I knew this was coming. There’s no way to avoid it. There’s no way to stop it. It’s like I’m standing on the tracks with a freight train coming at me and I am paralyzed from moving. It’s hitting me now. And it hurts. I’m talking about “mean girls” picking on my daughter—which, I’m learning, apparently happens as early as 7 years old.
Before anyone from the parenting police comes a-knocking, I’ll admit this—my kids are not perfect. I’ve caught them being unkind. They have all made mistakes, hurt someone’s feelings, and had to apologize at some point. There have been incidents of “joking” that have bordered on insulting, and we’ve had lots of conversations about kindness and how we treat one another.
I’ll also assert, with confidence, that for all the teasing they may do (and it’s usually reserved for their siblings, not friends), none of my kid are inherently mean. None of them want to hurt other people. They all want to be liked. They all want to have friends. And they all feel badly if and when they’ve hurt another person.
Especially my daughter. If you divided up the pie of kindness that was allotted to my family, she’d get the lion’s share. Far more than the rest of us, she’s truly a good, kind soul. She’s the type of kid who will donate all of her allowance money to save endangered cheetahs. Or who will host a lemonade stand and donate 100% of her proceeds to kids fighting cancer. She writes love notes to everyone—her dad, me, her brothers, her friends—every day. She’s a bright spot on a dark day and exudes love and joy wherever she goes.
So bracing for this mean girl shit has been hard, because I have always known that someone, some day, was going to hurt her. And that I couldn’t save her from it. That a freight train was going to barrel at her (us, really) some day, and we’d have to take the hit, then decide how to pick ourselves up, repair our broken selves, and stand tall in response.
Miraculously she made it through kindergarten, and even first grade, without incident. Even when we relocated last winter to a new state and she was the new girl, she was swarmed with friends and bounced off the bus, happily loving school, every day.
Yet I kept waiting, because I knew. I knew because I remember the sting of a friendship circle shifting, and suddenly you’re on the outside. You find out your three “besties” had a sleepover and no one invited you. Or you hear whispering and giggling as you walk by in a new outfit you thought was cool, but now know is not. Maybe it’s because of competition and insecurities among girls that they put each other down, gossip behind each other’s backs, and seek slow, calculated revenge when they feel they’ve been wronged. I don’t know why exactly. But for lots of girls, you’re either in the circle, or you’re out. There is no in between.
Well, last week my sweet 7-year-old, who still brings a stuffed animal with her wherever she goes, and who still misspells half of the words in her diary, came home from camp in tears. A girl had been mean to her.
As I listened to the story of “Meredith” (as we’ll call her) getting in my daughter’s face and making fun of her writing, her drawings, and where she was born (a state far away that closed-minded Meredith knows nothing about), I felt a burning in my chest. My inner Mama Bear began to rage, as I watched tears well up in my beautiful child’s eyes.
The worst part? When I told her to ignore Meredith and she’d move on to someone else, my daughter responded, “But I don’t want that either, Mommy. I don’t want her to be mean to anyone else. I just want her to be nice.”
Because that’s who she is. She worries about everyone else’s happiness as much (if not more so) than her own. So right then and there, I decided that this snotty little Regina George was not going to break my daughter. She was not going to ruin her goodness and make her feel like lesser than she was.
Did I want to march into camp the next day and pick up Meredith by her little ponytail and let her know what happens when someone messes with my kid? Of course. But we all know that’s now how we handle these situations.
We have to teach our kids to stand up for themselves against the mean girls. We have to remind them of who they are, and that no one—not Meredith or anyone else—gets to put them down. And in raising our own kids to be kind, we should also make sure they know that sadly, kids who are mean are often the victims of that kind of treatment themselves and are dealing with a home life or a personal situation that could be even worse than what our kids are facing.
In the end, my kind-hearted little girl handled herself quite well. She steeled herself against any comments Meredith made, and when she got into my daughter’s personal space, she spoke up. She asserted herself, not unkindly, but with confidence. When Meredith tried to read her journal, my daughter said, “It’s personal.” But most importantly, when she tried to insult my daughter’s birthplace, she said, “I like where I was born.”
Boom. You can’t break this spirit, little girl. So take it somewhere else.
The harsh reality is that the Merediths of the world aren’t going anywhere. Even at 38, I know that mean girl bullshit happens in any given circle of women. I still get my feelings hurt now and then, so I know my daughter will probably face a lifetime of this as well. But hopefully she can hold on to a few basic truths: She’s smart. She’s important. She has a beautiful soul. And she’s a good friend.
And no one is going to take that from her.