Welcome, Mamma Crew! Today is Kiddos Tuesdays when I discuss issues related to the kids.
Okay, so for those of you who have pre-teens or teens, isn’t it amazing the way their friendships change? I mean my kids went from having great friends, and the biggest fights that we were looking at were: sharing — of course, do I want to share this toy?; what to play — it’s not fair that someone always gets to choose what to play. I want to choose what to play, too! Easy peasy, right?
And then my girls hit nine and a half, ten. And things began to change. And they changed in horribly, unexpected ways. They went from having friends to having frenemies. What do I mean by that? The friendship just completely changed. Now they’re more uncertain, more stressful, more serious, and definitely more dramatic.
Now I would love — love — to tell you, it’s just the kids being dramatic. But it’s the moms, too! Oh my goodness! I just don’t get it! Why do grown women become involved in the fight of kids?! I remember when the girls were in the first grade. They had gone to school with the same set of kids — you know, pre-school, kindergarten, first grade — and it was a group of about eight girls. And I remember saying to the principal at the time, “This is great, you know, they’re going to be friends forever!” He looked at me, rolled his eyes — I man I can’t begging to tell you how much I hated this guy — and said, “You can just forget it. The mothers are gonna pull each other apart when the kids hit third-, fourth grade.”
And I thought, “No way! We all know each other. We all enjoy each other. This is impossible!” Of course, we moved and we’re no longer close to that set of family, I mean, we moved quite a bit far away — several states in between and an ocean. But unfortunately, the principal was right. So when we moved, the kids developed a new set of friends and everything started well. And then all of a sudden — you got it! — the kids turned about nine and a half, ten, and the drama started! This was heavy, dirty, drama!
The first one to really experience it was Emmy. Now, to begin with, Emmy’s a bit of a drama queen and I know this about my child. I don’t make any bones about it — this is the reality! So the first encounter was with two girls. They were a year older than Emmy, that was in the homeschool co-op. Now mind you, at the time, Emmy was doing tenth-grade work in the language arts and these girls could not keep up with her. They just couldn’t do it, even though they were two years older — couldn’t spell, couldn’t write a basic sentence — I mean, some heavy-duty problems there — and they were so angry with her!
She was trying so hard to be part of that group, so hard, to make friends. But the older girls just can’t get over the fact that she was academically more advanced! Now at that point, we were faced with a natural disaster in Puerto Rico and we returned to the United States for several months, And when we returned to Puerto Rico, the girls were no longer around. But there was a new girl.
Now, this girl was two years older and the drama between her and Emmy was spectacular — spectacular! I mean it was like a cat and a dog in a sack! And initially, I made the same mistake that the other mothers made, which was to say, “Oh my gosh! This is happening because this girl is two years older than Emmy and she’s the one creating the drama and this isn’t Emmy’s fault.”
But I quickly learned that it wasn’t just Emmy and this girl. All the girls in the co-op were doing the same thing — these incredible, heavy-duty dramas! When I look back, I honestly can’t tell you what it was they were fighting about because most of it was complete and utter non-sense.
The other thing that I quickly learned is that no after how heated their fights got on any particular day, the next day, they could be friends forever again. So when this girl got pulled out of the co-op because the mother said the girl couldn’t handle the drama between her and Emmy, Emmy was just absolutely evil, I was dumbfounded for two reasons: both girls could dish it — I’m not gonna lie to you; Emmy could dish it, and she could take it. And so could the other girl. I said this to mom. You know, today they’re fighting, tomorrow they’ll be best friends. And at least this was one of the moms that took a more even-keel approach, in that, at least when she was speaking to me, she was decent. Some of the other mothers were not.
But she was like, “No, no. This situation would be absolutely intolerable for my child!” And to this day, she doesn’t like Emmy, the mom. Emmy and her child communicate constantly. They’re friends on social media; her daughter has invited Emmy to her place in her school because she went back to traditional school; they have invited each other to meet up at — there’s this plaza in the complex that we live in, in Puerto Rico (not complex — it’s really a community). And they get together, they’ve been to each other’s parties — it’s just bonkers! Absolute bonkers!
I had another incident with Emmy. This was with a boy who actually hit one of Emmy’s friends. Emmy was not involved in the fracas. And mom came back and said, “Well, the problem’s Emmy!” I’m, like, “Now wait a minute! Emmy didn’t hit the kid! Emmy didn’t ask your child to hit the kid! Why is it Emmy’s fault?!” Her response? “Emmy’s academic superiority makes my child feel inferior!”
Now I have to be honest with you. Emmy’s a smart girl. But she’s not a gifted child. She’s just a type-A personality. She works hard, and that shows in her performance — her academic performance; her dance performance — all kinds of performances. This is who the child is. So the fact that my child has a type-A personality made this boy hit another child? How does that make any freaking sense?
But it isn’t just Emmy. Andy also gets into these fracases. Andy has a best friend. Now, this is a best friend relationship I couldn’t even begin to understand. Andy is completely loyal to this girl. Absolutely and positively loyal to this girl. And this girl has a tendency to run to Andy anytime that she has a problem. Anytime she’s distressed; anytime she’s facing a challenge, she runs to Andy. But when she talks about best friends, this girl doesn’t call Andy her best friend. She calls Emmy her best friend.
