Being Bettina’s Dad: Friendship Matters

Steve Raw, Head of Workforce Strategy and Engagement, shares his family's experience of friendship through the COVID-19 pandemic, in celebration of Learning Disability Week 2020.
A picture I am proud to say sums up our friendship

In years to come, when looking back to COVID-19, I will think about what helped us through this pandemic with a smile, as it will be about friendship.  The friendship we have for each other as a family.

To Bettina we (Joyce, Jennifer and me) are known as ‘The Mom Mom’, ‘Jennifer Sister’ and I am ‘Dad Boy Steve’ (Bettina is ‘The little one’ to us) and we are all great friends.  We have always been friends who like, trust and enjoy each other’s company, and as such we are all dependent on each other.  I often think of us as This Happy Breed* –  a family who have faced adversity over the years and have always come smiling through with the one constant that we are always friends.  We are also Bettina’s inner circle.

Sitting patiently waiting for Donna, her Personal Assistant (PA) this morning Bettina hears a knock at the door and instantly jumps up from the sofa and is in the hallway, in the blink of an eye.  “It’s Donut” (this is what ‘Donna’ name sounds like to Bettina).  Bettina beams at Donna who is equally pleased to see her and out they go on another adventure together.  Donna is also part of Bettina’s inner circle (her network).

Bettina and Donna (‘Doughnut’)

They have known each other for nearly 11 years and the novelty has not worn off yet because they are friends.  Friends who depend on each other.  It is a warm relationship full of love.  Bettina recently told us “Donna is my best friend”  A good friend knows your stories; a best friend has lived them with you.  This is certainly the case between Bettina and Donna.

Bettina can only cope with only a few friends as to have more would test her powers of communication, energy and commitment.  More friends mean more confusion and anxiety.  Each friend represents a different mode of communication or understanding; empathy and negotiation. When you are living your life to the full – while at the same time trying to understand your world and those you meet every day let alone when you cope with autism and a learning disability – friends need to be handpicked and safe!  So, what does Bettina look for in a friend:

Five things Bettina looks for in friendship – Bettina’s friendship criteria

  1. They must bring quality to her life. Bettina has a built in “radar system” which she can use to deter people who are negative or unhelpful.
  2. It must happen naturally and not engineered or planned – Bettina decides who she will befriend
  3. Friends must be non-judgemental and take her for who she is, not what they would like her to be.
  4. Empathy – they must see things through Bettina’s eyes, as she does for them.
  5. Trust. You must be reliable, honest, consistent, responsible and Bettina will offer you these qualities, often when you need them the most, in return.

Five things Friendship brings for Bettina and one thing it stops:

  1. Comfort
  2. Happiness
  3. Fun/laughter
  4. Shared memories/experiences
  5. Belonging
  6. It stops loneliness

Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead
Walk beside me… just be my friend
Albert Camus

A good friend for Bettina  is someone who will make time for her as she makes time for you, without an agenda. A good friend for Bettina is someone who makes her laugh, but at the right time – occasionally at the wrong time too, but that makes it even funnier as is often the case when we sit down for our dinner together as a family.

Someone that Bettina can rely on, whether it is a good day or a bad one.  Whenever the need arises, in situations of emergency – her friends are always there to help.

COVID-19 has made our friendship better and stronger.  It will be something that I will certainly treasure from this difficult period.

A definition of ‘Friendship’ is a relationship of mutual affection between people. It is a stronger form of interpersonal bond than an association, and has been studied in academic fields such as communication, sociology, social psychology, anthropology, and philosophy…

* This Happy Breed (1944) – David Lean (the film in full) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xojbg_zVnyo

You can read more of Steve’s Being Bettina’s Dad series on his blog, Leadership in the Raw