She feels she has no friends, and that no one wants to work or play with her at school. One would be tempted to dismiss this as typical 4th grade angst, but my wife spends a lot of time at her school and has seen it happen. The girl doesn’t get picked as a partner in the classroom, so she ends up stuck with her slowest and/or most annoying kids. She doesn’t get picked for teams in gym. She sits by herself during recess. She is very isolated.
And the reason for this is pretty straightforward. She’s very bright, she’s a control freak, and she isn’t shy about dominating every interaction she has with other kids. She wants to do things HER way, and if she doesn’t get her way, she throws a fit or gets sulky. She also has no tact. None whatsoever. Over the course of the school year, all of these chickens have come home to roost, so to speak. The other children are tired of dealing with it, and this leaves her feeling very much alone.
Please don’t think that she’s some kind of hermit, with no human contact. She got invited to a slumber party this evening. She gets along with her fellow Girl Scouts pretty well, and she seems to have a good relationship with the other kids in her swim class. Nevertheless, she spends a tremendous amount of time in school, and that time she is alone and unhappy.
And this sort of thing breaks a parent’s heart. There’s nothing quite as wrenching as seeing your child in pain, and being helpless to fix it. And as much as we try to gently explain that this is the product of months of her own behavior, and that it won’t get better until she can moderate the way she treats other kids, such advice largely falls on deaf ear, or worse, sounds like we are blaming her for her own misfortune.
I think I am particularly stung by her situation, because I grew up feeling much the same way. I was bothered by bullies, and picked on, and didn’t have any really close friends until about sixth grade. In the lexicon of Myers-Briggs personality typing, I am a strong INTJ, which makes me part of the “Rational” population. Typical for my personality type, I made very few close friends in grade school, but I remain close to them to this day.
In fact, I had dinner with one of my closest friends on Monday. He was coming home from the Oregon coast, and he and his two sons spent the night with us. The two of us were inseparable growing up, all the way through high school, right up until we went to different colleges. We stayed in touch through my graduate career, while he was roaming in Europe, and after I got back to Oregon.
I stood for him at his wedding, on a hillside at a piece of his family’s property that had been more of a home for the two of us than our own houses. His firstborn sprayed our carpet with baby poo during a diaper change at our house. The two of us have stood, holding our infant children, and shaken our heads wonderingly at where we have found ourselves. I’ve watched the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deepen, and his hairline recede.
And now his wife wants a divorce.
They are currently living separately, and their two sons, almost the same ages as my own children, spend time with each parent, although his wife has primary custody. My good friend has spent the last decade making his children and his marriage the top priority in his life. I know few people who have worked harder, and complained less, under similar circumstances. And now his wife wants to move on without him.
I’m watching his heart break. And there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it except buy him a beer and be his friend. Just as with my daughter, I’m left feeling utterly helpless.
So, I will try and assure my daughter that she will make her friends, in time. That she will find people, special people, who will be true to her for the rest of her life. But I don’t see how I can explain that even such a wonderful friendship as that can’t guarantee that she won’t get hurt from time to time.