Hindsight Parenting: What is the Antidote to Meanness?

Mean Girls, At Age 3

To teach my daughter empathy, the ability to anticipate and understand the feelings of others, would ensure, I am certain, that my daughter, our daughters, would be able to build each other up—not tear each other down, would be able to support with the strength of positivity…

“Go home, Ila!” Those three words, said by a three year old no less to my sweet-natured, well behaved, lovely, and special daughter (all right, all right I may be a tad biased…) made me squeeze the life out of my steering wheel from rage as it was relayed to me by that beautiful girl of mine on the way home from a grocery store visit.

I have heard the horror stories and the numerous, in fact incessant, warning from moms of daughters about the epidemic of mean girls and how it would affect someone as passive and innocent as Ila. I have been told to get her ready for it; to ensure that she has developed a strong and battle proof sense of self so that when she is attacked (which is only a matter of time according to the moms in the trenches) it won’t affect her as deeply as it could. I have been told to empower her with the right to stand up for herself; teach her I statements that set clear boundaries. For instance, “I don’t like what you are saying to me!” Or, “I want you to leave me alone.” Or, “I will not be treated this way!” I have been told that building a solid foundation of love and open communication would make it so that my daughter would feel safe divulging hurtful information to us.

And so we have done all that. Hindsight has urged me to take the advice of these mothers-in-the-know and equip Ila with all that is necessary for her to combat this culture of bullying. And me, with my memories of the horrific bullying that my older son experienced…for years…without my knowledge…as well as my own esteem issues and lack of connection with parents who did nothing to help me feel like my feelings were safe with them, made it so that I fiercely vowed to raise a daughter who was prepared beyond a shadow of a doubt for anything that might make her feel less than.

But dear readers, I must confess that I thought I had more time. I thought that I had years to mold and shape this wonderful girl into someone who stood on sturdy metaphorical legs, years to be sure that she and her out of this world essence would stay that way. I thought I had more time. 

However, here we are the first week of February, 2013—Ila a mere 3 and a ½–experiencing already the wrath of angry, jealous, mean girls. If this had happened once, a fluke so to speak, an off day, this subject would never have made it to print. (Perhaps later…years down the road when Ila was a middle schooler…but not this early.) Unfortunately, it isn’t a solitary incident. After the “Go home Ila” statement, we heard of similar snarky, mean spirited comments and actions made by these same few girls that Ila spends her day with; snatching a blanket out of her hand because So and So wants it and they like HER more, making her bark like a dog or meow like a cat while playing house and not letting her play if she doesn’t, telling her that her newly painted fingernails look stupid—the insults and words come daily and with it my rage intensifies.

And what of the adults? I have talked with them, told them about the “Go home,” incident. I told them how I instructed Ila to tell the girls to “leave her alone” loud enough so that the adults could hear her and intervene. I got a nod and an agreement that that is exactly what they are trying to teach the children as well. That satisfied me BEFORE the daily mentions of “grouchiness” (as Ila puts it) from a couple of these girls. But it no longer satisfies me, and so her father and I have decided on a more direct request for help and we’ll see how that pans out.

In the meantime, all of this has me wondering, but also marveling at the same time. Wondering because honestly, how does a three year old girl get to be as mean as these girls already are? Where does it come from? They are so incredibly little and young to already be so vehement in their quest to dominate. How? How does it happen? I have ideas, but Hindsight has taught me that assumptions made of children and their behavior are sometimes wayward and just plain wrong so I hesitate to say the things that come to mind when I think of these mean TODDLER girls and where they learned their pettiness. But perhaps it is a question, this question of ‘How’ that all parents should ponder. Not of OTHER children mind you, but of their own. HOW do we ensure that our daughters don’t become one of those mean girls? It is an urgent question, dear readers. It is one of the utmost importance. When I think of this question for my own daughter, the answer that keeps coming to mind is the word, empathy. To teach her empathy, the ability to anticipate and understand the feelings of others, would ensure, I am certain, that my daughter, our daughters, would be able to build each other up—not tear each other down, would be able to support with the strength of positivity—not neglect with the blackness of negativity.

Happily, the frustration, the rage and the wondering aren’t the only emotions I have been experiencing as this unfolded over the past few weeks. You may have caught a few paragraphs back that I mentioned that I am also marveling. Marveling, yes…absolutely marveling. You see dear readers, although the bullying has affected me immensely, (Hindsight tells me it is because I have never really gotten over the bullying of Son1), but no matter, although the rapacious behavior of those girls towards Ila has made it so that my stomach turns to even see them, it has not had the same effect on my treasured daughter. Nope, not at all.

It seems my dear readers that what those moms in the trenches said about preparing my daughter with a sound sense of self, with boundary setting statements to use, with a sure-fire knowledge that her parents are here to help her solve problems, that she is indeed equipped to deal with the blows that have come her way. For instance, when she told me that the little she-devil told her that she didn’t like her nail polish, I said to Ila, “Oh dear. If someone said that to me, it would have hurt my heart. Did your heart hurt?” Her reply, in her infinite wisdom that never ceases to pull me up short, her reply was, “No mommy. I just told her ‘that is ok. I like them.’” When discussing the blanket incident, I once again asked how she handled it. “I just went and found Mi Mi (her stuffed lamb) and I gave it an extra hard squeeze. He calmed me down.” And I had to smile. I mean really smile, because she gets it, and I know that she gets it because I am finally getting it. Thanks Hindsight! Thanks for the wisdom you share each and every day!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s MotherhoodEye on EducationFaces, and Appleseed.  Logan’s previous column for Hilltown Families, Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales ran bi-monthly from June 2010-Feb. 2011, sharing stories of her first time around as a parent of two teenage boys. — Check out Hindsight Parenting: Raising Kids the Second Time Around every first and third Tuesday of the month.

[Photo credit: (ccl) RoniLoren]

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