It’s 5:15 p.m., right about sunset here in Southern
California, and I’m racing to get dinner on the table so the kids can meet up
with their friends. The pasta’s boiling on the stovetop and the vegetables are
roasting in the oven. I figure I’ll pop open my laptop and fire off one last
I discover this in my inbox:
Sorry to be a "downer," but I think we all need
to talk to our daughters … about the
meaning of friendship and what it means to be a good friend and what it means
to be a "mean" friend.
The e-mail, from my friend, Robin, is addressed to me and my
neighbor, Vanessa (I’ve changed names to protect privacy). I gulp. Robin,
Vanessa and I have been batting this problem around since our girls started
3rd grade in August, and it looks like, despite all our discussions and
interventions, the issue has taken a turn for the worse.
And this, unfortunately, is the issue: my daughter, S., and
Vanessa’s daughter, M., are not being nice to Robin’s little girl.
They whisper secrets in front of her. They look at her and
giggle. They leave no room for her at the lunch table. When she tries to join
their play, they tell her they need their “special time,” just the two of them,
on their own (this from two girls who walk to school together every morning and
play together nearly every afternoon).
Before you can have a clique, you apparently have to be sophisticated enough to form one.
It would be one kind of problem if S. and M. didn’t like
Robin’s daughter, I. But she’s one of S.’s closest friends. S. and I. went to
preschool together. They have three-hour play dates every Tuesday
afternoon. Until this fall, they were
inseparable at school as well. The routine was, S. played with I. at school and
M. at home.
Then 3rd grade started and something shifted. These days,
the girls are truly flummoxed. They want to have more than one friend, but
aren’t sure how to do it. So they pick—first I’m with you, then I’m with you.
S. tells me she even tried to set up a schedule for her friends (M. on Monday,
I. on Tuesday, the new girl, T., on Wednesday, etc.), to make it as fair as
possible, but the project suffered from lack of buy-in.
So she stuck with M. and now I. is in tears.
I remember cliques of my childhood and adolescence as
popping up whole out of nowhere, like Athena bursting fully formed from Zeus’s head. But what I see with S. and her friends is that even cliques—those awful girl-monsters with one body and
way too many heads—even they are a sign of maturation. Before you can have a
clique, you apparently have to be sophisticated enough to form one.
Vanessa and I end up telling our girls that if they cannot
include other girls in their play at school, we will forbid them to play with
each other at home. S. cries and screams at me, insists I “don’t
understand.” But the next day, she and
M. end up playing with I., and B., and T., and “it was the best recess EVER.”
I know I may yet hear from Robin again on this subject. But
for right now, we’ve cracked the smallest window open in our daughters’ heads,
and a bit of light is coming in.