Girl Drama, and the central struggle of parenthood

Girl Drama, and the central struggle of parenthood

“The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.”   – Simplicity Parenting

I peeked out the front window to check on them. I could see the girl–our 10-year-old neighbor–snap the stick in two, and the curly-haired girl–the one who just started coming around–run off, circle back, run off again. I could see my own daughter take a step back, look around, and scurry over to the porch to check on her sister.

It looked pretty typical, from the window.

But the story (I never dreamed there was a story) came spilling out at bedtime, as stories usually do. In the dark, my daughter whispered how her friend (ever the dramatist) had told the curly-haired girl to go away. They weren’t friends anymore. (Never mind they’d been playing in the front yard for an hour already.) “Friendship: broken!” she’d yelled, and snapped the stick, the one I’d seen. The curly-haired girl ran off and my daughter went sideways, unsure of what to do next.

I’d witnessed a girl fight and I didn’t even know it.

This childhood drama is nothing new. My kids have learned too many life lessons since the neighbors moved in three years ago.

We’ve talked about how people earn your trust, and how they lose it. We’ve talked about when to speak up and when to walk away. We’ve talked about filters for their words: are they true, kind, necessary?

These are lessons my kids need to learn, but it breaks my heart to watch them learn them.

I’ve fought off (most of) my mama bear instincts to storm out the front door and wag my finger at this girl. It would make me feel a lot better, sure. But I don’t think it would help.

I know that children need to learn to handle their own dramas. But I worry (I’ll admit it) about how soon, and to what extent? I want them to learn how to work through conflict, but I don’t want to hang them out to dry.

“Mom, I wish she was a better friend,” my daughter says, once she’s snugly tucked under her covers.

“I know it, babe,” I say.

“She reminds me of Josie Pye.”

I smile in the dark. “Or Nellie Olson.”

“Yeah.”

“Friendship is hard, Mom.”

“I know it is. It’s hard for grown-ups, too.”

I don’t know how to handle the girl drama.

I do know that my daughter needs my faith, not my anxiety.

She needs my love, not my fear.

She needs my help, but not too much.

Somedays I can navigate the tension; somedays, it feels like too much to ask.

For parents and non-parents: do you feel this tension, and how do you deal with it? Also, any and all tips for dealing with Girl Drama would be much appreciated.

Girl drama and the central struggle of parenthood

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41 comments

  1. Sarah Mudd says:

    When I was about eight I was friends with a girl in the neighborhood. At vacation Bible school she made fun of this other girl in our class who had special needs, maybe downs syndrome, and wore the same dress everyday to church. I remember being very angry about that and telling her that wasn’t nice and going home from church really upset. When I told my mom she gave me the best advice and it was incredibly liberating. She said you don’t have to be friends with the mean girl. I needed to hear that as a kid I still need to hear that as an adult.

  2. As someone who suffered from a LOT of girl drama when I was a child (I was a terribly easy target and had no self-defense skills), I think you did the right thing. My mom rushed to my aid (understandably) far too often and it took me a *long* time to learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. Side note: I *love* that your daughter referenced Josie Pie. I definitely want my future daughters’ imaginations to be fueled by tales from Avonlea. 🙂

  3. I have no words of wisdom to offer, just totally feel the tension of needing to support our babies and needing to let them grow in independence.

    “How soon and to what extent?” seems to apply to lots of things in parenting…

  4. Kimberly says:

    I remember my mom just asking me “Do you really want to be friends with someone who treats other people like that?”-no judgment, no stern looks implying that I shouldn’t be friends with that person, just wanted me to think about the fact that the company you keep can reflect badly on you.

  5. Jaimie says:

    I’m not a mama so I don’t really have any advice to give. But I remember “girl drama” from when I was a little girl, myself. I was blessed to have friends who were mostly very good friends. But one of them tended to act differently when we were around her friends from school–she and I knew each other from church, and I was homeschooled (read: “weird,” in the minds of many of my acquaintances). Thankfully, my friend grew out of the habit of treating me a little differently around her other friends, and she and I are close to this day.

