It started late yesterday afternoon: in the course of routine everyday roughhousing with Tim, Holly started to cry.
Finding me downstairs, she tearfully described a minor scrape or bump she’d incurred during the tussle; I soothed her with comforting words, hugs and eventually a cup of hot chocolate.
But then there were more meltdowns before bed; when I turned down her request that I read one more chapter of her book aloud (because I’d already been reading aloud to her for a half-hour and couldn’t stay awake over the book anymore), she began to cry again, insisting that I never do anything for her. The usual maternal litany went through my mind: other than prepare three meals a day, make sure you get to school on time, set up all your social engagements and activities, take care of your medical needs, keep the house heated, etc., etc., nothing to help you. Nothing at all.
Instead, I said the most radical thing I allow myself in this situation: “Well, try to imagine what it would be like without me and then maybe you won’t feel like I never do anything for you.”
She cried some more, which puzzled me; my not wanting to read another chapter isn’t the kind of thing that would normally be such a big deal. And then, having settled down enough to put pajamas on and brush teeth, she climbed into bed, pulled up the covers, and confided in me, her hazel eyes swimming in tears: there had been a disagreement during the course of the school day about who was best friends with whom.
I should have known. When Holly breaks down like this, it’s always a best-friend issue, or that’s been the case for the past six months or so, anyway. Who is whose best friend occupies a tremendous amount of her mental energy, and even though the problems have persisted intermittently since well before the end of the last school year, I’m still at a loss for how to handle it. In my own mind, I’m utterly exasperated: from my perspective, it’s clear enough who embodies the better qualities of friendship and who doesn’t, and it seems so easy to me to make choices based on that.
But of course, I’m not an eight-year-old girl. On the other hand, I’m not always that far from being one. I was having friendship issues of my own a few weeks ago. I didn’t dissolve into tears over them; I put my forty years of experience behind my attitude that things would work themselves out, and they did. But forty years is a long time to be able to practice.
It’s tough, and it’s not likely to get much easier for Holly any time soon. She’s not being bullied or ostracized; nor is she bullying or ostracizing, to the best of my knowledge. She’s just struggling to understand the nuances of interpersonal dynamics and human relationships. To which I say to her, join the club.
I wish I could help her more, and maybe with time – or a lot of parenting workshops, which fortunately seem to be in abundance – I’ll learn some strategies to pass on to her. But I’m not likely to pursue any patented approaches too aggressively. In my experience, you learn with experience. She’s just at the beginning of that journey, and I’ll do all I can to help her along. But no matter how you look at it, for most of us it’s a long road.