“Jessica says she won’t be my friend anymore”

Sally and were sitting together wrapping presents for her preschool friends when she frowned slightly and then looked up at me a bit sadly.

“Jessica says she won’t be my friend anymore.”

Jessica has been Sally’s best friend at preschool for over a year now. Every day when I take Sally to preschool, Jessica comes running up to her in excitement. “Sally! Sally! Come see what I’m doing!” And then they run off together, laughing.

“Jessica says she won’t be my friend anymore.”

Already? This, already? 

I didn’t experience friend drama until I was twelve or thirteen. Then, there were two girls in a homeschool co-op that I really wanted to be friends with, but who wouldn’t give me the time of day. I tried so hard, but they were only interested in being friends with each other. I wondered what was wrong with me. This went on for an entire year. It hurt. I’d like to say that I learned from that encounter, but I’m not completely sure that I did, because I repeated the same pattern at one point in college. And it was then that I finally realized that you can’t make someone be your friend if they don’t want to be your friend.

I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the years since I graduated from college. I’ve realized that life is a journey, that it’s okay to say “I don’t know,” and that sometimes you have to set boundaries in painful relationships. I’ve gone to therapy and I’ve learned to be confident in who I am. That little girl pining over friends she couldn’t have is no more has finally departed.

And so, when I hear my daughter telling me that her best friend has told her she doesn’t want to be her friend anymore, something inside me aches for her. Now, my daughter is not me. I know that. And I can’t take away every hurt and pain she will face. I know that too. I also know that she is only just embarking on the long journey of learning how the world works and how to make a place for herself in it. But I also know that I don’t have to let Sally go through this sort of thing blind and without guidance. I can be there for her, I can encourage her, and I can help her build healthy relationship patterns.

Sally and I had some extra special time this evening, and we talked about friends. I told her about what happened when I was twelve or thirteen, and I told her that we can’t force people to be our friends if they don’t want to. I told her that we can look around for other friends, and that the best way to win a friend is to treat others as we would like to be treated. I also told her that she is special and smart and strong, and that someone not wanting to be her friend doesn’t change that. I told her that she can talk to me about this whenever she wants, and that I’m always here for her.

Sally seemed to feel better after our conversation. She told me that even though Jessica said she didn’t want to be her friend, Joel did want to be her friend, and she liked playing with him a lot. She also talked about finding “new friends” as well. Personally, I suspect that Jessica will change her mind tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, and that their little breakup and whatever caused it will be forgotten. But I hope that whatever happens, I have given Sally at least a few tools for dealing with friends and relationship drama, and that I can instill a sense of confidence and self-worth in her that will carry her a long way.

What similar experiences have you had? What advice would you offer as Sally embarks on the friend drama that seems to so characterize childhood today?

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