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When friendship comes in the way of the pursuit of excellence

When friendship comes in the way of the pursuit of excellence
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First Published: Fri, Mar 18 2011. 08 36 PM IST

Hard lesson: A friend who dumps you because you win isn’t a friend.
Hard lesson: A friend who dumps you because you win isn’t a friend.
Updated: Fri, Mar 18 2011. 08 36 PM IST
My 13-year-old daughter is a happy, confident child. She has been playing tennis since she was 5. She has always loved it and we have never pushed her. Today she is among the top three in her age group in our city. She trains every day with a batch of about 12 children, who are friends and competitors—healthily so. However, one child has stopped talking to my daughter after she won a state-level competition and qualified for the nationals. My daughter has tried to re-establish their old camaraderie but the other child does not respond—even her mother behaves coldly. Now my daughter has begun to be afraid of encountering this child, who goes out of her way to snub her. She is tense and stressed at the thought of going for tennis lessons. I cannot see my daughter allowing someone to break her down like this, because in recent competitions it has seemed as if she is giving up even before she walks on to the court. How do we handle this situation?
Hard lesson: A friend who dumps you because you win isn’t a friend.
There are lessons and choices embedded in this episode for an achiever/exceller like your child. Ideally, the onus is on the jealous child’s parents to help her accept and admire excellence in someone else. But we don’t live in an ideal world.
Right now, forced to face an unpleasant choice between excelling and losing a friend, your child has veered towards the emotional decision of letting the tennis go and holding on to the friend. Excelling and winning at her age is abstract, a hurt and angry friend is concrete.
First, you should acknowledge and admire her emotions, of valuing her friendship in this situation. However, you (or a counsellor; perhaps her coach could play that role?) need to guide her to understand that it is not her excelling, but her friend’s reaction to it, that is the problem here.
While some parents would ruthlessly advise a child to dump and ignore the jealous friend and forge ahead, obviously you are not one of them. However, you do need to help her see, with regret, that the limits/limitations of this friendship have shown themselves. Just like a friend who “unfriends” you when you lose or do badly in something is not a friend, a friend who chooses to dump you just because you win and do well is not a friend. Both kinds of friends are not good friends.
It’s important that you help her change the locus, the epicentre, of this episode from herself to the other child. Meaning, she and her tennis have not caused this breakdown, rather the other child’s inability to take joy in a friend’s achievement has. Once she does this, your daughter won’t be in such an apologetic, helpless and disown-my-tennis-it’s causing-too-many-ripples kind of mode.
It’s a hard lesson at this age, to identify a once-loved friend as not an adequate friend any more, but I think it’s important for many future interactions, and not just in her tennis world.
There are young girls who stop trying to excel at studies suddenly, around adolescence, because they are less popular with the boys in their class than the girls who are “dumb” or play dumb. There are studies about this. And only good counsel will teach them that they need to widen their circle of friends and boys and look for people in their “class”—emotionally as well as mentally better-equipped people—as their friends. However, the peer pressure is so great and an adolescent so wants the immediate peers/friends to like her, that she prefers to dumb down rather than lose friends. Perhaps you can give this as an example to your daughter. Sometimes it’s important to understand that you have outgrown some friends, and that you need to find others. As they say, it is lonely at the top, but perhaps we can help our children not be isolated when they excel.
My ex-husband plans to remarry. My 15-year-old daughter is upset about this because there was a brief history of domestic abuse between him and me when she was very little, after which I exited the marriage. Now my daughter feels that she or I should tell his future wife about this. I have moved on and I believe that he too has possibly taken help and sorted out his issues. We married young, divorced in three years, so all this was many years ago. We are now in our 40s. I don’t think it is my or my daughter’s call to get involved and warn my ex-husband’s future wife or inform her in any way. However, my daughter is quite insistent. She strongly thinks it is the ethical thing to do. What should I do?
Yes, this may seem like an ethical issue to a 15-year-old who has known your domestic violence situation from up close. She is coming from that place where she feels that your lives have changed because of her father’s behaviour towards you, and she feels she is in a position to judge and forewarn, understandably so. Her father’s impending marriage must have brought to the fore many old questions, anger, and resentment about him. However, there is another issue at play here, which you need to communicate with her, and that is one of boundaries and privacy. You could tell her that while her concern for the other lady is understandable, it is not your daughter’s or your mandate to approach her with this information.
Since your daughter feels so strongly about this, maybe you could tell her that she can ask her father (not in a one-on-one sitting, but perhaps on the phone or with you in the room) about this aspect of his life. She can ask him whether he has resolved his issues and also communicated something about his past to his wife-to-be. However, help your daughter have this conversation in a calm and non-challenging way. Also help her understand that at some level, he is not obliged to share with her or you his dynamics with his fiancee. You could tell him that the answer to this question, if he indeed has resolved his violence issues, will help your daughter further process and deal with her childhood years.
Do also help your daughter see that the other lady is a full-grown adult, and may not appreciate interference. However, do let your daughter know that you understand her concern, and don’t see it merely as interference. This may help her to calm down and lend some sense of perspective. Currently, the past and the future are both troubling your daughter and she needs the sensitivity of all the adults involved.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Mar 18 2011. 08 36 PM IST