***POST POST COMMENTARY: Two days after I posted this, my daughter was invited to a friend's house to play with DUN, DUN, DUUNNNN... two other girls. And it went swimmingly. Absolutely, wonderfully without drama. The other two girls are lovely little women, they all got along, and apparently ate a lot of burgers! I suppose sometimes the universe sends you a message designed to temper your limiting beliefs. So I still stand behind my assertion that three girls is often a tricky, sticky situation. But perhaps we should simply proceed with caution and never, ever, say never.
Never, ever, host a get together of three girls. Never. Ever. I don't know what it is about the number three and girls, but it is most certainly a recipe for at least one of them to morph into a mean girl. I remember as a child being excited to go to a friend's house from nursery school (Yes, I remember back that far). I was probably five years old and "play date" was not yet a term, but that's what my mother set up for me. She dropped me off at the house of a girl in my class and I remember the anxious tension that always accompanied being at a new friend's house for the first time - walking through the front door and taking in the pattern of the wallpaper in the foyer, the unique knick-knacks that always seemed way cooler than the ones at my house, and just the fact that she had stairs was fascinating to me. And I remember my disappointment when lo and behold - the neighbor friend was there as well - cute braids and all. Since she had gotten there before me, I was naturally the odd man out and though I don't remember all the details, I do remember feeling like they were ganging up on me and just wanting to go home. My mother recalls me crying and that my friend's mother was not too happy with her daughter. It's all very vague - but whatever happened made an impression. Girls can be so mean.
I also remember a time in junior high school when I was responsible for creating a three-girl fire. Perhaps because we simply had nothing better to do, I called a friend who had said unkind things about another friend while this other friend was at my house. I baited my friend on the phone and tried to get her to repeat those same mean things so my other friend could hear for herself. WHY would I DO such a thing? I can't even fathom why I would act so disgracefully, and I shake my head looking back.
Who knows why girls act so mean sometimes and of course this doesn't only happen in threes, though it does seem to make things worse. But I've been a mean girl, and I've also been a victim of mean girls - even after the pre-school incident - and I think most girls, at some point in their life, have been on both sides. There are always outliers and some girls who just truly cultivate kindness and friendships with everyone they encounter. And there are those girls that seem bound and determined to do nothing but cause heartache. But if you notice tendencies in your daughter that concern you and make you wonder if you are raising a mean girl, stop and take a deep breath. Remember who you were at her age and go from there. I've had to do it a few times.
I've seen my daughter cling to one friend and ignore others in some situations, and then ignore the friend she clung to in favor of those she ignored in other situations. I've seen her unintentionally make her friends feel excluded or small. I've been informed by mothers of other girls of situations my daughter was involved in - perhaps the MOST important reason to cultivate friendships with the parents of her friends. They will trust you enough to tell you when your kid was a jerk - and you need to know this, so you can help her fix it.
On the flip side, I've seen my daughter purposefully reach out to someone that was being excluded. I've been told of times she defended someone when others were attacking. So in each of these situations, I talk to her. I ask her why she did what she did - right or wrong, good or bad. And we talk about whether she would like to have someone take those actions with her, and what needs to continue - or change - moving forward. The best thing we can do as parents is to keep an open line of communication.
Talk. To. Your. Daughter. About EVERYTHING!
There are so many messages flying in the face of our girls, telling them how to act and how not to act, but ultimately they want to know how mom and dad think they should have handled a situation - even if they act like they don't. Watch out for the mean girl moments - because they can cause pain that lasts a lifetime. But don't panic or assume they're headed for Regina George status right away. We've all had our moments. And if you sincerely believe you've got a bit of a monster on your hands, intervene - NOW - and not alone. Enlist the help of a counselor or trusted teacher at her school or start a girls group with moms that you trust. But always keep the conversation going and remember how unsure of everything you felt at their age when you were trying to figure out who you were and where you fit in. Be honest - even if it hurts a little - and always forgiving. And never, ever host a get together of three girls.
Years ago, a very tall friend of mine had a two-year-old son that could have easily passed for five. People would often shake their heads in disapproval as they passed her and what they thought to be her five-year-old with a pacifier. Except he wasn't five, he was two.
Yesterday, my sister posted a great picture on Instagram. It was of her and my other sister...wait...her and a friend? Wait...who IS that in the picture with her? Oh dear God, that's my DAUGHTER!!!
These were my thoughts as I looked at this photo. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't inappropriate in any way, shape, or form. My girl wasn't in heels or wearing makeup. She was actually wearing her First Communion dress, flip-flops, and my sister's Ray-Ban aviators. She was leaning back and making a goofy face and acting like a ten year old. She wasn't trying to look any older, she just did. But any young guy scrolling through IG could easily have thought she was someone he would like to get to know...and this is where it can get scary if we are not relentless as parents.