    I think experiencing drama like that is part of growing up and learning that not everyone is as nice as they might seem. And learning that everyone has to mature eventually. My sister and her best friend have been through some rocky times but they’re still really good friends, now that they’re thirteen and fourteen.

    If there’s a girl who’s really treating your daughter poorly, remind your daughter that she doesn’t have to put up with it. And if someone else is treating one of her friends poorly, your daughter can stick up for her friend. I did that a few times when I was little (and was not popular in first grade as a result… oh well!).

    I’m sure you do this already, but encourage your girl to be praying for her friends, for those people who aren’t always nice to her, and for herself, that she might be a kind and loving friend to others.

    Also, she ROCKS for referencing Anne of Green Gables!! 🙂

  6. Allison says:

    Hi Anne –
    I’m going through this myself with my twin 11yo girls. And truthfully, I do not know how to handle it – I too at 11 had difficulties with being bullied, etc. I do want to jump in and fight the other kids myself but i know that my kids have to learn conflict resolution on their own. I listen to my girls and try to be non-judgemental and ask them questions to get them to think (hopefully).

  7. Janet Worthy says:

    My daughters are 32, 30, and 23 and I still have the urge to go “beat up the bully on the playground”! There were a few teenage boys I wanted to severely hurt because they broke my daughter’s heart, and even now as my 23 year old is teaching High School English, I want to sneak over to that town and wring some necks for causing her grief! Bottom line, that “mama bear protective instinct” never stops:)

    • Anne says:

      What do you mean it never stops?? (Although come to think of it, I might have guessed this judging from my own mom’s behavior when it comes to her kids… 🙂 )

  8. julie b. says:

    Girl drama is the worst! I have 6 dauaghters ages 29 down to 13. We have our own supply of girl drama, but that’s much easier to handle than when other people’s daughters are involved. Here’s what works for us. I try to listen to the whole spill, (cuz girlies need that!), and start asking questions. What was your response? Do you see a pattern of this behavior? What is your responsibility? When they go into how the other gal (s) behaved badly or correctly, I say “you jist got a free lesson!! Don’t waste it!!” Sometimes the best advice is “back away slowly and quietly. Like moving away from a snake. Lol

    • Amanda R. says:

      Julie B., you rock! I love that you ask so many questions. When I was 8, I was bullied by my “best friend” in 3rd grade, and the bullying eventually became physical. I tried to go to the teachers for help, but was basically told that it was my own fault for being friends with her. Something along the lines of it being what I deserved. Totally betrayed by adults, I chose not to tell my mom, though of course now I know she would have been totally loving. She also would have stepped in. I learned years later, when all this came to the surface, that the bully was in a potentially abusive home and my mom felt helpless to help her. My heart still breaks for that little girl who lashed out at the only girl at school who was kind to her, and to the other child (me) who was betrayed for doing the right things (being kind, telling adults, etc.)

      Now that I’ve stolen your thunder, Julie, I just want to say that you sound like the kind of adult I needed in my life then. My mom would have been right there had she known what was going on, but I was ashamed to tell her. I wish I had known someone like you then!

      Thanks for the awesome work you are clearly doing with your girls.

      Amanda

  9. Karlyne says:

    I think you’re, perhaps unknowingly, already doing what needs to be done! Your daughter has come across “nasties” in books and recognises them for what they are. Too often we’re floored by those kinds of people- because we’ve never met them before- and so they are incomprehensible to us. But once we identify them from characters in books, we can also remember how our heroines dealt with them! And who better than Anne to teach us?!?

  10. Bronwyn Lea says:

    I’m one of three daughters, and attended girls-only schools most of my life. I feel like we spent about 12 years in a heightened state of girl drama…. ugh!

    I think your compassion to your daughter was about as loving and wise a response as one could hope for. There are some tough relationships we have to work hard to fix. There are some tough relationships where we need some distance (in time or physical space) to create healthy boundaries. And then there are some tough relationships we can’t fix or leave, but we just have to learn to “bear with them”. You are a wise mama to acknowledge that relationships are hard, and to know that each of those tough conversations may require a different response.

