I went out one night this week with a dear friend who also has a young daughter. As our conversation inevitably turned to our kids, we found common ground in that sometimes our precious beauties turn….MEAN. It surprised us both that girls forming cliques and excluding others can begin at such a young age. Her darling girl is a couple years older than mine, but we have both seen some unkind behaviours that we are none to happy about.
In the course of our conversation, I said, “What I think a lot of moms would like is for their daughter to be a cheerleader that is kind to the misfits.” Because the reality is, while I will not tolerate unkind or exclusive behaviour from my little one, I also don’t want her spirit crushed by others excluding her or being mean.
Growing up as a girl is hard. It is hard today, but it was always hard. As a teenager, I was the misfit. Well, maybe misfit is too strong a word, but I was the poor girl, new to the community, with recently divorced parents, and no network of friends when I started my new high school. I had late ’80s hair and a big space between my teeth and my knees knocked together in fear everywhere I went. My junior year I couldn’t walk (as the result of a degenerative muscle disease), and I spent most of the school year being tutored while homebound. If I thought my freshman year was hard, coming back as a senior with a back brace and medicine regime was harder.
But there was a girl named Missy. She was a beautiful popular cheerleader. While I’m certain she didn’t feel confident as a teenage girl, she seemed confident. Even more remarkable, she had an unlimited reserve of kindness. And we became friends. We were Chemistry partners and I would study at her house and we’d laugh at funny Dana Carvey SNL skits.
It made that year okay. It made me feel included. It helped me become brave.
This is the girl you want your daughter to be. The one that doesn’t check social status or bank accounts when befriending a classmate. The one that finds those who are uncertain and gives them the confidence to step out and bravely develop new relationships. The one who speaks kind words instead of words designed to isolate.
This is also the girl we should want to be. I read a remarkable post by Lisa Jo Baker this week . Entitled the Untruth About Cliques, Lisa Jo says, “No one can make us quite as unsure about ourselves as another woman. We can stand knee deep in witty conversation holding cup cakes in one hand and our cell phones with brilliant Twitter commentary in the other only to retreat to our rooms and whisper in quiet tears to our husband or roommate or best friend or mom how left out we felt. We want to matter to the people we think matter.”
Oh, does that take any of you back? Does it make you retreat to the awkward, unsure, insecure version of yourself? Maybe you are still sitting in that space. Never having had someone turn and tell you how wonderful you are and how much you do belong. I am sorry. I know how hard that is.
But she goes on with this encouragement, “We can fight to find a way in or we can love on the women where we’re at. We can obsess over who didn’t talk to us or we can focus on the woman we’re talking to. We can keep looking for a seat at a more popular table or we can pass the bread basket and an introduction to the women sitting right where we already are. Everyone is on the outside of something. But that is only half the story. We are all on the inside of something often without even realizing it.”
Sigh. We are all on the inside of something. Can we teach our daughters to rub out the distinction between inside and outside? Eliminate distinctions between valuable and worthless? Develop meaning instead of mean? We must show them that if people perceive they are part of the “inner circle,” then they have the power to expand that circle to include everyone. And if they feel like they’re on the outside, then they stand there with so many others and can develop a new, more inclusive, circle. And sweet momma, me included, the only way our girls will learn is if they see us doing it.
I know it’s not that simplistic sometimes. But sometimes, it is.