The robb’d that smiles, steals something from the thief.
– William Shakespeare, British playwright
Here I am, at 51, having to deal with girl problems – my daughter’s, that is. One day she’s in; the next day, she’s out. At 10 years old, in the fourth grade, she is experiencing what many friends of mine who have older daughters have told me would happen. She will come home, complaining of various transgressions committed against her, though the usual scenario is that she and another friend weren’t allowed to play with a trio of other friends.
When I first heard her stories of woe, I cringed, remembering my own painful past. My best friend in elementary school and I were in the same class from kindergarten all the way up until fifth grade. That year we were in different classes, and then I lost my best friend to a new girl in town. I made a new best friend in my class, but the following three years (I attended a K-8 school) were spent battling to stay atop and not be ousted from the threesome that comprised my old best friend, my new best friend, and me.
High school can be brutal, but thankfully I was blessed with big-hearted best friends and a circle of other good friends. My first best friend, Kathy, moved to Washington State when we were juniors, and my other best friend, Kimi, and I were inseparable until she got her first boyfriend our senior year. College had its bumps, but I was most surprised that I have encountered mean girls throughout my adult life. Up until the last few years, even the slightest cruel comment would dwell in my head for days. It was a step up from feeling mortally wounded by such a comment when I was younger, but not something I felt a woman my age should still be bothered by – if at all, if raised and emboldened with healthy self-esteem. I told myself, however, that no one is too old to learn a life lesson.
Learning by teaching my daughter
I decided that I would give my daughter coping mechanisms and tools to deal with mean-girl behavior – something that I wish I had been given when I was a girl. First of all, I told her she had better not be a mean girl, particularly by not excluding someone from the group. Invoke the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Unless you’re a masochist, if everyone lived by this rule, we’d have a more compassionate planet. Next I told her if she witnessed mean-girl behavior, she was to defend the girl on the outs and let the others know it’s not nice to exclude anyone.
The harder part was giving her tools to defend herself when she was on the outs. How do you convince a girl to not let mean comments hurt her feelings? To not cry? Some girls are hardwired and hardy, and they can naturally withstand such assaults. For many of us, however, it takes a few years, many years, or even decades to master invulnerability, depending upon our upbringing, mentors, and other factors.
So I told her it takes practice and more practice. Telling ourselves over and over again until we mean it. I told her mean people say mean things because they want power over you. When you cry, when you crumble, when you get angry, when you say mean things in return you have given them power. Don’t give them power! You don’t have to kill them with kindness, either. You either call them on it – that’s not a very nice thing to say or do – or you walk away and completely ignore what was just said or done.
This lesson must be sinking in. While I was away on a business trip last October, my daughter was walking to school one morning with one of our friends and her three daughters. The youngest girl told my daughter she wanted to be a hot dog for Halloween, but she was afraid the other kids would make fun of her. My friend related to me that my daughter’s adamant response was, “If you want to be a hot dog, be a hot dog. Who cares what other people think?” Amen.
When I came across the Shakespeare quote, it embodied exactly what I have been trying to teach my daughter – as well as my son. Turn the tables, and don’t give that person your power. I tried to explain what the quote meant to them during a dinner conversation, but I realized it would be another year or two for her to fully appreciate what Shakespeare was saying. I could have said, instead, “Don’t let your emotions become your bit*$,” but I’ll save that for when they are in college.