Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Games Girls Play | 'Friend Problems' in Childhood and Adulthood

It's interesting what people bond over. Often it's what seems to be positive feelings like righting a wrong. A common cause. A common interest or belief. A good book. Football. Sometimes it's just liking the way someone makes you feel; validated, valued, appreciated, even loved and admired.

Often bonds are built on negative platforms. On the negative feelings one has gotten from another. 'We can agree that this person or action is wrong or annoying' and go from there. On the fueling desire to get back at someone or how someone else has treated you or acted in a situation of which you both (or all) don't agree. A common 'enemy' is a very strong bonding agent.

 My 10 year old daughter is in the throes of drama and the games girls play. Some of the games are innocent. Some are just to see what they can do or how much power they have. Some are much more insidious.

My daughter has a wonderful group of friends that have pure hearts and generally do not participate willingly in these games. We are so grateful for them. It wasn't always like this.

A few years ago, she was being played a bit by a girl in her class. It wasn't overall damaging behavior, just disappointing. She would be in class one day and she'd be loved and accepted and included (which is very important to her). The next day the same friend would decide that she didn't want to include my daughter in recess or other social time and activities. We didn't label the girl or even blame her, exactly. She was just flexing her social muscles. We chose not to intervene but to coach her on how to look at this behavior.

Now, in 5th grade, when the games are much more complex and the girls' motives are much more difficult to see, my daughter has a clearer vision. She knows that if you are brought into a group by one 'friend' that hasn't really showed much interest in you (or even disdain) in the past to be careful. Keep your eyes and intuition keen.

Our short and sweet advice has been to stick with the friends that never make you feel bad on purpose. The ones that don't require you to agree with them to be their friend. The friends that are still there after an argument and that don't throw you away so easily or make you earn or keep their friendship through deeds or agreements. The ones that don't give you a 'pot of bubbling liquid' (as my daughter puts it) in your stomach. (Our more specific advice below.)

As an adult, I remember those girls very well. I remember not really being in a clique and being okay with that. I'd think, "I'm friends with everyone." And was comfortable having only a couple of close friends.

Even now, I have been made to feel that these games are still alive and well at times.

Years ago, before my children were even in school and I was in the middle of babydom (and feeling a little isolated), a woman literally 'cozyed up' to me on our first meeting. She was super interested in me and seemed smart and even kind. I had a new friend! It was nice. She emailed me a few times. 'Friended' me on Facebook. A week or so later, she invited me to dinner with some friends. I realized quickly that she invited me to try to add me to her semi-organized group that, I felt, was not working in an open fashion. I politely declined. From that point forward, the friendship stopped. I wasn't playing along or something. I was no longer of use or maybe she just didn't like me. She was cordial but not very friendly after that. At times even condescending. I was okay with that really. It was refreshing to see true colors.

Sometimes, I think of how much easier it is for some to just be a part of a particular social group and feel that acceptance of being part of that group. Having everyone in a similar mindset, similar likes and dislikes, family situation, tax bracket. Easier to know you'll agree on most ephemeral subjects makes for less conflict and who doesn't want that?

However, that just doesn't feel like the right answer for me. It isn't the right answer for my daughter either. She and I both have friends from different parts of our lives. People that we truly find real and have a sense of peace for being ourselves in their company. From whom we don't need to constantly seek acceptance.

I want to learn from the people around me. I want to see the world from different points of view. I want to trust those that I choose to give my time and tell my story. I don't want to always agree with my peers and I want the space and acceptance not to but to still have the conversation.

The advice that I've given my daughter, over and over again now is not new. It's borrowed from years of reading and the wisdom of others:
  1. "How someone treats you says more about them than it does you. Recognize what it's saying. That goes the same for how you treat people."
  2. "If you feel nervous about acceptance from a friend, reevaluate if that is who you want as a friend or what you want IN a friend."
  3. "Life is too short and energy too important to waste it on the wrong people. You don't have to be friends with everyone but you should be kind to everyone." 
  4. "If someone is not interested in the person you happen to be, but only for what you can do for them, move on. That is not a friend." 
When my daughter gets caught up in some of the games girls play and is confused about what to do and who to trust, we go over the points above. My 10 year old is even giving her little sister advice as, at age 7, she now navigating some of these issues. 

This school year, at one point, she got so caught up in the drama and games that I saw her behavior change and her attitude change but the confusion was still there. We went with a different approach. I asked her to think about and write down the top five qualities that she valued in a friend. She wrote them on a small piece of paper, folded it and put it in her pocket. That piece of paper is with her almost every day at school.

That list is there to remind her what's important for both her actions and those of her friends. She needed to take a minute and look at why. This has really seemed to help her when she starts to get sucked in. (And it CAN suck you in!)

One of my daughter's go-to words of advice, as she reports:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
 ― Maya Angelou

This one sticks for her and helps guide her.

I am not saying that my daughter handles every situation well. She doesn't. She has a naturally judgmental personality type that makes her decisive and unafraid of action, which can be great for a leader. It also makes her less open-minded and reluctant to compromise as a first reaction. However, her ability to recognize and evaluate situations has grown tremendously in the last year or two and that is a great step to navigating the tricky world of being a preteen and soon, a teen girl. (Wow!)

Learning to be kind to everyone but that you don't have to be 'friends' with everyone. That you should choose your friends, not let them choose you. These are powerful lessons. Most importantly, they are empowering

We'll continue, both she and I, to hold true friends in the highest regard and let go of the others. We will do our best not to get caught up in the games. Recognizing them is a great step.

Much Love,

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,

    I really like your blog post. I'm an introverted mom of 2 boys,16 and 12. Things are a little different, but not much. Unfortunately, I have to constantly remind my guys that everyone is not a true friend.

    I also tell them that it's okay to have associates, but you can't refer to everyone as "my friend".

    The great thing is that the group of kids they both call friends have been around for a long time and they all have a strong parent(s) presence.

    It's hard, but I tell my guys that I'm still learning too. I let them know that I don't do everything right, but we learn from our mistakes.

    Just a reminder, you're not alone.