    Romans 12:14: As far as it depends on you, if it is possible, live at peace with everyone.
    .
    Sometimes it isn’t possible, and sometimes it doesn’t depend on us. And peace doesn’t always mean being “besties”.

    I love julie b’s questions! I’m going to put those in my mama-bag-of-tools immediately 🙂

  11. My mom had such a hard time with this, as I, especially through high school, had a knack for finding insecure girls who seemed strong on the outside to befriend. I always say that there is a little of my dad in me, who can find the most dysfunctional person in the room and want to befriend them, and a little of my mom, who can spot the wrong crowd a mile off. There is a war within me.
    As I’ve gotten older, I have learned about how to recognize people that will suck the life out of me, and treat me poorly (not just human stuff, but all the time, over and above). I didn’t listen to my mother about these girls (and boys I dated) most of the time. I was a stubborn kid, and I needed to learn it for myself. And I did, but I always knew that my mom was praying for me, and even though she knew I didn’t want to hear it, she still spoke her mind.
    I will always be thankful for that.

  12. Esther L. says:

    I was surprised by how much girl drama exists even in 1st grade. My daughter was in 1st grade last year and it was definitely a weekly basis where someone wouldn’t be friends with someone else for whatever reason. I can’t tell you how many times I was told that if she could bring in a quarter (or candy etc.) that some little girl would play with her. It was a great opportunity for us to talk about how true friends don’t want anything from you other than friendship–trust and courtesy. It ended up being a great year, but I’m exhausted to think what 2nd grade friendships will entail. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      My kids’ preschool classes were pretty drama-free, but my friends complained about the cliques in the other classes. For four-year-olds! (And it was always a problem with the girls, never with the boys. Sigh.)

  13. MK says:

    Ha…I *just* hit publish on a post about lying to my daughter about a Disney show because of girl drama. Great minds, eh?

    I was so surprised when I worked as a paraeducator and saw this kind of behavior in the kindergarten classrooms: there was one girl who was basically God and every other girl bent over backward to please her. All the time. All day long. It was madness!

    Also, I loved Simplicity Parenting–might have to sift through that one again some time.

  14. Tim says:

    “Friendship is hard, Mom.” – Wise daughter you have there, Anne.

    Now that our kids are in their 20s, I can confirm what you read above. The protective urges do not go away. But I’ve learned to live with heartbreak at times in order to allow my kids to grow and not be stifled by my attempts to protect them from things no one can truly be protected from. Our children need support, not smothering. It’s hard to see that in the moment though.

  15. Meg Evans says:

    This post is timely for me. My oldest daughter is 13,and there seems to be drama about everything. I remember being a teenager and feeling like everything was the end-all, be-all, so I get it. But there are things that I see my daughter going through that I don’t get–I think the phones and ipods, etc, make drama and backstabbing too tempting and easy. I worry about her, and I find myself walking a very fine line between listening/being supportive and offering guidance/lecturing. I am trying to take the long view and not worry so much about who this week’s BFFs are.

    • Karlyne says:

      Meg, I agree that it’s an odd world we live in. The technology that our kids live with makes life very complicated, and they just don’t have the luxury of time to figure these things out on their own. Life moves too fast for them, and so today’s drama might be tomorrow’s long ago past! In that way, stepping back is a good idea. But, what I worry about is the superficiality in these relationships, the way that the here-today-gone-tomorrow relief could be turned into shallow relationships across the board. I don’t know the answer (I wish!), but I think that the very fact you’re both worried and walking that fine line shows you’re on the right track!

  16. Bree says:

    I loved this so much. I feel all of these ways. I think it’s so, so important to share our faith over our anxiety. I always say, “Love like Jesus” and that doesn’t mean get walked all over all the time, but sometimes it does. “Others’ first.” It’s things like this that rip apart that “momma bear” instinct as what I teach them, I’m teaching myself. This confirmed so much. Thank you 😉 🙂

    Bree

  17. What a wonderful post!!! For the last seven years I have thought I would homeschool our kiddos, but lately I am reconsidering. Thankfully our daughter is only two! But gosh that breaks my heart to hear this. :/ No advice, but a prayer headed your way.

