The only thing that matters

Published by Lori Pickert on May 27, 2009 at 01:44 AM

Vaillant’s other main interest is the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary — and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”What Makes Us Happy?, The Atlantic

hat tip: Thriving too

Relationships are the key to future adult happiness, but what priority are relationship-building skills in the lives of children?

21 comments

Comment by Susana on May 27, 2009 at 02:52 PM

love the pairing of great pic and great quote on the importance/our need of for relationships

Comment by Dawn on May 27, 2009 at 09:12 PM

I see children meet up at the park... strangers who a drawn to each other as playmates. They don't know each other but they know that by forming a "relationship" they could have more fun at the playground... obviously children know that relationships are important.
I see that in small groups children tend to play well and work out their differences... if parents don't butt in too quickly. They know if they want to keep playing they should work it out!

In school relationships are formed but strained by the constraints that are inherent in the school environment. There are so many other influences, other people and schedules disrupting play, causing tension in what once was an easy going “play” based relationship.
School tries to remedy this with "programs" and "contracts" but it all boils down to a lot of lip service and a very difficult situation to manage. How can we really expect 20 five-year-olds to get along like pals? For five hours a day! How are they to learn about relationships with others in this unnatural environment?

I can’t speak for all homes of course but here relationships are a priority. Not only with family members and friends but also the “relationships” we have with the people we see each day walking down the street, at the market, etc… Imparting a general sense of how we treat people. It is so very important!
I can understand the importance of things like “stranger danger” but I also see the damage it has done to our relationships with the people in our community… The sense of connection has been replaced with anonymity.

Wow… this relationship thing really sparked something in me… Looking forward to what others have to say!

Comment by Cristina on May 27, 2009 at 10:20 PM

I find it interesting that relationships in the study included a wide age spread and most of them involve family. That seems to contradict the common socialization concerns people have toward homeschooling. Does this mean that socialization is a different animal from relationships? :o)

And is it possible to prioritize relationship-building skills? Unless I keep my kids in a box, I am always building these skills. They interact with people daily, whether it's just within the family or in the community at large. It's hands on training, don't you think?

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 28, 2009 at 01:13 AM

thank you, susana. :^)

dawn — “How are they to learn about relationships with others in this unnatural environment?˘ you know, too, i wasn’t even thinking so much about friendships, but working together in relationships, rather than silently side by side in rows — collaborating, helping each other, working on group projects, assigning and fulfilling group roles, etc.

loris malaguzzi wrote about how the reggio approach is all about relationships — between the children, between children and teachers, between co-teachers and other school staff, between the school and the community, etc. etc.

i love what you say about relationships being a priority in your home. i feel like being at home automatically highlights our relationship as a family and as individuals to the outside world — because each interaction stands out more from our daily, at-home life. child friends, adult friends, music teachers, librarians, storekeepers, the people who work at our favorite restaurants — because our days are rather slow and deliberate, we have more time to devote to the people in our lives. (including each other!) partly i think that contemporary american life is anti-relationship just because it is so *fast*. not a lot of time to connect.

cristina, interesting point! those socialization concerns always seem to be tipped toward the negative — i said in an open thread:

“when they talk about the importance of socialization, they always seem to mean “learning to deal with bullies” and “learning to be institutionalized” instead of “learning how to make a community for yourself”.”

when you attempt to point out that to be socialized means interacting capably with all sorts of society, they just shake their heads and say no, no, no, you’re missing the point. ;^)

is it possible to prioritize relationship-building skills? i would say that it’s not only about *building* relationships but also negotiating them and appreciating them. at school, i think this is usually an almost nonexistent priority — yet there are schools and programs that champion collaboration and group work. in sports, the process of being part of a team used to be lauded as an experience that would teach so many important skills — but hasn’t that mostly been taken over by adults, too? where do kids really learn to negotiate, assign roles, appreciate differences, support one another?

i think the answer to your question is, of course, it’s a lot easier to prioritize relationship-building (and -having) skills at home. there, it *is* hands-on training.

*however* .. this is what i was really thinking: as a culture, we prioritize school, grades, performance, achievement, and so on. yet .. again and again, studies show us that it’s our relationships that make us happy (or unhappy) in the end. and isn’t happiness what we want most for our children? but schools don’t prioritize relationships. and do most parents prioritize their kids’ relationships? or their achievement? that’s what i was thinking about. :^)

Comment by jen on May 28, 2009 at 01:24 AM

My grandparents were two of the most amazing people I have ever met, and everyone I know said the same thing. About three years ago we were able to move to be near them, and this is what we learned about them: They placed a huge priority on their relationships with others. My husband and I always knew that, but living so close to them (and for a little bit with them) it was so much fun to see them interact with others. They had friends that they met every week for dinner and with whom they planned and took vacations. They served others through their church and various other ways, but it was always obvious that they weren't just doing it to be busy or to because they were interested in the work. They wanted to develop relationships with people. It was remarkable, to say the least. And when my grandma died almost a year ago, again it was remarkable to see everyone who was there to support my grandpa...and how he has been able to keep going, because he just loves people. He has moved to a place where he could be around people and eats dinner with people and works out and plays sports with people; it's been good for him.

So while I think it's really amazing to read that bit about the study, I have seen it lived out...and indeed: relationships are all that matter!

Comment by Cristina on May 28, 2009 at 01:47 AM

Lori, I'm only laughing because from the time my children were little I've told them "You need to learn to get along with your brother/sister, because they will be around a lot longer than I will!"

It is important to me, because I don't have a good relationship with one of my siblings. I want my kids to have strong bonds with each other so they will take care of each other. Oddly, my brother was always very competitive, high grades, ivy league school, very driven. He married a woman with similar ideals. Neither of them works very hard on relationships with their families. Interesting.

