One of my successful parenting "moments" came not just with my child, but with another mother. I'd venture to say that it was a fine moment for both of us because the situation was fraught with difficult emotions.
When my daughter Eleanor was in elementary school, she became good friends with "Sarah," another little girl in her class. It was a case of opposites attracting. My daughter was shy, extremely and openly sensitive, and sometimes she sent unclear messages about her wants, needs, or boundaries. Sarah, on the other hand, was outgoing, assertive, quick and confident to express herself, and tender as a new shoot on the inside but with a fairly tough bark on the outside.
As can be guessed, conflict arose. Eleanor wanted some space and told Sarah that she preferred to play with another friend or by herself in a couple of instances. Each time, Sarah felt hurt and rejected and lost her temper. A brouhaha developed at school with several occasions of tears and scenes. These two A-students even got called into the principal's office. People took sides. It seemed everyone at school knew about "Eleanor and Sarah's fight."
Enter the moms. Uh-oh, you're saying. And all too often, that is what happens. The mothers get involved and the sparks get fanned into a raging flame. But this time, it actually helped. We talked. Mom to mom and woman to woman. "Joanne" and I were the most casual of acquaintances, but when this happened, we had several hour-long phone calls about the incidents leading up to the argument, the hurt feelings on both sides, the different personalities involved, and how we could really help our daughters, not just skirt past this and be left with the girls avoiding each other in school and the moms avoiding each other in the grocery store.
It was a difficult and painful labor of love on both our parts. After all, the only thing more prickly than discussing one's own hurt feelings is discussing your child's hurt feelings with the mother of the "other" child. It is very easy to cross the line into defensive mama-bear accusations. But we never lost our tempers. We kept our children's best interests in the forefront. We laughed together and supported each other as moms. By so doing, Joanne and I realized that because our daughters were almost 180 degrees different, this relationship would always be tricky and would require care and diligence. But also because of their differences, they stood to learn some very important lessons from one another. What we hoped was that opposite ends of the spectrum could sometimes meet in the middle.
So we talked to our daughters. I told mine how I thought she could really learn some things from Sarah: how to speak her mind, how to say what it was she wanted, as well as what she needed, clearly but also tactfully. I told her that people generally will respect your boundaries if you know how to communicate them effectively and confidently. I told her that I thought this was an extremely important skill. I also told her that when someone has an explosive temper and it goes off, it usually has very little to do with you.
And, last but not least, I told her what I thought she could teach this little girl - about being a good listener, communicating gently and carefully, and thinking before reacting, all things my daughter generally does very well.
Joanne had a similar conversation with Sarah.
So, was the relationship immediately repaired so that they'll be best friends for life? No.
They tended to avoid each other for a while, and then took only careful, conscious steps with each other. Joanne and I agreed to request that they not be in the same class for fourth grade, which was honored. As a result, the girls were able to be very deliberate about being together.
Because there was no request from either of us this year, for fifth grade, they did end up in the same class. They play together quite a bit. Eleanor reports that she feels comfortable expressing herself to Sarah now, as well as to others.
She also tells me that Sarah is a better listener and seems to understand that when someone chooses to be with someone else, it is not necessarily a rejection.
They've learned a lot about themselves, communication, and getting along with others.
That's a pretty big start on some difficult lessons as they head off to middle school next year. The credit is theirs, but because we moms kept our heads and hearts, our daughters were able to strengthen their own.
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