As our kids grow, we begin to see conflicts arise in their lives that can be really hard to witness — even harder to stand back and let them handle difficult situations with their peers themselves. These past few years, my kids have been struggling with friendships. One day they are friends with someone, the next day the friendship is in turmoil. Sometimes the friendship is repaired and damaged a few times over; other times it fizzles out completely.
I have seen my kids cry, get hurt, and struggle. Watching them clash with other kids is trying, but I have stayed out of it. To be clear, I’m not talking about threats, bullying, or anything that has affected their life or school work so much that it has left me with no choice but to interfere — I’m talking about the dramas of ordinary friendships. They are simply doing what humans do: finding their tribe. And sometimes it looks messy and breaks my heart.
Their circle of friends will change dozens of times over the years, and I have decided to let them handle it on their own, while giving them the best tools I can to deal with these tumultuous times.
I don’t pick up the phone and call the school. I don’t call another parent to tell them their child has been mean or excluded my son or daughter from something. I’m sure my kids are not totally innocent when it comes to name-calling, teasing, or just deciding they don’t like someone without a reason. All three of my kids have fallen victim to these things, but I know there are always two sides to the story. I wouldn’t want to accuse other people’s children of wrongdoing when I’m only hearing one side — a side that may be making my child look more innocent than they really are.
Most of this drama is happening while my kids are at school, and since I am not there, I have absolutely no idea what is really going on. My daughter, in particular, has a group of friends who struggle to get along. She has sobbed about it quite a bit. Some days it’s a team of two girls against the other three, there are times when they are all after one of the girls, and of course sometimes everything is beautiful and flowery with all of them with not a cloud of drama for miles.
While I don’t get involved in the drama, I do remind my daughter that she can ignore negative behavior; she doesn’t have to tolerate it or fuel the fire. I tell her she can have a strong voice and rise above all the pettiness. I also remind her of the golden rule — to treat others the way you want to be treated.
I am aware the advice I dole out will not always be taken. Most of us learn best by experience, and our children are no exception. For the rest of their lives, my children are going to have to deal with relationships, difficult people, meanness, and jealousy; this is just the beginning. They are going to have to learn to determine for themselves what feels right.
If I step in and manage their relationships for them, they’re not going to learn to do it themselves. I need to step aside, to let my kids have autonomy over the situation. They need to be the ones to say the words that need to be said. They need to independently develop the confidence necessary to walk away from someone who doesn’t know how to treat them, or to tell someone how they want to be treated. They need to learn on their own what it feels like to have an unbreakable friendship. I can’t create it for them.
At times it has felt impossible for me not to meddle in my kids’ friendships, but I know it will be for the best for them in the long run. Every child goes through friendship drama — it’s a normal and necessary part of growing up.