I knew it would happen, eventually, but things were moving along so harmoniously that when it did finally happen, I was caught off guard. Our Eldest Little had her first friend conflict on the play ground the other day. As we sat down to dinner her words and tears came spilling out. It's her story to tell, not mine, so I won't give you all the details (they were a bit hard to follow, anyway). But I can tell you that she felt she had been wronged. She was hurt. And angry. And felt excluded.
We tried to practice all of the active listening skills we learned in seminary, and even threw in some leadership skills coaching (oh my, our kids will need counselling some day).
We wanted her to feel heard.
But I also wanted to fix it--to make her sadness disappear and heal her friendships. I resisted the urge to whip out my magic wand (mostly because it seems I've misplaced it...maybe it's buried under my laundry pile). Instead I tried to ask good questions and offer bits of encouragement...okay, and even some advice.
I don't know if our nuggets of profound wisdom were heard over the boisterous singing of the two year old and the chiming-in from the four year old, who suddenly wanted to tell us about all of the friend dynamics at preschool. But we tried. We tried to walk in the tension of empowering while not controlling, and empathizing while not excusing.
When it was time to clear the dishes and load the dishwasher, the mood was lighter, but I felt sad for her sadness. And I made a mental note to brace myself for the jr. high years when, I suspect, these conflicts are likely to come fast and furious. (Lord, have mercy).
As I drove to the grocery store that night, I prayed for her.
God, let her friendships be filled with grace and forgiveness. Let them be marked by fresh starts instead of grudges. Give her wisdom to know when to compromise and when to stand firm.
The next day while she was at school, I wondered how things were going. When the bell rang at the end of the school day, I greeted her by kneeling down so I could look her in the eyes, and asked, "Well, kiddo, how did it go with your friends today?"
She shrugged, "Fine," she replied.
"Really? Did you guys play together at recess?"
"Yeah," she shrugged again and looked at me as if to say, "Why are you asking me these weird questions?" It was as if I asked her if one plus one still equals two. She had clearly moved on.
In that moment I realized that she embodies my prayer for her better than I often do. She had been able to feel all that she needed to feel, letting it pour out all over our roasted cauliflower and quinoa, and then she had started over.
Maybe, I thought, maybe I need to be more like her: to neither deny when I feel hurt in a relationship nor to get stuck there, but to forgive and move forward. Some days our kids really are our biggest teachers.