Comment by Kyrie on May 28, 2009 at 02:22 AM

I immediately thought of the homeschooling/socialization debate when I saw that sibling relationships are particularly significant- isn't homeschooling giving your children the opportunity to foster those relationships that may, in the end, give them the greatest happiness?

And yes, I think the question is, what's the priority? Happiness? Achievement? Something else?

Comment by Elise Edwards on May 28, 2009 at 07:25 AM

there was a post of yours last week that I immediately connected to Jon Krakauer's 'Into the Wild' (since I finally just saw the movie version) - there's a pivotal moment near the end, when Alex/Chris writes in his book 'Happiness only real when shared'.

And now my hubbie is home with chocolate, so I'm off to connect with him :)

Comment by se7en on May 28, 2009 at 02:19 PM

Brilliant post and comments and I love the photo!!! I am so loving it, The thing I love about homeschooling and my kids spending hours together is that they are indeed their own best friends... hopefully they will stay close knit! I do have friends say that they wish their kids were close like ours but then their kids are in school all day and at separate extra-murals all afternoon... in fact come to think of it their kids are only home together during the morning dash and crisis hour at the end of the day - hardly likely to be the best of times to build relationships! Everybody knows the best thing to do to be close to someone is to spend time with them - hours of hanging out with each other certainly makes for firm friends

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 28, 2009 at 02:42 PM

jen, thank you so much for sharing your story about your grandparents — what a great lesson!

cristina, ah, that is interesting. :^)

the sibling thing really stuck out for me as well. my sister is my best friend, and i hope that my boys will be friends when they are adults. i know how much that can mean.

families who have to utilize daycare can have their children leading almost completely separate lives during the day due to being age-separated at daycare and/or before- and after-school care, in different grades at school, and in different after-school activities that usually stretch into the weekends.

not to mention homework! which takes away afternoon play time, time with family, and time to just relax and do nothing.

kyrie — “isn't homeschooling giving your children the opportunity to foster those relationships that may, in the end, give them the greatest happiness?” — i think it *can* and much more easily than regular school, but i think school (say, in the Reggio model) can also give tremendous opportunities to foster relationships.

i guess i have met enough hs’ing parents who still prioritize achievement to think that hs’ing alone isn’t necessarily the answer. ;^)

i think, regardless of how your children learn, you set the tone. what is more important? achievement and financial success? or relationships? the way the world sees and judges you? or how you see and feel about yourself? as you said, what is your family’s priority?

elise, i haven’t seen the movie version, but i loved the book — so powerful — and what a tragic realization at the end!

Comment by Aimee on May 28, 2009 at 09:24 PM

I know that one of my priorities for my family was to live in community with other people. I don't mean a planned housing development, but more that we support each other and take care of each other and celebrate together and eat together and be together. I want to be friends with my friend's children and I want my kids to see their friend's parents as people who know and care for them. I think it is important for my children to see me supporting these other families, like bringing food after a babe is born and then to see us accepting help from others back.
And my own children's relationship with each other? Well my heart swells to watch them connect and learn and play together. We homeschool for many reasons, but my children having time together, not being separated by age, is at the top of the list. I would hat to have to give it up!
Aimee

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 28, 2009 at 10:53 PM

aimee, have you found that community you dreamed of? i don’t think it’s easy to find a community of like-minded people — i want to know how it went for you!

i feel the same way about my boys’ relationship — nothing makes me happier than their friendship!

Comment by melissa on May 28, 2009 at 10:57 PM

wow- i've never read that quote before but it has astrong impact on me! hmm. something to think about this week. thank you, lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 28, 2009 at 11:35 PM

thank YOU, melissa! :^) and you have a great weekend, too!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 29, 2009 at 01:16 AM

from john holt’s “teach your own”:

“When I point out to people that the social life of most schools and classrooms is mean-spirited, status-oriented, competitive, and snobbish, I am always astonished by their response. Not *one* person of the hundreds with whom I've discussed this has yet said to me that the social life at school is kindly, generous, supporting, democratic, friendly, loving, or good for children. No, without exception, when I condemn the social life of school, people say, 'But that's what the children are going to meet in Real Life.'”

Comment by Aimee on May 29, 2009 at 03:18 AM

Have I found a community of people? Yes, I believe I have friends who are just that, like-minded enough to get each other, children are friends, etc. It isn't a huge group, but that's ok it works for us.

It kind of just happened and I am so grateful becasue it raised the quality of my life and the life of my children and husband. Friendship is a neccesity to me, but such a gift when it happens.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 29, 2009 at 06:01 PM

relationships — they’re the only thing that matters. :^)

Comment by Kelly on June 1, 2009 at 03:52 AM

This echoes something I heard recently...that most parents in this time period want their kids to have as many experiences as possible. In return, children are end up experience rich and relationally poor. The point was not that we should keep our kids from having wonderful experiences. Simply that we should be encouraging them in quality relationships.
It has really got my mind turning...this post has just increased it's turning speed:)

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 1, 2009 at 12:08 PM

kelly, i love that — thank you so much for sharing it. i read your first sentence and immediately thought, “well *i* don’t!”

sometimes it’s like parents are competing in one of those shopping extravaganzas where people try to pile as much stuff in as they can and then race to the end before the buzzer sounds.

i just had a conversation with a friend who was a little frazzled about how quickly their summer was filling up with commitments to different kid activities. by contrast, our plans are … mmm … playing. ;^)

love your comment so much, i think i’m going to move it up to the top where more people can see it! :^)

Comment by jeannine on June 9, 2009 at 12:21 AM

Lori, thanks for visiting! I'm pretty sure your my biggest fan. :0)
LOVING the photos, and your inspirational words. best.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 10, 2009 at 01:49 AM

thank you, jeannine :^)

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