Maya, my middle school daughter, has one. “Trixie” was chummy when Maya had gum at lunch and when she was creating the invite list to her Laser Zone fourteenth birthday party. The next week when Maya was having a hard day Trixie said, “I don’t think girls with thunder thighs should wear shorts,” and looked directly at Maya, clad in shorts. Later she stared past Maya for several seconds during a conversation about what had happened in math class scouting the room for other friends. When she spotted them, she abruptly left, saying, “Hang on.”
Ahna, my third-grade daughter, has one too. “Nivia” played Harry Potter at recess one day and then the next day played with another group and referred to the nerds who imagined they were wizards. She referred to Ahna as her bestie when Ahna had a starring role in the school assembly and then didn’t speak to her for two days.
I’ve heard my share of Trixie and Nivia stories. Mostly I coach my daughters and ask, “How did that make you feel? What did you choose to do? Did it work? What will you say next time?” Quietly I wished they’d stop interacting with the Trixies and Nivias of the world altogether because they deserve better, truer friendships. But I’ve been a girl and I understand the complexities of navigating female social relationships. It’s not that simple.
One day in the car with the girls I took a different approach and asked Ahna, “Do you know what a fair-weather friend is?” She didn’t.
I explained, “When you have fair weather, it’s nice out. Warm. Comfortable. So it’s like when things are going good for you, when it’s your birthday, and when you have a new toy, fair-weather friends are there sharing your nice weather.”
Then I shared the other side. “But weather doesn’t hold. It’s always changing. Some days you’ll have a hard time. You’ll cry and be sad. You’ll lose something special and your friends won’t be around because they are off searching for…”
“Fair-weather!” she exclaimed. “That’s exactly what Nivia does! I’m so glad you told me about this word.”
“And that’s what Trixie does,” Maya added. “I’ve known several girls like that; we call them frenemies. They like you one day and they don’t know you the next.”
“And unfortunately girls don’t grow out of it. I’ve known many adult women fair-weather frenemies too.”
“So what do you do?” Ahna asked.
I told her that I approach it by being the kind of friend I want to have and changing my expectations. If a fair-weather friend is an enjoyable person, I indulge them while things are good and then I know they’ll fade away and not show up when there’s better weather elsewhere.
I explained, “I have room in my heart for many friends and I just know fair-weather friends won’t be my true friends over time. But they can still be fun.”
The next day Ahna reported that she’d shared with her true best friend, Courtney, about Nivia’s fair weather status.
“We decided that if Nivia wants to join us and play what we’re playing, we’ll include her. But if she goes off and gossips about us, that’s her problem.”
Parenting daughters is a painful healing experience. It’s an oxymoron, but so true. Throw the “thunder thigh” comments and Harry Potter teasing my way, but don’t make me witness my girls going through it. “In ten years will you even remember this?” has been one of my signature parenting questions, but I’m 41 and I still carry some of childhood’s scathing words and actions. I remember Kim’s recess game in second grade: she likes me/she likes me not. One day I was ignored and the next I was adored and I never knew why. Yet it’s healing in the sense that in some deep, scared part of me I thought it was me all those years. I thought fair-weather friends treated me that way because I was boring, lacked charm or was missing that key all-weather friend ingredient. The “if I onlies” plagued me. If I only wore cuter clothes maybe Kim would play with me everyday. If I only was more outgoing, Holly would invite me to spend the night. When I hear my smart, sensitive, beautiful, confident girls recounting all too familiar scenarios I better understand it’s part of navigating friendships, part of growing up. There is no “if I only” that can make a difference with a chronic fair weatherer.
While there are Nivias and Trixies in every elementary, middle and high school class experimenting with their girl power, there are also the Courtneys, Hopes and Lilys who are the same sensitive, caring girls on Monday and Friday; the best day and the worst one; sunny springs and gray winters. My girls are doing the important work of learning to tell the difference.
“Find loyal friends,” I tell Maya and Ahna, “and then reach out and hold on.”