I was in eighth grade (otherwise known as “hell”) when my BFF announced to me that she no longer wanted to be my friend. At all. Just like that.
To say I was devastated would be a ridiculous understatement. We had spent years inseparable, sharing giggly sleepovers and silly crushes, each other’s homes as familiar as our own. We shared a Tacoma News Tribune paper route and bought our new Schwinn Varsity ten-speed bikes together–mine painted a vibrant orange that I named Nigel (after Elton John’s drummer) and hers a brilliant sky blue that she named Bernie (after Elton John’s songwriting partner.)
Her decision to extract me from her life was handed down with little explanation, but rather passively stated with no opportunity for rebuttal. Oh sure, I asked the “whys” and “hows” and pleaded with her for answers but never got any. It was a mean, horrible, baffling experience that left me reeling and heading into the summer before ninth grade in the throes of hormones and loneliness. I spent that summer writing obsessively in my journals, crying, losing myself in music, hanging out with my older sister (who enjoyed reminding me that I now had no friends) and concocting creative plans of vengence against my former BFF. Fueled by pain and grief, I dug deep and found myself. By the end of the summer (which had been blissfully extended by a teacher’s strike that year) the ugly duckling (that would be me) had blossomed into someone I was fabulously proud of, inside and out. But the thick scars of my former friend’s ugly behavior stayed with me for years.
I don’t think about my former friend much anymore, but when I became a mom I found myself revisiting those memories again. As a mom, I wondered what my friend’s parents had thought about the whole ordeal. Were they aware of what their daughter had said to me? Did they not wonder what happened to me? More importantly–wasn’t I missed? Her parents welcomed me into their home for years like a second daughter and overnight I lost not only my BFF, but also two trusted adults in my life. Did they even notice?
Once my kids were old enough to understand, I made sure they knew that if word ever got back to me that they were misbehaving, treating others unkindly, teasing or involved in any myriad of social offenses I would not immediately assume their innocence. In our family, unconditional love does not mean that you can do no wrong. Unconditional love includes that you are expected to be held accountable for your behavior and actions. There are always two sides to any story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. If you hurt someone’s feelings, you apologize. If you do something wrong, you make amends. I have never understood parents who tirelessly and blindly defend their children who obviously treat others badly. Yes, friendships will naturally ebb and flow throughout the years and some friends will drift apart. But this transition can be done with kindness and compassion, rather than with drama and tears. Despite the media images we are inundated with, even teenage girls can be shown how to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence with care towards others. But it begins with the parents who have their eyes wide open, ready and willing to see their children just as they are, not who they really hope they will be.
So, teach your children well. Model and talk about healthy, honest interactions in your own home. Know that the truth always exists in the middle of two sides.
“You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” As for me, I especially like the “kind” part. Be kind. We can all benefit from that reminder sometimes.