I sat there, heartbroken. My first fight with my fifth grade best friend. I can’t exactly remember what it was about. Her choosing another partner for a project? Me sitting by someone else during a student assembly? All I remember is coming home from school, head held low, heart heavy, feeling conflicted and unsure. My fifth grade self experiencing the growing pains of friendship.
I remember sitting on the couch after school, feeling listless. My mom was busy in the kitchen making dinner. I remember her haphazardly wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, her hands still damp, when she asked me, “What’s wrong?”
My eyes welled and a building army of tears threatened to charge forward, as one single drop went rogue and rolled down my left cheek. Between dramatically sucked in breaths of air, I told her about my fifth grade heart broken day.
My mom, half-heartedly listened. Then she smiled and said, “Oh Cindya” (she called me ‘Cindya’), “This is just a little fight with your little friend. Friends come and go. It is not something to be so upset about.”
I realize now she was right. A trivial tiff between elementary kids. Definitely nothing to be devastated over. Yes. There is a litany of worldly issues more worthy of our time. However, in that moment, to that fifth grade version of me, there was no “seeing the bigger picture.” Her comments only added to my insecurities and rejection on that day. I vowed to remember that. I vowed to remember that while my emotions may be a childish reaction to an inconsequential event, they were my emotions nonetheless, not to be dismissed. I vowed to remember how I felt in that moment and to remember its importance when I was a parent myself.
So that is what I remember. I sure don’t remember the fight. And ultimately, my mom was right. My fifth grade best friend is now a Facebook friend whose adorable pictures of her sons I like when I see them. I wish her a happy birthday once a year when FB reminds me. So yes. It was not something to be upset about. And yes, some childhood friends come and go. And yes, there are innumerable experiences and issues that have since come to light that have much more significance than that day’s events. But, as I dive into parenthood, I remember the voice of my fifth grade self.
The issues of your children may seem trivial to you. You, as an adult who has gone through so many more life experiences. You, as an adult that realizes how incredibly lucky your children are to grow up with what they have. You, who are aware of so much more that is going on in the world that needs our efforts and attention. You may think that it is important to have those discussions of everything that we are fortunate to have and about the more worldly issues to provide your child a more global awareness outside of her trivial fifth grade world. You may even think, it would be the perfect opportunity to discuss how confrontation and adversity is a part of life and this may be a moment to build on your fifth grader’s strength and character. Well, my fifth grade self is telling you, this is not the time for that discussion. At this very moment, what your child needs is your attention. Your empathy. Your validation that these emotions they are feeling are real. That reactions and processing new experiences, good or bad, is worthwhile.
In not minimizing their emotions, you are in turn not minimizing them. You are supporting them and reinforcing their confidence in how they navigate this moment’s challenge and conflict. Let them know it matters, because to them, it truly does. It matters as part of their growth regardless of whether this issue is fleeting or ultimately forgotten.
Help your child build the confidence to acknowledge these experiences that will help them mature and start to solidify their own sense of self so they can join you in tackling the bigger issues. And every other day, please do talk to them about the things that we are facing as a nation and beyond. Teach them that they are part of a global picture. But right now, go ahead and let them feel. Let them be a fifth grader.