More than a few times, people with adult children have casually said to me, “You have no idea how grateful I am that my children are grown!”
When they hear the stories of suicides and shootings, they feel that all too familiar pang of parenthood, followed by overwhelming relief.
I have to say, I’m actually a little jealous of those moms and dads out there with kids about to graduate college. Every day, as my children get older, my husband and I are faced with new parenting challenges—some we knew were coming and some completely unexpected.
Over the past year or two, I was introduced to the concept of “frenemies.” Actually, they’ve always been around, but didn’t really have such a catchy name until recently. The exact definition—yes, I looked it up—is “an enemy disguised as a friend”—at least that is according to the Urban Dictionary.
The first time I heard my daughter use the word, my heart sank a little. Bullying comes in many forms, and even before I looked it up, I knew it was a sign she was entering tough territory. Having a friend who betrays you is painful. It’s one thing to have an identifiable bully on your hands, and quite another to have the enemy standing by your side claiming their loyalty. It can turn into a downward spiral of ruined reputations and isolation—both of which are red flags.
The other day, I ran into three fifth-grade girls I’d done anti-bullying workshops with last year. They approached me and asked if I would listen to a problem they were having and offer a possible solution. Soon after they began speaking, the word frenemy came to mind.
A rift was developing between the trio, and they couldn’t figure out why. I remember thinking how incredibly mature it was for them to be willing to have such an open discussion at the age of 10. And to ask for a mediator was pretty impressive as well.
They explained that trust was becoming an issue. Each detailing a few specific incidents where one thought the other was bad mouthing her to some mutual friends. For a moment, it got kind of heated, yet, they still sat together, trying to figure it all out. But I couldn’t help but feel that the real culprits were absent from the conversation.
It seemed to me these girls were surrounded by frenemies who seemed to be stirring up trouble where there was none. Sometimes they couldn’t even remember who the source of the rumor was. And whether or not it was true, once they were told that something mean was said about them, it was pretty easy to respond in kind and say something equally hurtful, giving the frenemy new and exciting ammunition.
After listening for quite some time, I told them just how impressed I was by their commitment to their friendships and reminded them that communication is so important—but clearly, they knew that. And listening to each other made it obvious to them that most of what they’d been told was not exactly what happened.
So finally I made one last suggestion.
“From now on,” I said, “work harder to give one another the benefit of the doubt, cut each other some slack, and give one another the opportunity to apologize when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings. Nobody’s perfect.”
At that point, one of these incredible young girls chimed in with, “It’s true, I do get cranky and say things I don’t mean.”
They each agreed to try not listen to rumors and to stand up for each other. I was happy for them, but also concerned. Peer pressure is powerful. And once that seed of doubt is planted, even if it’s unfounded, quite often the damage has been done.
Before they left, they made one last promise. They’d do their best to be part of the solution, not spread rumors of any kind, try to avoid the label of frenemy, and just remain friends.