There is no greater childhood rite of passage than having an imaginary friend.
My imaginary friend was named Jenny and she went with me everywhere. My husband’s imaginary friend even had a last name. So it is no surprise to me that my daughter Maddy created an imaginary friend for herself when she was about three. Her friend’s name is Winnie and she is the best imaginary friend a girl could have. Sometimes Winnie is Maddy’s sister (!), sometimes she lives with us, and sometimes she lives in the house across the street. Whatever we are about to do, Winnie did it last week and loved it. Needless to say, Winnie really gets around!
Usually Winnie is unseen and unheard, but recently, Winnie has been making her presence known around our house. Someone left the toilet seat up? It must have been Winnie. Someone colored with markers on the bedroom wall? Maddy saw Winnie do it. Someone left toys out? Classic Winnie. Maddy’s imaginary friend is definitely a bad influence.
All joking aside, Winnie’s antics had begun to create a problem for us. At first when Maddy started telling us that Winnie was responsible, I would tell her that Winnie wasn’t real and that I knew that she, Maddy, had actually done the unspeakable deed. This really upset Maddy. She would hurtfully tell me that Winnie was real and Maddy and I would begin to argue about Winnie’s existence. Upon reflection, I decided that was wrong of me. To Maddy, Winnie is very real. Just like my imaginary friend, Jenny, was very real to me. While Maddy knows she was the one who truly committed the misstep, Winnie is still more than imaginary to her. Winnie is her confidant.
Now, instead of arguing about Winnie, I choose to address “Winnie’s” behavior. Maddy and I talk about why Winnie shouldn’t have done what she did and then I ask Maddy to fix or correct whatever Winnie has done.
Childhood innocence is so fleeting and true friends are hard to come by. Right or wrong, I am going to let Maddy keep both a little while longer.