I have been hesitant to approach the circumstances of "mean girls" in My Real Life Parenting. It is something that I find I have a very personal struggle with. Through the years I have been affected deeply by so many situations involving females, that I just felt it best to leave it all locked up in the vault. Mostly because you never know how it will be received. But today I've decided to begin to talk about this subject. It has been heavy on my heart for a while now. Perhaps it's time to start unpacking some of the baggage that I have been dragging behind me for a while. I think when we carry it around with us, it affects how we parent our children. And they don't deserve that - they are working from a clean slate.
I have decided to write about some things that because of how I have dealt with things in my past, it has affected my parenting in the present. I am calling these blogs the "When I Grow Up" blogs.
At least several hundred times in my life since giving birth to my daughter I have thought, "When I grow up I want to be her." I have probably said it out loud a few dozen times as well.
As much as I want to claim her as deriving of me, she is so vastly different. Things I wish I was.
Last night, while watching my favorite television show, "Parenthood", there was a scene between a mother and a daughter. The mother was telling the daughter how when we have children we see ourselves in them. Our smiles, our mannerisms and that it is easy to forget that they aren't us.
I was struck by the fact that I have never once in my 17 years of parenting felt that way. Not once. Not with any of my children. I have never once forgotten that they weren't "me". I've never even come close to blurring the lines at all. Or had I?
Each of my children are quite their own individuals. They tote their own strengths and weaknesses. We may share eye shapes or silly things like long toes, but I've never seen myself through my children. Perhaps I have always secretly hoped that they would be more than me. More patient. More adventurous. You get the picture.
I thought about my daughter again. Recently, she has been through a difficult time. She is a homeschooled child from birth - never setting foot in an academic classroom. She has not been "schooled" in the social relationships that develop over time with girls. Not that that is a bad thing. She has just been allowed to be herself and take others at their own face value. In recent times, I have had the unpleasant privilege of watching her be schooled with the unkindness of others, the cattiness that can arise in girls and the competitive nature that lurks beneath the surface and what it can motivate the human nature to do.
My daughter is not like me. I am insecure. I am a worrier. I am a people pleaser. I am super sensitive. And due to those attributes, I have lived a great deal of my life unhappy and feeling like I didn't measure up. Like I wasn't good enough. Without belief in myself and without a backbone to stand up to the cruelties of the world or the lies and betrayal that hurt me time and time again. I would just retreat.
When I was in Kindergarten, the teacher called my parents in for a conference. She recounted a story to share with them that explained my personality. A story that to this day describes who I am to a "T".
She said, "She is considerate to a fault. She will stand there waiting her turn. Watching the others push and shove their way to the baby doll. She will watch them play and take it from each other. She stands there and waits for someone to give it to her and tell her it is her turn. It never happens. She needs to be more assertive."
You see even back then when I was four years old, I waited to be told it was okay. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be included, I just didn't want to be the one who stepped forth and demanded it. I thought others would be kind and do the right thing. You know - let me have my turn because it was the right thing to do.
I have lived my life as that person for some 37 years beyond the days of Kindergarten. But it's never changed. I've always made decisions in my life based on how others would feel. Based on who would approve or disapprove. How I would appear. Who would be angry or retaliate somehow. I've ended up in a lot of hurtful situations because of that. I've been burned countless times because I didn't stand up for myself. Because I wanted to be liked more than anything.
My mother is much like myself. We have had endless conversations sharing stories with each other - always ending in our own upset because we just weren't thick-skinned enough or we just hadn't managed to make ourselves a priority. Because we believed someone's lies about ourselves. Because someone told us that we were such in such - we automatically assumed they must be right. Our own lack of self-assurance and confidence sent us spiraling into hiding away from the world. Leaving things we loved to do or even abandoning our own situations so that we didn't have to butt heads with someone - they don't like us, okay we'll move along. God forbid you excel at something, someone won't like that. So I'll just go quietly and let you have your way. I'd rather not have a confrontation.
When I was a teen, I was on a cheerleading squad. I was informed by the coach/sponsor he wanted to make me Captain of the squad. I had been on the squad one year less than a few of them. This became a problem. The sponsor then informed me that there were girls that threatened to quit the squad if he made me Captain. So what did I do? I quit. I quit the team. Not only did I quit the team but I then managed to escape from that group and that school as best I could. I applied for early college admission and went to community college my senior year of high school. I went to high school for a couple of classes and then left. Why? Because it was all too painful. I couldn't stand the thought that those girls would quit. I wanted to be liked and knowing that I wasn't was torture for me. So I quit and ran away to avoid all confrontation and lick my wounds in private. I've never forgotten any of that. It hurt back then. But what hurts more now is that I didn't stand up for myself. That I've had to live with my own inadequacy for 24 years. I gave up something I loved to be liked. And they still didn't like me.
