Sometimes our relationships can seem as strong and permanent as a concrete structure, but other times relationships can seem as though they are assembled by toothpicks. When one little pick is moved, everything else comes tumbling down. No matter how we want to deny it – or try to avoid it – our lives are all propped up on each other. 

Recently, one of my children faced a situation that made me think about this idea of toothpick relationships. The parents of my child’s friend made a decision that seemingly only impacted their own family. They evaluated a situation, chose a course of action, and followed through on their decision. Simple enough, we all do this all the time. The problem for me was their decision deeply impacted my child. And when I say deeply, I mean in a way that weeks later my child still hasn’t been able to entirely shake off. 

As an adult, I understand it was one of those life situations that can occur; tough decisions are necessary because of employment, illness, money, transfers, and a myriad of other family dynamics. There is no blame to be given here because the parents were making a choice that was in the best interest of their own family. They could not have seen the impact this would have on my child, and consequentially my family.

Physics teaches us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. One family’s choice impacts another family’s environment. Obviously, we cannot take into account all of the possible consequences and reactions to every decision we make in life – that’s impossible. It would paralyze our ability to function if we had to make decisions on this level. Yet, at the same time, it’s an important lesson to remember when it comes to relationships. We are all interdependent. The phrase “no man is an island” is true! Toothpick construction, like relationships building, can either be weak and messy or amazing and strong.  

My reaction to this current situation could easily be to teach my child all friends should be kept at arm’s length to avoid future collapses. I could focus on the delicate and flimsy nature of relationships, which might fix the problem a little today, but would have long-term consequences in the area of trust. In toothpick construction terms, this is the version of building a simple 2×2 one-story house.

The other option before me is to teach my child the art form of trust and bonding. That sometimes, true fragility happens because we don’t learn to build into something bigger than ourselves. This is tricky because it’s potentially more hazardous (to the individual toothpick), but this is the only way we can construct something amazing and strong. If you don’t believe me, check out (which apparently used to be called Toothpick City until the designs went all international). 

The bottom line is this: we are connected to other people who make our world function. Our relationships prop us up on all sides and define the scope of our design. The best thing I can do for my kids is to hug them tightly when pain occurs in the building process. My job is to show them how to pick up the pieces and begin again. There are too many amazingly creative, wildly imaginative building designs to be content with life as a solitary toothpick.