  18. Shan says:

    Wow, what a thought provoking post. That is one of the central fears of Moms–you are right–others hurting our kids–even with words.

    I have seen God handle many tough situations concerning my kids and others–some seemed that they would be trivial at the time but I told my kids that God cares–especially about the little things. They have seen Him do amazing things.

    We just have to remember to ask.

    blessings,
    Shan
    http://www.The-How-to-Guru.com

  19. E says:

    From a grown girl’s perspective – always be on your daughter’s side. She needs someone reliable that she can tell. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you tried to persuade her not to be friends with that person that hurt it, it only matters to her that she got hurt. If you take someone else’s side then it only serves to make the wound deeper and much much harder to heal. It isn’t easy being friends with other girls, but I wouldn’t trade my girlfriends for anything in the world.

    • Karlyne says:

      You’re right, E! Taking someone else’s side looks like betrayal. We can point out to her where she might have gone wrong, but we never ever want to make her think we’re “siding” with someone else. A lot of humor, a lot of love and a bit of.. tact!

  20. Stephanie says:

    I love that you and your daughter were able to compare that “mean girl” to fictional characters from favorite books. 😉

    You are clearly a wonderful mother.

  21. Deanna says:

    Been there myself. Seen it as a teacher and girls that I have mentored. I read a book a few years back called “Odd Girl Out: Inside the Hidden Culture of Aggression Among Girls” and remember feeling like the whole time I was reading research to put language on my experiences. I believe they also have a website called the Ophelia Project. Practical for parents and educators and anyone else who works closely where these issues arise. One of the points it made that always stuck with me was that when boys fight at school, they are disciplined, parents get involved, etc. But when girls use relational aggression against one another, most teachers just tell them they need to work it out, discounting the real pain that these kinds of negative reactions have.

  22. Andrea says:

    I think you have to find balance between letting them discover for themselves in the moment, asking questions and offering counsel. I would be at such a loss if others had not helped me shape words to a wise response to so many different situations. I would find myself writing down what they said, because I knew I was going to be in that situation again and I was so struck by the simple wisdom of their words. As I’ve mentored women over the years, I have seen this response in others…. what a joy to return to favor!

  23. CJ says:

    But, what do you do when the “mean girl” is in your daughter’s class and has been for years, and will be there for 2 more years because they’re in a small school?
    It’s fine (and right) to say, “you don’t have to be the mean girl’s friend” but how can she deal with her day in and day out every day for years and years, and she’s only in middle school??

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness, my heart goes out to you and your daughter. I have no idea what the right answer is, but if you’ve never stopped by Annie Downs’s blog, I would recommend paying her a visit. She’s done a lot of writing about dealing with the mean girl (and says she’s writing from the perspective of being a former mean girl herself, so she knows what she’s talking about). Find her here: http://www.annieblogs.com/

      I really liked her book Speak Love, which addresses mean girls. I wrote a little more about it here: http://modernmrsdarcy.com/2013/10/youre-mentoring-the-next-generation-whether-you-know-it-or-not-and-giveaway/

    • Karlyne says:

      This may sound odd, but what about if you, the adult with power, “watch” the mean girl every chance you get? The old evil eye, in fact! I think that bullies, not just kids by the way, but all bullies, pick on those whom they perceive as powerless and friendless. And, while you’re watching her, maybe you’ll get a chance to be “nice” to her, to do her a good turn and to even get her on your and your daughter’s sides. Two more years of this is an eternity to a child, so I wish you both much luck!

      (I have a close friend who was a bully as a middle-schooler and her stories are horrific. But, thank God, how she has changed! She has used it to become a super caring person. So, yes, bullies can change!)

  24. H.M. says:

    I started dealing with it when my daughter started kindergarten she will be starting 2nd grade this year! She absolutely hates drama and will do whatever she can to keep herself out of it! Including not wanting to attend birthday parties, trying to stay home from school or daycare. I feel bad because I don’t want her to miss out on the joys of growing up but at the same time I totally understand why she doesn’t want to attend! Glad I came across your blog it helps to read how others struggle and deal with the same situations!

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