other BFFs have been just as important even though they haven’t had a day-to-day presence in my kids’ lives since they have lived far away. Janel can always be counted on to provide adventure, crazy stories (occasionally inappropriate in some way) and fun presents, like a portable disco ball. You know your friend loves your kid when she spends an inordinate about of time carefully selecting a graduation gift to fit your kid’s personality and remind them of what is important in life. Janel’s legacy is one of fun. My kids would and sometimes still do look at some crazy outfit or pair of shoes and say, “That looks like something Janel would wear.” We would have to send her a picture of it, and she would almost always agree!

Kari is the project manager. She is there to help navigate and solve problems. Jumping to help with advice from afar or showing up for big events. The most recent being my daughter’s graduation party. She pulled in and joyfully got to work covering walls with backdrops much more meticulously than I ever would have. She helped make the event a success and all my kids saw that and know she would do the same for each of them. In short, they know Kari will show up! Never has this been truer then now. Kari and her family have moved back to Minnesota to be here to support our friend Jae’s family as they navigate their loss. My kids see this and know that she would do the same for them.  

Extended families and friends can be an important part of your child’s development. These people help strengthen your child’s sense of belonging. Your child knows they have a place in this world beyond just their immediate family. The people we choose to be part of our children’s lives can be a big part of this by helping celebrate birthdays or other special events, taking an interest the things your child enjoys, and cheering them on and supporting them through both highs and lows.

Children are also able to see that not all families are the same when they have relationships with other adults. Your child can be exposed to different values, traditions and learn that there is no one right type of family. Our extended or chosen family also serves as our back-up. For example, Jae and I have always been listed as emergency contacts at school for each other’s children.

I was fortunate to meet my friends in college and have them continue to be a part of my life and my kids’ lives. Maybe you already have these friends in your life. If you do, count your blessings. And don’t be afraid to tell them just how much you appreciate the love they show your kids.

If you haven’t found these friends yet, don’t worry. I have faith that it will happen. It might be the mom you see at the playground repeatedly. Go ahead. Be brave and introduce yourself. It might the be the new neighbor who moves in down the street. Another great place to find these friends is ECFE. Sign up and take a class, connect with other parents. You might just find the friend that helps you navigate the toddler years, elementary school and beyond by showing up not just for you but also your kid. You might even find the friend who will help you move across the country (true story!) Registration for Fall ECFE classes is now ongoing. Click here for more information.