Being this kind of person has made for a painful way to travel through life. Mom and I often described how wonderful it would be to have a "switch" that we could flip, to turn off the hurt from others selfishness or unkindness. To not care that someone thought we were snooty or stuck up. To not care what someone else said or did about us. To be able to continue doing things in life that we enjoyed. Not allowing others to run us out with their own issues. I've quit jobs and left social groups in my life rather than continuously have to face someone's blatant adversity or dislike of me.
The men in my life don't operate that way. I've always admired my father and my husband's abilities to turn their head and have no emotional attachment to another's words or actions. That people can say whatever they like and they appear to have this magical shield that it just bounces off of them. I've watched them be their own men. Not driven by happy hours, golf outings or other manly social functions. No worries about climbing the corporate ladder of success. Family came first. They never cared what anyone thought. They live life as it makes them happy. They never feel left out or that they have disappointed someone. There is no keeping up with anyone's possessions or lifestyles. They march to their own drums. Very happily I might add.
For the most part I see that trait in all of my children to a degree. But my daughter oozes of it. She is the youngest of four children and the only girl. You would think she would be very spoiled and babied but on the contrary she has had a different upbringing. You see, she had to learn from a very early age to wait her turn. That life didn't revolve around her and that if you want to be seen or heard in this family you better speak up.
I laugh when I think with my first baby when he cried I ran to get him. I hardly ever let that child cry. There were no other distractions. He had my undivided attention. But by the time you are number four, you learn that when you cry in your crib, or high chair or car seat - someone isn't racing to you. You become a self-soother. My daughter is that self soother.
When she was two years old she was taking her own shower and washing her own hair. That is not a joke. At four years old, she could make her own peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch while I was homeschooling her siblings. She was self-motivated. Driven to get done what she needed to get done. I've never known her any other way.
When she started Sunday School, she was not a warm and fuzzy or physically demonstrative child. The other girls hugged and played but not her. She watched carefully. She easily made friends and they all enjoyed her company as she was very confident. She seemed to be someone that others liked easily - almost in a popular sort of way - but she never cared one way or the other. She didn't "need" those relationships. She was her own individual. I saw no evidence of the child that I had been or the adult that I am.
As she has grown through the years, her perspective in life has been something that I admire. She sees people for what they are. Just people. She doesn't make decisions based on their opinions. Why should she care what they think? Almost a who do they think they are to judge me attitude. So mature. She watches how the other girls interact with each other. But she is guarded. She doesn't feel compelled to win friendships. She is careful about whom she trusts and knows that she can be friendly without being "friends". She has this "fiddily dee" attitude. My Scarlet O'Hara. She doesn't waste her time worrying over others. What they might be saying or doing. Keeping score. Keeping up. She is very much her own person. Like her father.
In fact, a couple of years ago, she was required to write a composition about "Hugs". I was shocked when I read it. Her opening sentence read, "Hugs are weird." As I continued down the page, I read the words of an 8 year old little girl that did not like to be hugged by anyone other than her mother and father. Hugs coming from others felt intrusive and uncomfortable. She admitted to allowing her friends to hug her because she thought that they needed them but that she didn't enjoy them. I laughed. My husband is that way. He does not hug people outside of his family. I've watched numerous times when we are with people we've known for years - the other gentlemen will step in to give me a hug and from the corner of my eye, I watch my husband not reciprocate with the wife. He has his boundaries. Hugs have been reserved for a select few. She got that very honestly. But I also found it very telling. I am a hugger. I reach to hug people all of the time. I don't know why. I find reassurance in them. If I am honest, it is probably because I need to feel that THEY accept me. If they hug me, I am accepted. My daughter doesn't need that.
The past few years she has been involved in the art of dance. It brings her great joy but she is very serious about her study of ballet. She is very focused and driven. Certainly intense in her pursuit of learning. She lives to perform. Dancing brings her to life and being on stage is her favorite thing. I also grew up in the dance world - having danced the majority of my life. I know the competitive nature of that world and experienced it myself. When the going got tough for me, I would quit. When the others gossiped or talked about me, my feelings were hurt. I always allowed that environment to affect me emotionally. Dance performance was a world that I just couldn't be happy within. Too much anxiety for me to be on stage. Too open to criticism or rejection by so many people.
