I mentioned recently that M is going through some social turbulence these days, but I just didn’t have the energy to figure out how to explain it in a way that protects her privacy but gives a little insight into my current mom issue. First of all, I have to take a moment to express my deep gratitude to the Universe that my life is this good. Both of my children are healthy and happy, they’re doing fine in school, they (mostly) behave themselves, and they have friends. It is only because our lives are going along so smoothly (knock on wood!) that I can pay any attention whatsoever to my 5th grader’s social life. And in fact I’m increasingly thinking that my best bet is to stop paying attention.
Among M’s friends, there’s been quite a bit of shifting and realigning over the past few months. M has inherited Cute W’s lack of social anxiety, so she doesn’t seem particularly concerned about any of this. But I get the sense that there could be both hurt feelings and anxiety among the girls, and the moms. It’s awkward for us mamas. We’re friendly, and we’re used to carpooling, coordinating plans, and signing up for camps together. Now all of that’s become tricky as the daughters and their relationships are evolving. Personally, I’m not worried about M being bullied (she’s tough), but I do fret about her being unkind or standing by while girls are getting their feelings hurt, either because of divided loyalties or because she’s oblivious (like–ahem!–her father can sometimes be). But knowing too much isn’t helpful, because I don’t have too much control over anything anyway. But I hear plenty of news from the moms who get more information than I do. It feels like a stark contrast from how things worked back in the old days when I was in elementary school. Back then my mom was concerned that I stopped asking friends over for a year or so, but she had no idea about the details. Which were, basically, that Jodi B. had declared me her best friend and asked me to say it back, and when I told her that I didn’t want to rank my friends, she shunned me and told all of the lemmings in our group of friends to shun me, too. If asked thirty years ago, I could have explained it in a 45-page document. So I had to depend on compassionate random acquaintances to allow me to sit on the fringes of their lunch tables for a year or so, but I settled in with another crowd eventually.
I’m beginning to think that 5th grade social dynamics feels a lot like going to that gymnastics meet where J didn’t even score a participation ribbon. It was excruciating to watch, but she got through it, and my fretting didn’t help. So I’ve told myself that I just need to stay out of it. I mean, seriously, what would have happened if my mom had taken on Jodi and her friends (and all of their mothers) to negotiate on my behalf? It probably just would have caused additional angst and humiliation on my part. Or, if anything my mom did helped us to remain friends, I’m sure she would have been sorry if she’d known that she’d helped keep me in the clique that was doing drugs and giving boys blowjobs within a couple of years. Which sounds crazy, because I can’t imagine any of these cutey-patooties going the way of the Jodi B. crowd. But just like my mom didn’t know my friends as well as I did, I don’t know M’s friends as well as she does.
Of course the intellectual idea that I should stay out of it all is easier said than done. I’m curious about anything that happens with M. I’m constantly hungry for information, and she feeds me so little! Plus, there are even studies that show that gossip can function for good in moderating behavior. If there are girls doing things like making up fake messaging accounts in others girls’ names, I want to know about it, if only to remind my daughter that that kind of behavior is not acceptable. But while chatting with the mamas about what’s happening lately, it’s hard not to slide into outright diplomacy efforts, justifying my daughter’s position in the latest brouhaha. Which is just ridiculous. I mean, I have heard myself saying things where I’m like, “Katie, get a hold of yourself and shut up already. ” So I’ve told M I’m going to try to resist the mom chatter unless I hear about something specific she’s done that needs to be addressed, and I’m not going to ask for details on her social life unless she’s got something she wants to share (she’s not big into sharing). The only stipulations were that I always want her to be kind no matter who her friends are, and if she notices that any girl is consistently sad or receiving abuse, I want her to let me know so that I can pass the information on to that girl’s parents.
We’ll see how it goes. Probably more than a year ago I made some random joking remark that was the sort of thing one of her friends might say, and she was fine, but as soon as it was out of my mouth, I thought, “That was a screw-up.” Because she doesn’t need another joking friend, and she doesn’t need someone who’s emotionally involved in her daily social life. She needs her mom to be an oasis from all of that. So I’m going to do my best to take a step back, and I checked out Queen Bees and Wannabees (Rosalind Wiseman) with the hope that a little solid advice will help me avoid future screw-ups. Or at least reduce their number.
You know, I’d been worried about middle school because I always think of it as fraught with social peril, but we seem to have moved into the social peril phase, anyway. So now I’m hoping that the prospect of some new friendships will be good for my daughter and all the girls.
Am I being insanely optimistic?
But I’m definitely grateful that I’m not turning 11. It seems exhausting.