Emmy is very close to this girl, but this girl is not Emmy’s best friend. This girl has a little bit of a crush or fixation — I don’t know — on Emmy. So sometimes I become concerned about Andy because, I think, well, is this girl just using her? When I had this conversation with Andy, Andy became incredibly upset. She was crying and saying, “You can’t tell me who my best friend should be!” I wasn’t even attempting that. I was just really trying to make sure that my child was okay.
And then she said something amazing. She said, “It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t know I’m her best friend. Because I am her best friend. In her time in need, she always comes to me. And when I need her, she’s always there for me.” And that really made me understand and realize that we look at these relationships as adults, looking from the outside in. And we don’t always understand the complexities of these relationships.
To some degree, we have to trust our children that they’re making good choices. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t worry. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give advice and we shouldn’t listen. But it does mean that we probably should not be interfering.
And that brings me to Dora. When Dora left Mexico for the United States, she sort of lost her best friend. The situation in Mexico was completely different. Girls can grow up a lot faster. But that tends to be true in general. Meaning that when you home school, you’re able to keep your child younger longer, because they’re not exposed to certain things that they would be exposed to in school.
Now some parents would tell you that there’s something wrong with that — I don’t have a problem with it, obviously. Nor do many other parents, so that’s definitely a parental choice. The bottom line here was that even when Dora returned and had the opportunity to spend time with this girl, they had grown miles apart. It wasn’t just that they were on opposite sides of the country, in different countries, with an ocean apart. It was that socially, they had grown worlds apart.
Now Dora kept on insisting on resuscitating that friendship. And the girl would not respond. She would not reciprocate. And of course, it was extremely painful to see my child go through this. I wanted to call the other mother and say, “Hey, what is going on, they’ve been childhood friends? They need to reconnect!” But again, what I realized is, you can’t force a friendship! This is something that they need to work out on their own (they, meaning the kids). This is part of growing up.
So what have I learned from this past year of dramas? I’ve learned that that principal I hated so much was right. There is way, way too much parental interference in children’s relationships. No, I’m not saying that there aren’t any situations when we shouldn’t intervene. Physical harm, bullying — parents have a responsibility to interfere (intervene, in those cases). No question about it.
But the fact that the children are being melodramatic; arguing; fighting (not physically, of course), is acceptable behavior among pre-teens and teenagers. They are redefining their boundaries. They’re learning what their personal boundaries are. And they’re learning how to maneuver difficult situations and make their own choices. If we constantly intervene, how are they going to learn those skills?
So instead of becoming involved, what I’ve learned to do is I’ve learned to listen. Listen and empathize. And I do give advice, (sometimes unsolicited — I can’t help myself). But the other lesson I have learned is I don’t impose an action unless I feel my child is in physical danger. Or my child is getting bullied. I allow my children to work it out. With my support, of course. With my guidance, of course. But I don’t intervene.
Third and most important: if I want my children to grow up to have functional, happy relationships, I have to permit them to go through these growing pains. The need to learn from themselves how to get along for each other. I can’t do it for them.
And fourth: stay out of it, stay out of it, stay out of it! I cannot emphasize that enough because I keep seeing over and over again mothers who jump in and try to solve the problem for their child. Again: our children are going to make mistakes and that is okay. We learn from mistakes. It is the best way to learn. And while our children are young and while they are in our home, and they can accept our guidance and we can be there to support them, it’s a great time for them to make mistakes. Also, stay out of it because remember: you’re only hearing one side of the story.
Another thing that I often see moms do is there will be a problem between two children and they will immediately jump in and say, “Is this your child?” I was certainly guilty of that in the beginning, okay? But the reality is in most incidents, it’s not the other person’s child — it’s both children! They’re bickering; they’re trying to learn to individuate; they’re trying to understand their boundaries. They’re exploring. They’re testing things out. They’re poking at each other. And stay out of it because 99% of the time, no matter how bad the fight was today, They’re going to be best friends tomorrow.
I don’t know if your mom ever told you, but my mom always told me: never interfere between a married couple because you’re going to take somebody’s side, and they’re going to make up and you’re going to be the one who is going to be eating crow! The same thing applies to these kids. I don’t want to be in the position of becoming my child’s enemy because I’m imposing things on her. Or I’m deciding that she can’t be friends with somebody because they got in a fight yesterday when they’ve been able to work it out and tomorrow they’re getting along perfectly. And it does happen at this age and it does happen all of the time
So these growing pains aren’t just for the girls. They’re also for us as mothers. We have to start letting go and we have to start trusting. It’s difficult. Sometimes, I can only do it by the skin of my teeth. I want to interfere so badly! But in my heart of hearts, I know that I shouldn’t. And I know that I’m not doing my child any favors if I do. And 99% of the time, I’m able to stay out of it. 99% of the time, I’m able to see that my child contributed to the problem. 99% of the time, I feel like I’m going crazy.
But just like it’s part of their growing up journey, it’s part of my motherhood journey.