A boy at school has a crush on my daughter. This does not surprise me—she's cute, smart and funny (I'm totally biased). It's sixth grade. They're learning about their hormones and experiencing some pretty dramatic feelings.The boys and girls aren't free to be just friends anymore, it's more complicated than that as they sort out who's dating whom (which usually means they agree that they like one another and then spend their time not looking directly at one another, being awkward around one another, possibly holding hands or sitting close).
I asked her, Do you like him? Is he cute?
Her reply surprised me. I can't really tell if he's cute. All I see is that he's mean.
She's at the age where affection is shown as teasing and sharp words. When I was her age, this was totally a thing. I can recall a boy or two from my adolescence with whom I shared mutually-held awkwardness with for short periods of time. But things are different than they were when I was a kid (isn't that always the case?) and the difference now is that while I accepted the teasing as just the way things are, she's not about to. Because why would someone who likes you treat you like that?
A few years back, she had a friend, a boy, who didn't always make the best choices. He made her cry, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, and she would get into trouble while acting on some of his suggestions. We had a long talk about it, about how his actions were hurting her, about how it's not okay for that to happen. I reminded her she was strong, she was smart, and he was making her feel less than. He was making her believe she was less than.
I told her that this was not the way her life was meant to be spent, as though she was always trying to measure up in order to make someone—who clearly didn't appreciate her—happy.
I told her she was not allowed to be his friend if this was the way he was going to treat her.
I made her cry. She pleaded with me to help her find a way—this boy was very important to her, someone who "got" her, understood her in a way others just hadn't yet.
Yes, they were like 8 years old. This is not a situation I expected to be in with my 8 year old.
We discussed how to get through this, ways to salvage this friendship that was important to her, and whether or not it could be salvaged. I told her that she needed to tell him, straight up: I will not be your friend if you continue to make bad choices and treat me poorly.
He could either step up or step off. It was as simple as that. Because your friends aren't happy if you're not happy. Your friends want you to be happy, not sad.
I'm proud to say he stepped up. They're still friends today, and he turned his shit around. I like to think my daughter had a part in that, and it was a powerful lesson for her at that tender age: we teach other people how to treat us. We don't have to tolerate being made to feel bad or sad or small. People can change and if your friend is not being your friend, you should be able to share your feelings without fear of retribution or anger.
So now, all these years later, when a boy is mean to her, she won't tolerate it.
We're treading back over familiar territory. Only this time, she's taken what I said all those years ago to heart. Why would I like someone who's mean to me, Mom? Why would I be like 'yeah, I'll totally be your girlfriend even though you've been mean to me for like two years.' Who would do that?
I'm proud of her for standing up, for not being smitten by the idea of someone being smitten with her, for demanding better for herself. She may be silly, she may be shy but she sure as hell won't let herself be taken advantage of.
I worry for her. For her future, for her stubbornness, for her preference for taking the hard road instead of the easy one when it comes to life lessons. But it turns out, maybe I don't need to worry so much. She's forging her own path and she's teaching me a thing or two.