Team Me: Do You Make the Cut?
On a mother-daughter trip to San Diego to celebrate completing third grade, Zoe grew quiet and serious.
“Mom, I need to tell you something? You know Jan?” For the slightest of moments I took my eyes off the road. Jan, one of her best friends and my surrogate daughter had been in our lives steadily for the past four years, since her mother and I connected at their Kindergarten open house.
“Yes?” I answered concerned, wondering where this was going.
Zoe laser focused on me, “I’m not going to be friends with her anymore.”
In my mind I immediately expected this to be a momentary break — after all, they were eight-year-old girls.
“She says things to me that are supposed to be nice, but they’re really not,” her seriousness caught me off guard. I wasn’t ready to lose Jan. Sure, they weren’t ideal together — Jan could be tough and Zoe was sensitive, but still, I jumped into damage control.
“Yeah, but you love Jan,” I insisted, hoping this was some passing pre-adolescent annoyance.
Zoe wavered, staring out the window but then she turned back to me resolute, “Nope. I’m done. She doesn’t make me feel good about myself.”
That conversation marked the end of a four-year friendship, and true to her word, when fourth grade began, Jan was no longer a part of Zoe’s inner circle.
Nine years later, my daughter is as certain of her boundaries in friendship as she had been that day. It took me a lot longer to develop that kind of clarity about what I wanted and needed in my friendships.
Here is what I decided:
- People had to be squarely on my side;
- They had to be Team Stephanie, no exceptions; and
- I excluded people pleasers, fair-weather friends and frenemies from my “squad.”
Today my roster of girlfriends is deep and committed. But this didn’t come naturally to me.
When I met my first father-in-law, I was thrilled, expecting to finally have the bond I never had with my own male parent. Instead, he hated me on sight. He had a vision of whom his son would marry and I was not even in the ballpark. Over family dinners he’d ask inappropriate questions, hoping to eliminate me from his son’s life; what salary did I make as a writer? How come my parents were not married? Did I realize that I had nothing in common with his son?
It took years for me to understand that he shined a light on the places where I did not feel worthy or lovable, but he did not create them. He only scratched away the scab of old wounds that were already there. I could not hate this man. He had raised an amazing son and daughter into competent, happy human beings. The intimacy between the four members of his family sparked my envy even as it created a force field that kept me out.
By the time my marriage imploded I had decided that I didn’t care if my father in-law liked or loved me. The truth was, I didn’t particularly care for him based on how he treated me. That marked the end of me allowing anyone to treat me callously, without respect and dignity.
Suddenly, I refused to let anyone highjack my self-esteem and make me feel bad about myself for sport. Those people no longer had a place in my life. My relationship with my father in-law helped me understand my unresolved issues with my own father that had led me into a family that didn’t know my worth. That only came after I realized that I had become my own kryptonite. The reasons I attracted people who thought badly about me was because not too deep down, I thought badly about myself. And I needed to stop — to let go of the limiting beliefs that I wasn’t lovable. Once I did, my whole life began to shift to a better place.
I remarried and of course, it made sense that my new in-laws were incredibly warm, loving and inclusive. My new father in-law took me aside to tell me that he believed I was the best thing that had ever happened to his son and I know he means it.
Now my father in-law, mother in-law and sister-and brother in-law are all my family. I’m the same person today but the way I feel about myself is mirrored in the healthy, loving relationships I have. I am Team Stephanie, first and foremost, and my support team is lined up beside me.
Everybody on Team Stephanie must be committed to being their best selves and that includes growing, which means growing pains, but we do it together. We have each other’s backs. Like my daughter Zoe, I only choose people who make me feel good about myself. And if you have a team, you’d want me — Team Stephanie is a ride or die option.