When Mean Girls Are Too Close To Home
As an adult – you don’t know what it’s like to really want to rumble with a 10-year-old until that 10-year-old is mean to your kid.
This year we entered mean girl territory. First one of my daughters dealt with a not-so-nice girl at school who created an exclusive group at recess – a group to which my daughter was denied access.
And then both of my older daughters (currently 8 and 10) dealt with mean girls in our neighborhood. For awhile, they were the popular “it” girls in the hood and then they were frozen out.
They would watch all their former friends play outside, skipping from one house to the next while they were in some kind of unexplainable exile. No one knocked on our door anymore. No more buzzing texts. Just anguish. One afternoon, my daughters were heartbroken as they watched all the other girls swimming next door together.
And as a parent, I did not take it well.
I guess because I remember this all too well. I remember being the one who was “out.” The one who was ignored and never invited. And I also remember, at other times, being the one who felt mighty and strong, deciding who was cool and who was not. The whole thing made me nauseous and now my own children were immersed in it.
When you are dealing with issues like this, many well meaning people will say, “Wait until middle school. It gets even worse!” And I’m sure they are right. But when you feel like you are sinking on the Titantic, it doesn’t make you feel better if someone says, “You think things are bad now – wait, until you hit the icy ocean water. That’s when hypothermia will set in!”
At school, the mean girl issue was much simpler. The teacher shut down the exclusive recess club, the girl’s grandmother intervened and the situation has greatly improved. But our neighborhood is tougher. Some parents don’t want to get involved in their children’s behavior – choosing to let kids work it out themselves.
Children do need to fight their own battles but I also think as a parent, it’s up to me to guide them in these younger years. I don’t think children are miraculously born with compassion and kindness (heck, we adults are still working on these skills!). Kids need to be taught how their actions can positively and negatively affect other people. How a kind word or invite can make all the difference in someone’s day.
Because the neighborhood situation is so in our faces, I kept my daughters busy with activities away from home. I also set up a playdate with a new girl that moved in around the corner. I told my daughters that we would focus on spending time with positive, nice people. They couldn’t control the actions of those mean girls but they could control how they handled it.
I’m sure years from now, my daughters will have long forgiven the girls who swam and laughed that sunny afternoon while they watched sadly from our windows. I probably won’t. Because that’s how motherhood goes.
At one point during all of this, my daughter said to me, “I would never treat anyone this way.”
I realized these painful experiences are teaching my children true compassion. Compassion for what it feels like to be the outcast. I hope they remember this feeling when they are once again the ones on top of the social food chain.
And maybe we don’t have to accept that kids can be just cruel. Maybe we can guide them – just a bit – to their more compassionate selves.