By Anonymous, 45, Mom of 2
I moved into a community where 23 kids went to the same preschool. I sent my daughter there and carpooled with three other kids for two years. By the age of 3 and a half, my daughter was having sleepovers. She had 2 best friends and several others. They were a group before preschool ended. My daughter also played with the boys as well as the kids in the class with special needs. She was kind, sweet, beautiful, and sought-after.
We went out on Saturday nights with some of the parents, the phone rang non-stop and the invitations to dinners, sleepovers and birthday celebrations for both she and I alike were endless. The moms would call daily. I made a best friend too. She was the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends. We traveled together on occasion, walked together, celebrated birthdays and talked on the phone every single day — sometimes 2 or 3 times. When her house became unhappy– her daughter practically lived at our house, eating countless meals, sleepovers, and we even took her on vacation. My daughter was surrounded by friends. And so was I. These were the girls that were going to make speeches at her wedding. The “besties.”
Then came Middle School.
On the first half day of Middle School, I picked my daughter up because she had no plans. I literally followed my best friend’s car all the way into the neighborhood as I watched the bouncing heads of all the other girls in her car. I didn’t call, and never said a word. Instead, I took my daughter out for lunch and shopping for school clothes. I started to pay close attention. I asked on occasion the question you ask but you know by the time you are asking it your kid is in trouble, “Who did you sit with at the lunch table?” Still the same girls. Phew.
During 7th grade, my daughter was included in every birthday party and every Bat-Mitzvah. Sometimes she was seated at the “head table” of girlfriends but then that began to wane. I asked my best friend what was going on. She replied that she had a “hands-off” policy in Middle School and refused to give me any info. So I thought this was how everyone acts and I completely backed off and became just an observer … watching my daughter slowly move out to the peripheral edge of everything. The table, the photos, the plans. The other moms continued to be nice to me and chatty with my daughter, but she was no longer asked to get together for sleepovers. After a while, my daughter wasn’t included in anything. She stayed home a lot. My husband and I started taking her out, helping her find her comfort zone.
It took four years, but I learned a lot about my kid. She wasn’t comfortable in a big group. She wasn’t interested in changing herself to fit in with other people, and she would rather go out to dinner and sit and hang with a couple girls than go to a party … She no longer fit in. “Those girls” gently pushed her out of their group.
In the end ‘they’ weren’t her people … or mine. They didn’t have her back … or mine. In fact, I’m not sure I had a genuine friend in the bunch. They were all more interested in social climbing and less worried about who they left behind.
We both had to reinvent ourselves, and we have both become more guarded. I found that once I stopped worrying and talking about it — I was free. I believe in the end, kids have to navigate their own way socially as they evolve emotionally and physically and find their way. My daughter is now a young woman with incredible social graces. She knows right from wrong, and she has since regained the confidence that was ripped from her.
We, as parents, have to really pick and choose our battles. And these are not OURS. I believe that kids need to work everything out on their own. Mommy shouldn’t call someone elses Mommy in Middle School. The truth is, no matter which social group you are part of, everyone takes a turn getting left out. And very few, if any kids, have a friend that watches their back. Some kids have best friends that last forever, most don’t. I don’t have enough fingers and toes for the number of friends that I have who have a child with “issues.” Many have no friends, some have autism, special needs, IEP’s, behavior disorders, and Social Anxiety. I even have a friend who does not like to spend time with her own child. Some kids are just plain shy.
My advice: Let kids make their own mistakes and learn from them. How else will they develop?
What I’ve learned along the way, is that friends change as kids mature. Some kids will sit home. What matters, and what sticks, is what you teach your kids at 3: IF YOU ARE NOT NICE, BILLY WON’T WANT TO PLAY WITH YOU. IF YOU DONT SHARE, SUSIE WON’T WANT TO PLAY WITH YOU. IF YOU DO SOMETHING WRONG, YOU HAVE TO SAY YOU ARE SORRY. Sadly, too many parents seem to forget their own advice by the time their child is five.
I admire my daughter’s strength and courage. It was not easy for her, but she holds her head high and is not distracted by the nastiness of some of her girlhood friendships. Some of “those girls” have had their own troubles: One who was left out all through elementary school now has Anorexia Nervosa. Another one suffers from depression. Two of the girls have since experienced their parents’ divorce. A couple of the girls are still social climbers completely encouraged by their own mother. (There can be serious problems down the road for Moms who get overly-involved in their kids’ friendships).
My son is a totally different story. He has had a core group of friends for 4 years, and I love it. I barely know half the moms, and it’s GREAT! Even that group is starting to change in eighth grade, and it’s okay. The difference is this group of parents is NOT emotionally involved. We see our sons as social and capable of doing it without OUR HELP. They make their own plans. They take initiative. I’ve seen them make sure everyone is included. And you know what — they have one another’s backs. I believe it’s because the parents are not “navigating” — they are letting the kids make social decisions, all on their own.< back