I have two daughters, and once upon a time I was a grade school girl myself. I knew girl drama was in the cards, but I was deluded enough to think that between an almost-nine-year-old and a three year old, I had years before we’d be dealing with that.
Surprise! Seems everything starts earlier these days, because third grade has been rough.
There are twelve or thirteen girls in my daughter’s class, and G has known most of them since kindergarten. One new girl – older and with a mean streak – has kind of thrown off the equilibrium, stirring up drama of the seventh and eighth-grade order. She’s prone to outbursts and seems to delight in drawing tears from her classmates, and when my daughter relays all of this in a shocked tone, we talk about how we don’t know what kind of stuff may be happening in her life that is causing this kind of behavior. You know, a teaching moment.
We went the “practice kindness” route to manage this particular situation, which has mostly worked despite this girl’s insistence on stirring the pot and doing her best to pit girls against one another.
There were hurt feelings and tears, but we did manage to get to the bottom of that mess, and while I personally have to squash my wildly inappropriate desire to meet that kid in the parking lot, G has learned how to take anything she says with a grain of salt.
But today, the one who has decided to stir things up surprised me – someone G describes as “a true friend.”
I caught the expression on her face after school today, as soon as she stepped into view. She looked absolutely miserable, but her back was straight, her shoulders back, her little chin held high. Once we were home and settled, the boys chowing on cereal as they rehashed their days to each other, the littlest chiming in with her time at the “gym with mommy,” G was ready to spill.
“M doesn’t want to be my friend anymore,” she said, with her enormous eyes all shiny and heartbreaking.
I sighed inwardly – it seemed out of character for this particular girl, who has been a solid little friend for years – and asked what happened.
The story came tumbling out, and instead of one of those rambling stories with lots of side details, G was painfully direct.
“She sent A over to tell me she thought I was being rude, and then I went over to ask her why she’d say that,” she said, in a rush to get it all out. “She told me that this has been a hard year and that she’d just rather play with someone else from now on.”
Any response I had been mentally preparing just kind of shriveled up and died as I looked her.
Because on the one hand, I wondered if it would all blow over in a day. But on the other, well, this is the kind of thing that just can’t be fixed. You can’t make someone be your friend, and you can’t do it on your kid’s behalf. This is a situation in which I’m totally helpless. And it’s normal for me to try to fix things – it’s how I’m wired. When I’m presented with a problem, I immediately start looking for a solution.
But that’s not always a good thing, and that’s never been more obvious to me than it is these days, as I fumble my way through this part of parenting.
I started and stopped a few different times, commending her for speaking to her friend directly instead of going the messenger route and then suggesting that maybe her friend was just having a bad day.
“She’s been avoiding me for two weeks, mom,” G said. “She just finally told me today.”
And that’s when I switched gears completely.
“I’m so sorry, G. You are so many wonderful things, and sometimes, friendships just kind of fizzle out. Sometimes, you’re friends with someone just because you’re in the same place at the same time, but that’s really all that keeps you together.”
Her lip trembled, and I pulled her into my lap and held her for a minute.
And that’s when she worked out her own solution.
“I think I just need to take a big step back from her,” my daughter said, sounding way too world-weary and wise.
“That seems like a good idea,” I told her, a little surprised and more than a little impressed. “Because my guess is this is going to blow over faster than you think. And when it does, you might consider telling her that she hurt your feelings, and that fair-weather friendship isn’t real friendship.”
Should I have added that last part? Probably not, but really, those hot/cold friends are the worst.
She nodded sadly and kept nodding when I pointed out that she had lots of good friends in the neighborhood and at karate, and that there were other kids at school that she liked too.
This may be one of the most terrible feelings you can have as a parent – this complete helplessness when your child is hurting. What am I going to do, call up this girl’s mom in a huff and demand that she be friends with my daughter again?
I mean, that’s totally what I want to do. But I won’t.
I’ll just listen, and hold her, and tell her how much I love her. I tell her that I know what it feels like to lose a friend, that I understand it hurts. And that I’ll be right there beside her when she navigates the messy side of life.
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