My daughter has kept a very open dialogue with me during her dance years. She doesn't miss anything. She hears and she watches and she reports most of it to me. Things that would have had me running for the hills, did not affect her that way. There have been a few things that have caused her to be a very cautious person. Trustworthiness is something she covets and does not care if her circle of friendship is small. She is like her father and can be "friendly" with everyone - but keeps her cards close to her.
That is not me. I dive right in there. I hope for the best. I bare my soul. Trust you with my innermost thoughts. With me, what you see is what you get. My husband has counseled me for years about "too much too soon". How I should be "friendly" to everyone but "friends" selectively. But each time, I find myself in too deep back peddling my way out of a bad situation because I was too trusting and not cautious enough. So desperately wanting to be liked.
Recently, my daughter has been through somewhat of a typical preteen female scenario that you would expect. Girl drama. We all know what I am talking about. Again - I found a huge difference between myself and my daughter. I apologize to everyone for everything. Even things that I never should have uttered the word - when I was the one due the apology, I will still say I am sorry. Why? Because I am a people pleaser. I want it to be over. No more confrontation. But my daughter is teaching me differently.
When trying to guide her through the rough waters I suggested that she apologize for something. Her response was, "Why? I didn't do anything wrong." I let that sit with me for a bit. I went to my husband with the scenario. He agreed with my daughter. He felt that there was nothing that she needed to apologize for. Nothing that she had done wrong. He refused to parent her from any other perspective.
The funny thing was I was trying to just calm things down. Apologize. That's what I do. I wasn't parenting from the right perspective. My husband reminded me that it was my job to protect her, teach her to stand up for herself, not shrink and cower to anyone who caused a conflict because I wanted it to go away. He reminded me that just because there is a conflict, it doesn't mean that it is my fault. I always forget that part.
After going through this "drama", she was not interested in the outcome of the others. She was not concerned how they "felt" about her. What they might say or do. Nope. She had just flipped that switch. The switch I have searched for my entire life. The switch that allows an individual to say, "This is your problem not mine. You aren't going to bring me down and I am not going to allow you to hurt me. I won't give you another moment of my time by investing another moment of emotion."
Her attitude was invigorating. My husband completely agreed with how she handled things. With her attitude. With her outlook. He saw it for the drama it was - the two of them washed their hands and had moved on. She didn't feel the need to win over those that disliked her. She didn't feel the need to "fight a battle" or get involved any further. It happened. She now understood the motivations of the others. She understood what they thought of her and what they had said.
I talked to her about people. How they draw conclusions and make inferences about people. I talked to her about the fact that people say things and others can choose to believe it or not believe it and there is really nothing you can do about it. You can't change it. She admitted that this had hurt her. She admitted that she didn't like the things that had been said about her.
I have found it incredibly easy to parent my boys. My boys are not involved in emotional dramas with others. They are very black and white creatures. Their emotions are not easily accessible to others. They can draw lines in the sand and operate under "friendly" parameters without any type of emotional exchange.
But parenting my daughter has brought to the forefront of my mind all of those years that females have been mean to each other or to myself. All of those situations that I retreated from. All of those situations that were painful to be a part of. I am reminded why I have avoided all of those things for so long.
I watch other women. I see how they get along in the world and I think, "God gave them my share of confidence." If I had their confidence, I would get through life alot easier. You know what I mean, the women that just seem to steam roll their way through life. The ones that seem so tough, so together, the ones that can take it on the chin and dish it out even better. Those that can mix it up with whomever they have to whenever they need to. That is not me.
During that episode of "Parenthood", the mother is watching her daughter play the guitar and sing a song that she wrote for an open mic night. The daughter is very hesitant to share. Uncomfortable and self-conscious. She finally lets the mom listen. The mom begins to give feedback. She loves it. Loves the song. Then the mom starts to caution the daughter about chords that she shouldn't use out of difficulty. Perhaps she will be too frazzled and overwhelmed playing for an audience and the difficulty of the song will only make it worse. She encourages her to play it safe - play the song differently. The daughter completely shuts down and decides not to participate in the open mic night.
Our kids are not us. My daughter is not me. She has the magic switch. I'm going to let her flip it. Then maybe she'll show me how I can do it.