I've been thinking a lot about loyalty lately. What does it mean in terms of friends, family, and institutions? And how do we teach our kids about appropriate levels of loyalty?
I tend to be a very loyal person, and often to a fault. When I believe in someone or something, it's hard to break that belief, that loyalty, whether it's a family member, friend, a school, a church, or some other organization. When loyalty is broken for whatever reason, however, it's generally really broken, and unlikely to be restored. This has it's good points and bad points; sometimes I've maintained loyalty a little too long and been hurt, those to whom I have given loyalty have not always returned it, and sometimes loyalty has been deserved but not given.
Loyalty and peer pressure
Generally speaking, I think loyalty is a good thing, and it's related (but not equal) to trust. But I can see how, as the kids get older and the peer pressure of adolescence increases, it could be an issue. There will be times that loyalty to a friend on a particular issue could be a problem. If one of Alfs' friends starts making poor choices, what part should loyalty play in their continued relationship?
Thankfully, I haven't encountered this issue just yet. I just want to be ready, as best I can be, if it does come up. I hope that I can convey to my kids that loyalty is a wonderful thing, both to give and to receive, but that it is indeed a gift - not to be taken lightly and not to be taken advantage of. For example, if one of my kids were to make a poor choice and ask a friend to come along for the ride out of loyalty, that would be taking advantage.
At a wedding rehearsal many years ago, the minister leading the rehearsal (and wedding) spoke briefly about how family loyalties change in the moments the marrying couple says their vows. Before the vows, a person's first loyalty should be to their parents and siblings - but at the moment the vows are said, the loyalty swings to their spouse first, children of that union second, then parents and siblings.
I thought this was an incredibly astute discussion by the minister and I've gone back to it many times in many conversations. For the kids right now, I'm relating to them that while they can have loyalties to their friends, this means that their primary loyalties lie within the family first, theirs to us and us to them. As such, when they encounter a difficult situation in the greater world, they can come to us and know we will help them.
Loyalty is not blind or silent
So much of our lives are gray areas. As good and wonderful as loyalty is, among family and friends and beyond, it is not and should not be blind or silent. Loyalty does not mean one never disagrees or speaks up if a situation is not right. I think it does mean that one is committed to a positive outcome.
Talking to and teaching kids about loyalty is one of those areas where there are no hard and fast instructions for absolute success. It is one part of the value set we relate to our children over years. Thinking about it - just as we think about so many other little details of parenting and of living in a crazy world in general - is part of the process.