At the end of 7th grade, my daughter’s group of friends tossed her aside like a no-longer-wanted stuffed animal. For the past five years, these are the girls she’d eaten lunch with virtually every day, hung out with on countless weekends and poured her heart and soul into crystallizing precious bonds that she never envisioned breaking.
For those of you who’ve lived through this tough age with your own daughter, you’re probably shaking your head with empathy. For those who haven’t, you may be wondering “Why? What happened?”
I wish I could answer these questions. I can’t because nothing significant happened and none of it makes any sense. That’s the first lesson I’ve taken away from this very painful experience. My daughter and I likely won’t ever understand how a flock of teenage girls decides who gets pushed out of the nest.
But in order to move on, I need to focus on what I can take away from the experience. Here are 10 additional lessons I’ve learned, which I hope benefit you too:
- Keep or find your own identity. When this first happened, I was a mess, in part because of what my daughter was dealing with and in part because it was impacting some of my close friendships with the moms of the other girls. It’s a work in progress to separate my own emotions from those of my daughter. I’ve also been building a new foundation of people I can turn to for support.
- It’s difficult to remain friends with the parents of the girls who’ve pushed my daughter out. I know people who’ve been able to keep the relationship separate, and I commend them for it. For me, it doesn’t feel authentic, especially because the other moms don’t believe their daughters have done anything wrong.
- But they have. It always takes two (or in this case six) to tango. That’s not to say my daughter is 100% innocent. But, 13-year-old girls are like sheep. Sheep herd together because it helps lower their odds of being attacked by predators. Similarly, many teenage girls follow the larger crowd so as not to become the target themselves.
- I can’t fix this for her. From the time my kids were born, I’ve been their problem solver. When they were hungry, I fed them. When they fell off their bike, I bandaged them up. This, I cannot fix. I can only be here to listen and provide support.
- Listen to understand; not to respond. Stephen R. Covey shared this advice in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”. While Mr. Covey’s books are widely read by people seeking success in business, this is sound advice for anyone in any situation. For me, I’m learning to be a better listener and that sometimes it’s best not to respond.
- Keep the faith that things will get better. I’m still working on this one. I know this is a mere moment in time that feels like an eternity. I don’t know if my daughter’s friendships will ever mend (and if they don’t there’s probably a good reason for it). But, making new friends and finding your new “people” takes time.
- Watch her closely. I’m not concerned my daughter will hurt herself, but I understand why some kids who feel so alone do. Everyone wants to be accepted, and being rejected — particularly by friends you’ve trusted — is devastating.
- Love her, be there for her and prioritize her. I’ve been planning special one-on-one outings for the two of us. I know that eventually this will pass and she’ll have less time to hang out with me as she develops new friendships.
- I’m grateful my daughter is not Queen Bee or her follower. Author and educator Rosalind Wiseman offers great advice on what to do if your daughter is the one being mean.
- Embrace your child’s differences. My daughter has always marched to the beat of her own drum. She doesn’t follow the crowd or conform just because that’s the norm. Maybe this is part of the reason why she’s been ousted from the group. It’s a great asset that will serve her well later on in life.
- As parents, it’s our job to guide our children to be responsible adults. Let’s not forget that part of being responsible is the way in which we treat one another. Most of us, myself included, are guilty of unfairly judging someone or not giving her a chance. It’s easy to forget that our kids pay attention to our own actions and learn from them. I realize these are tough years for teens, especially girls. I wonder what kind of positive influence we could have on our children if we did a better job of positively leading by example.
I’m up for the challenge. Who’s with me?