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I recently had a conversation with my daughter about the meaning of friendship and how less is always more when it comes to her tribe.  She’s 11 and starts middle school in the fall. This means that inevitably she has begun to feel the sting of “friends” whose attitudes have changed and who are not always the nice little boys and girls they used to be.

I get it.

I still remember what it felt like to be in her shoes. It comes with the age and onset of puberty…and well, we’ve all watched “Heathers”, right?

I know she won’t understand this for a while since kids  have such a strong desire to obtain and keep as many friends as possible……but I told her that all that matters is that she have a few good friends she can trust and rely on.  To be kind and tolerant of everyone, but to choose her tribe wisely, and that the tribe will inevitably get smaller as she gets older.

I’m pretty sure my message went in one ear and out the other…but if it left behind a seed that she can grasp onto as she grows up, then I guess I’ve done my job. It’s just not the easiest thing to teach that empathy and self-preservation can work synergistically…especially since I’ve struggled striking my own balance with this.

Having this conversation with her made me think about my own life and the people in it….as well as those who no longer are.  I have battled co-dependence all of my life…the need to make everyone happy, all of the time, even if it meant that I set my own needs and happiness aside.  It’s what had me accepting friendships and relationships that were all take and no give, for years. Situations that left me deflated and exhausted.

I watched my amazing dad suffer because of this very same character defect ever since I was a child. His kindness and willingness to help anyone, anytime took its toll.  He had a smile round the clock no matter how poorly he felt, and gave of himself even to the most undeserving. It was who he was, and I admired him for it, but it pained me at the same time.

It was so hard to see that there were so many people willing to take advantage of his gentle, loving nature. The very last day that I saw him alive in the hospital, before he was medicated, intubated, and eventually gone….he was still trying to make things right for people.  Obviously in pain and unwell, but reassuring and worried about how he would get the laundry list my mom had for him done. My heart hurts even now when I think of it.

It took me longer than I wish it would’ve to realize that it wasn’t my job to make everyone happy. That I didn’t need to accede to everyone’s wishes.  That I shouldn’t put myself on the back burner in order to make others feel better.  When I had this epiphany, I slowly started weeding out the people in my life that were toxic, had a penchant for drama, or simply weren’t true friends. A few still make it through the cracks now and then, but we’re all a work in progress.

My definition of friendship changed, and along with that my tribe grew smaller.  I wanted to surround myself with people who brought to the table the same things I could bring….loyalty, integrity, empathy….a ride or die group  that I knew would always have my back..knowing that I could return that favor without blinking.

These were people who were like the siblings I never had, who never held judgement, and who, despite the miles, were always present should I need them. The kind of friendships that no matter how much time went by without seeing each other, once we reunited, it was as if no time had passed.

Family, but not by blood.

I had to work hard to allow myself to disappoint people that no longer needed to be in my life, including a few family members.  It wasn’t something that came easily. I was years deep in my need to make sure everyone was “ok”……but once I found the strength to do so, I felt like a weight had lifted. 

I learned that I could detach myself while still caring about their well being….but that the drama and problems that always seemed to plague them, were no longer mine to fix. They never really were.  I had to find peace with the fact that some people would never speak to me again, some would be offended, and some might lash out….but in the end, things didn’t turn out as poorly as I thought they would.

They usually never do.

I know my daughter has several years ahead of her where she will be navigating through the waters of friendship and relationships.  I want to save her from being hurt by people she’ll consider her friends….but I know I can’t.  I just hope she is able to listen to her intuition about people and make good judgement calls…to keep her village small but healthy. 

My son, on the other hand, doesn’t make me worry when it comes to stuff like this. He’s never really cared to impress the masses.  He has a few close friends and is completely satisfied with that….but maybe it’s a little different for boys? I don’t know….but whatever he’s doing, is good.  He’s nice to everyone, but close to only a few.  Smart kid. When it comes to future girlfriends though….that’s a whole different story. He’s got a soft and big heart….but I can’t bubble wrap that either. I just hope he’s as selective about them as he is about his buddies.

I want my kids to not have to learn the hard way, like I did. I want them to understand that they don’t have to please everyone. That they need to put themselves first, and ensure that they are doing what is necessary to be happy, healthy, and successful in whatever way they wish to be.

I want them to understand that the quality of their lives can be impacted by who they choose to surround themselves with and who they choose to avoid. I want them to heed the warning signs that so many people give off….but that we often ignore. I want them to understand that this goes beyond relatives, friends, and relationships but also extends to co-workers and supervisors. 

Ideally, I want them to always listen to their mama when she tells them that someone is not good for them…but we all know how good kids are at listening to their mamas.  So, I’ll just hold my breath and wish for the best.

As my grandmother used to say, “Un buen amigo es el que saca lo mejor en ti…”……(A good friend is someone who brings out the best in  you).    Such a sweet and simple truth….grandmas are always right.

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