Dear Carolyn: My daughter just started middle school and discovered on the bus ride that her best friend of five years (“Mary”) was ignoring her and sitting with another girl from the neighborhood (“Suzie”). Apparently they became close friends over the summer and are now excluding my daughter.
Most of my daughter’s friends from elementary school went to another school, so she just knows the kids from the neighborhood, many of whom are not friendly to her.
I’m afraid this is going to be a rough year for her. Is it wrong for me to take it up with the parents? I feel angry. Angry at the parents and even the kids. I’m especially angry at Suzie’s mom for setting up play dates without my daughter. It feels calculated and cold. Mary’s mom is one of my best friends and is now mad at me for asking her to talk to her daughter about being inclusive.
— Middle School Mom
Middle School Mom: As a new mom, I got this advice: You can’t make a baby eat, sleep or poop.
This wasn’t exactly news, but it was clarifying. Great for setting expectations. And it prepared me for the next stage of child development, which arrived a millisecond after the kids could be social: You can’t make a child like someone else.
I feel for you, hard, in that gut-punchy, alone-in-the-cafeteria kind of way. It’s awful.
But it’s not something you can fix. Not with back-channel planning, not with anger, not by shaming the other moms. If Suzie wanted only Mary over, then what was her mom supposed to say? “No, you have to invite _____ too?” That is overstepping into Suzie’s emotional business. Suzie all along has been a complete, fully realized person who can decide for herself who she likes — and middle school, as it happens, is roughly when that agency has its full (often raw) expression. Suzie and Mary are the ones “setting up outings” at this point; the moms are just logistics.
On top of that, would you want to be the kid who the parents said had to be invited? I sure wouldn’t. Yikes. Your daughter deserves to be wanted and deserves her own people, whom this abrupt transition will now force her to find. There’s struggle in that, of course, but also dignity — which you imperil by pursuing any kind of remedy on your daughter’s behalf.
I hope this is what your good friend tried to tell you.
Last thing: One middle-schooler in your family is more than enough. While I recognize how painful it is for you, personally, to witness your daughter’s exclusion, it is not your job to live it as if it’s happening to you. She gets tossed around by choppy waters. You remain calm and steady (and roil all you want on the inside).
You can have both sympathy and perspective: Friendships end sometimes. We have to start over sometimes, sometimes for no reason besides change. She needs to learn to navigate this.
Keep Mary and Suzie in perspective, too. I doubt you’ll write your daughter off as “calculated and cold” when she moves on from someone herself someday, even if she mishandles it — which she undoubtedly will, because this stuff is hard, and we learn it by trial and error and regret. And sometimes those regretful errors include ignoring someone on the school bus.
You love her always, though, and can promise her she won’t have to go through painful things alone as long as you’re around. That’s the right cause for you to take up.
Dear Carolyn: I need to end things with my boyfriend — mostly because I don’t want to deal with lies and broken promises anymore — though the reason shouldn’t matter. I am just having a hard time finding the courage to actually do it and commit. A voice inside me says this might be my last chance for a relationship, and something is better than nothing. How do I make that voice shut the heck up?
Anonymous: Stock in dying alone just shot way up.
You have an entire world inside your skin. Your thoughts, your experiences, your desires, your interests, your plans, your dreams, your eagerness to connect. There is abundance.
There is no need to be with someone who does not appreciate you or is not good to you, not even if he offers the last relationship on earth. You can be good to you, and then work from there, always.
I am sorry your people or experiences or choices have left you with such a dim view of what you have within you. But that view isn’t fixed. You can change it. Within you, too, is the power to reassess — in therapy, maybe? — the gifts you have, and start trusting them (again).
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