As a competitive swimmer, my daughter has a very strong build and at 10 years old is already 5'1". Thank goodness she is the athletic t-shirt and mesh shorts type of girl, because while walking amongst the high school students at my husband's school, it's really only her clothing that sets her apart. She looks and acts (at least in front of others) much older than her ten years. And there's a danger in this. People will treat your child based on the age of their appearance, not out of malice, but out of natural assumption. People ask my daughter if she has a boyfriend. They ask her if she plays sports for her school. They sometimes crack jokes they might not if they knew she was in 4th grade. And I will never forget the first time I saw a passing teenage boy look at her for WAY too long.
So if you have a daughter that looks older on the outside, be careful to remember she's still little on the inside. Don't let her wear make-up yet or dress in ways that will gain her the type of attention she's not prepared to handle. Don't give her the keys to the social media kingdom by letting her have a Facebook page, or an Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat account. The most innocent of posts may cause someone out there to stop the scroll and try to reach out to her - even with the best of intentions. And as moms of tweens, that's a road we don't need to head down just yet. Let them be little for just a little while longer.
I've always tried to be careful about what I let my daughter watch or read. I let her watch zero t.v. in the first year. After she turned one I started letting her watch Baby Einstein, followed by Sesame Street, Little Einsteins, Muzzy, etc. I even steered clear of certain Disney movies throughout pre-school and I've been very cautious about her book choices until now. She thought the "F" word was "freak" until she was nine. But we can only do that type of frantic monitoring for so long for two reasons: it's impractical and it's counterproductive.
It becomes impractical, if not impossible, at some point to monitor EVERYTHING because you simply won't have the time, especially as she gets involved in more activities and chooses books with too many pages for you to preview. And it's counterproductive because as she gets older, there will be times that you won't be there and she will need to think for herself. She will be at the homes of friends watching movies or t.v. shows you may not have chosen for her. She will be in the car with parents who do not censor their music choices or the language they use in front of their children. She will find herself a part of conversations with peers who have heard LOTS of things she hasn't heard. At some point as she nears the teen years, you just have to let go a little or you will compromise her ability to grow into the girl you have done your best to help her become. So what is a concerned-mom(or dad)-who-wishes-she-could-but-knows-she-can't-shelter-her-daughter-forever to do?
You have to watch with her. Read with her. Ask her questions. Seems obvious, but too few parents do this. Watch a kids' sitcom together and ask her if she knows any friends who gallivant around town looking perfectly manicured with plenty of time to go to school, work in a clothing store, have a full time career modeling or dancing or acting or rocking, and who live in an impeccably kept home with a 40x40 foot bedroom and never see their parents or any responsible adults. These shows portray lives that do not exist. They're not real. It's fiction. And it's important that your girl knows this, so plant those seeds. Lay the foundation as early as possible for her to understand that what she sees on t.v. is not real and she will be much better equipped to ignore rather than emulate the glorified promiscuity and glamorized drinking and drug use she will see in the media in years to come. And as you watch with her, you will see her reactions to things that clash with the values you've instilled in her.
While watching a movie together the other day, I was proud to watch my daughter's jaw drop in response to the father telling his son that physical activity was a complete waste of time. I had to laugh at her reaction - she was sincerely appalled that a father would say this to his son! I was pleased that clearly, our daughter has internalized the message from us that her health and physical fitness is important.
So do not ever forget that they're watching...the world around them, their peers, ridiculous t.v. shows. But what will shape them more than anything is what they see when they're watching you, especially when you encounter together something that does not mesh with your values. In these moments, do your best to remain graceful so that she will learn to do the same.
It's 11pm, and while the rest of my family has long since gone to sleep, I find myself on the couch writing my very first blog post. I've been up since 5am and got just four hours of sleep last night. But I have a vision - a dream that keeps my wheels turning all day, every day. I want to create a system, an environment, a consortium of parents of girls - parents specifically committed to purposefully raising girls who walk with dignity, modesty, humility, and an attitude of gratitude. To raise girls who respond with grace against the machine of destruction our society has become in its current self-serving, "you-do-you", "imma get mine", and "I do what I want" entitled state.
I know, I know. Every generation whines and complains about the utter shamelessness of the next. But we have reached new lows. We not only make mention of, but glorify criminal behavior, promiscuity, profanity, and reckless behavior through music, television, and advertising. We devour reality t.v. centered on chaos and deception. Dysfunction is the new black. Our daughters are being fed a steady diet of glamorized reckless behavior on the radio, on their iPods, iPads, cell phones, t.v., billboards, in books.
I had great parents. They took me to dance, traveled with me, helped me with homework, made me do chores, gave me an allowance, taught me to cook, and always signed my permission slips and paid for my field trips. But they never talked to me about any of the things that girls need to be talked to about at the age of 10...11...12...13. They never talked to me about boys, periods, mean girls, sex, modesty. I stumbled through it all on my own. I made some mistakes, and though I made it through, I have to wonder how much better off I would have been had they opened up some conversations. I have to wonder...how would I make it through now when every one of my mistakes could have been caught on film and broadcast worldwide?
Social media has changed the landscape of our society. And it is more critical than ever that we begin open, honest, difficult, and continuous conversations with our daughters. It is my mission to empower parents to do this. There are thousands of miles to travel on this journey...this is my first step.