My daughter came home from school the other day absolutely distraught. She tossed her bag down and grumbled about something or other. Now, as the parent of a very emotional 2nd grade girl, I know better than to ask what’s caused her so much distress. But… I’m kind of a curious person. I know I know, curiosity killed the cat and all that. But I can’t seem to help myself.
- Me: So… what’s wrong?
- Miss Lulu: Well. Carley and I broke up. Again. (crosses her arms and scowls) We aren’t friends anymore.
- Me: Oh… I see. Why?
- Miss Lulu: Because I wanted to play with Logan but Logan doesn’t like Carley because she always tells him what he has to be when we play. So I had to either play with Carley or Logan. She wasn’t happy when I played with Logan. We’re not friends anymore.
Alright, I get that this happens all the time. She and Carley have been on and off friends for the past two years. Carley often requires 100% attention from her friends. It happens and Lex will feed into that. She likes to make everyone happy. She’ll even schedule one recess with Carley and one with her other friends. She really tries and it upsets her when Carley “breaks up” with her. Now, I get that I have to look at this from a few different angles in order to help Lex make her own choices and hopefully learn how to build strong friendships, but that’s not always easy.
You see, I’m kind of socially awkward. Throw me in a room of strangers and I shrivel up like an orchid left without water in the desert. I can’t just go up to someone and introduce myself, let alone initiate an actual conversation. When I know I have an event that requires me to be social, I have panic attacks and nightmares for days prior to the engagement. It’s awful and I’ve always been that way. So making friends as a child wasn’t really my strong point. Sure I managed to make a few but more often than not I felt like an outsider. I did my best to fit in where I could but just felt like I barely kept my head above water socially. It was horrible and I remain scarred from the whole thing. I’ve grown quite a bit and because of my job I can now fake my way through it. I can force myself to plaster a smile across my face and talk with people… when I have to. If I can avoid it, I certainly do. But I am thankful I have gained some skills in the area. I’ve made some great friends who I treasure every day.
When Lex started kindergarten my worst fear was that she wouldn’t make friends. That she would feel that horrible petrifying fear when dumped into a room of kids she’d never met. She did alright. She made a few friends throughout the year but no really close friends. Of course, that was kindergarten and I didn’t expect her to meet her lifelong best friend there. It’s possible sure, but not probable. Once school was out she lost touch with all of her friends over the summer. When she started 1st grade it was horrible. She had zero friends and she cried for the first three days of school. This was one of the many reasons we switched schools. At the new school she had her cousin and one of her friends from preschool, Logan. It was amazing to see him greet her that first day. He jumped out of his seat and gave her a giant hug. It was a wonderful way to start at a new school.
Throughout that year Lex made many more friends. She had a decent bunch at her birthday party and was invited to a few parties. Sure she ran into troubles much like the Carley situation, but they were fewer then. Over that summer she didn’t see any of her friends. She was somewhat sad about this, but she made it through fine. She had Girl Scouts and a million different family events to keep her busy. This year, she went back to school with a smile on her face and a positive attitude. She was ecstatic to see her friends, especially Logan.
The year has gone by fairly well, with exception of these Carley incidents. To be fair, they aren’t all about Carley specifically. She runs into the problem with a few of the girls in her class. She’ll come home one day upset because this friend wouldn’t let her play with that friend or they won’t let her play with Logan because he’s a boy. So how do I handle these issues? How do I explain to my 8-year-old daughter that she really should choose her own friends? How do I convince her that she’s strong enough to make a stand against these controlling girls? And while I want her to make her own choices and stand up against the Carley’s of the world, I don’t want her to lose the friends she does have. I don’t want her to feel those horrible feelings of being excluded. I don’t want her to grow up without friends but, I certainly want her to be her own person. I want her to be confident in who she is and her abilities that she can say no to the Carley’s of the world.
Part of me really just wanted to tell her that people like Carley aren’t really the greatest friends, but I also realize they are only 8 and just barely developing their own personalities. This year Carley may be a controlling and jealous friend, but next year… she could be the shy girl in the corner feeling excluded. My overly protective side wanted to tell her she’d be better off without Carley as a friend, that the whole situation is in fact Carley’s fault. Of course, my rational side kicked in and reminded me that I was wrong. Carley could have definitely handled the situation better, but so the same could be said for Lexi. I reminded myself that while Carley was the one angry with everyone, Lexi could have been the one to listen to her. Maybe Carley was just worried she’d lose Lexi to a different group of friends. Maybe she was jealous of the close friendship Lex and Logan share. Maybe Carley is really the insecure girl in this situation. There are a million different things that went through my head. Things are rarely black and white. People aren’t always who they seem to be on the outside. So from a parental standpoint, how do I explain to my 8-year-old daughter, the fine balance between being a good friend and being your own person? I honestly don’t know. These are the moments I wish kids came with an instruction manual. It’s been a few weeks and though we’ve actually addressed the situation, I still don’t have the perfect words.
So what did I tell my daughter? Well, I reminded her that yes, she can be friends with anyone she wants. That friendship isn’t a non-renewable resource. Friendship should be nurtured and shared. I reminded her of her commitment to make the world a better place and by sharing her friendship with others, she is doing that. I told Lex that Carley may just need reassured that she’s not going to abandon Carley for her other friends. We talked about how to include Carley with the other kids and how to get everyone to work together. And ultimately, I reminded Lexi that she is in charge of herself, actions and words. If she truly feels that Carley is overly demanding, jealous or controlling, then it’s not a healthy relationship and she needs to walk away.
After the “loooongg talk” (as Lexi called it) we hugged and I thanked her for sharing her problems with me. I told her that no matter what was happening at school or with her friends, I’m here for her. I wanted her to know that I’m not perfect and I won’t always have the answers, but I am here to listen whenever she needs me. In the end, as parents, that’s all we can do. She needs to grow into her own person and in the process she’s going to face so many challenges. I can’t protect her from everything, but I can certainly do my best to help her along the way.