Moment of truth, mamas… Raise your hand if you remember your teenage years? Keep it raised if your teenage years were not exactly all roses and sunshine. Hands still up? I thought so.
My teenage years were not my favorite. I lacked confidence and struggled socially with shyness and uncertainty. I was the smart kid who didn’t have a ton of friends and clung to those that I did – probably with a stronger grip than was acceptable. Like most girls, I was surrounded by my stereotypical peers. Some of the girls were friendly and confident – oh how I envied you. Some were mean and snobbish – in hindsight, you were likely as insecure as I was. Some were quirky and awkward like me – my kindred spirits who I feared being associated with so as to not be labeled as even more of an outcast than I already was. I think we all turned out okay, but those years were not fun. I wouldn’t choose to relive them for all the money in the world.
When I found out I was destined to be a mom to girls, one of my immediate fears was for their teenage years. Ironically, as I have two very different children, I foresee their adolescence playing out very differently within the stereotypical ranks. I know my youngest will be the social, confident one and I hope that she can also choose kindness. I also know that my oldest will be more like me. I worry about her sensitive spirit and I am already bracing myself for the tears and heartache I still acutely remember as I struggled to figure out who I was – for myself.
I have tried to tell myself, I may be wrong. Both of my daughters may sail smoothly through high school and into adulthood with positive memories and minimal scarring. But, first grade has done nothing to assuage my fears.
I have no idea why girls are so mean to one another. Like many of you, I have lived this fact on both the giving and receiving end. What I didn’t expect was that it would start so soon! I didn’t expect the little mean girls to be in first grade.
In first grade, I am already hearing stories about how Friend A “broke up” with Friend B and now my daughter has to choose who to sit with at lunch. I watch the socially dominant and more confident kids cluster around one another and form that little circle that is literally and figuratively so difficult to transcend. I am already having the conversations with my daughter about how disagreements don’t have to mean friendships have ended and definitely don’t mean that kindness becomes unimportant.
What worries me most is how I can best parent through these experiences, as I was certainly not expecting to meet this challenge this early on in their little lives. I don’t want my daughter feeling that peer pressure I always felt to hide who I was or jump into the crowd because that is what is safe. I am not proud of everything I did in an effort to keep from being a target or call attention to myself for fear of making myself the social outcast du jour.
I want my children to be GOOD people. I want them to be kind. I want others to be kind to them.
We need to do better mamas. I firmly believe it all starts with us. We teach by example. I don’t know if I will always have the right words and I know that both my daughters and I will make mistakes. But, I can try to be the change I want to see. I challenge you to join me. Engage that mom who looks lost, standing alone at the school event. Take the risk to introduce yourself to the parents of the kid yours is playing with. Widen your circle a little bit, even if it’s in a small way. But, most importantly, be intentional in your conversations with your daughters. Help them learn kindness. Help them choose kindness. Accept nothing less.
A society with little mean girls is not a society that breeds love and tolerance. I want more for my daughters.