I cannot remember specifically my mom telling me that I ‘had to be friends with everyone’ – but I can also never remember her telling me the opposite, that it was okay to omit people from my life. I feel I was always taught the former, and that we all had to be friends. Obviously, at school, this wouldn’t happen. I mean, it couldn’t! There were heaps of kids, with different opinions, backgrounds, hobbies and personalities, everyone being friends is a Utopia we will never get to find.
Obviously, I have told my kids (Melodie in particular) that we HAVE to be friends with everyone. I have always urged her to get other kids to join in their play, even when she didn’t want to. I remember when she was in reception, there was one person who asked to join their play, one of the kids she was with said ‘No, you can’t play with us’ and the other walked away, Sad, of course.’ When Melodie told me this I told her that the other kid was not the boss of the playground, and that she would be a really good person if she stood up and said that ‘Yes, you can play with us.’ It took courage for her to speak up against her friend, but when she did it she came back to me and said they had had a great time, all of them! She didn’t end up losing any friends for standing up and she has since gained many more friends by ‘seeing’ them. Now, yes, telling this story sounds like I am trying to make myself and Melodie sound like saints – and that is fine. Because although I may not be, she is actually a genuinely good person with way too much good in her heart.
Which is why I ended up changing my story. Now I tell her you don’t HAVE to be friends with everyone. And there’s a reason why.
Some years ago I was doing a thing where I had to work alongside people I didn’t choose. Like most situations. In this group of people, most were nice and good people, but there was one man whom I just simply couldn’t stand. He was just one of those obnoxious people. I remember speaking to my mom and said: “Now that I am an adult – do I still have to be friends with everyone?? Do I not get to choose my friends now?” She answered me “Yes, unfortunately we need to still treat people nicely and politely and friendly.” Now, my plan was never to actually be mean to him – or bully him or anything like that. I just figured I could steer clear as much as possible while still getting the job done. And so I did. He was never ignored or spoken badly to, I just didn’t ‘hang out’ with him.
Melodie had a kid in her class who was not very nice. She would try to hang out with this kid sometimes, but she always felt like she was not made to be ‘equal’ and she would often come home and tell stories about how this kid would be nasty to Melodies friends and classmates and that people would often be made sad by what has been said and done. I sat her down and said to her: ‘You know who your friends are. The ones who treat you kindly and that treats you fairly. The ones that you are never intimidated by. The ones who make you laugh, not cry – and encourages you and wants you to be happy. And vice versa. If there are people who do the opposite of this, they are not your friends. And you do not have to be friends with them.’
So, because I had been chanting the ‘let’s be friends with everyone!’ mantra for so long, it confused her, and I had to be specific. And the truth from adulthood came out: In life we will and we do meet people that we can’t stand. Some times we know why, other times we don’t. We meet people that are rude, obnoxious, inappropriate and annoying. We will also meet people who are downright mean. None of these do we have to be friends with.We have every right to say we do not want to be friends with. However we do not get to sink to their level and ‘be like them’. We don’t get to be nasty, rude and bullies. We still have to be polite, courteous and nice. We are allowed to tell them our opinion of them, but it needs to be done with lots of thought and carefully so we don’t intentionally hurt them. But most importantly, we can just choose to live our lives without them in it. We can choose the people that make us laugh and feel good inside. The people that are supportive and honest. The people who, despite differences manage to find common ground and plant some solid seeds. The ones who love you almost unconditionally.
There is a fine line though, I will still start off with the littlies telling them they have to be friends with everyone, for one the kids their age are usually not ‘meanies’ on purpose, and secondly, I need to start with the good. Then, when reality kicks in for them, too, I will tell them that they do have a choice.