It is a scene right out of any classic 80’s movie centered on the epic journey of pre-teens finding their way and fitting in. You know the scene…a group of girls huddled together during lunch talking about the latest crush amongst giggles and loud shrieks. Now look closer. See the girl on the fringes hoping to get a chance to speak with her “Best Friend” (or at least the girl who once professed herself to be her “Bestie”)? Yup that’s the one. The one whose spirit is about to be crushed with four little words uttered with disdain, “Why are you here?” Yesterday they were planning coordinated Halloween costumes. Today, she’s tossed out like a half eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich – someone else in her place. No explanation. No argument. Just the continuation of a vicious emotional rollercoaster that seems to go on forever.
As a parent, it is difficult to watch the pain of Middle School, especially when it is your daughter on the receiving end of the hurtful words and actions of the next cast of mean girls. However, it is even more difficult to wipe away the tears on a Wednesday and then be upbeat and encouraging on a Thursday when all seems right with their world again. Yet we know in our heart of hearts that history will repeat itself and come Friday, there will be a little girl in a heap asking God why her “friends” don’t like her anymore.
Yes, I hear you, and I feel it too – the overwhelming desire to call the mean girls and their parents out on this despicable behavior, but you also know that it won’t do any good. They know not what they do and I have a hard time believing they possess or condone this level of malice and intent. Rather I think they are acting without recognition of consequences and are generally oblivious to the pain they cause. They’ll grow up to be good people, but right now, they’re finding their way at another expense. So you bite your tongue, breathe deep and try your best to let the one that holds your hand when no one else is looking know that, in the grand scheme of life, middle school doesn’t matter all that much and that someday they’ll all learn the value of true friendship.
You try to infuse the situation with a little humor and impart your decades of experience upon them with quick come backs to “What are you doing here?” so they’ll be prepared for next time. Some of my personal favorite answers to this question – “Just to allow you the opportunity to be an obnoxious beast. Yes, I’m sure that is why God put me here in this moment. After all, it is all about you.” Or maybe answering a question with a question or even better song lyrics (always a personal favorite) like “why you gotta be so rude? Don’t you know I’m human too?”
You try to provide them with solid conflict resolution skills, encouraging them to face the problem head on and talk to their “friends” about their feelings and find a solution that works for everyone rather than allowing the problem to fester like a pimple that hurts too much to squeeze, but just cannot be camouflaged with even the best concealer. Then again, like that pimple, some problems just bubble back up again leaving a scar to remind you of the lessons learned, long after the problem is gone.
You try to remind them of the golden rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. We try so hard to raise our children to be accepting of others, to include rather than exclude, to start heaven here. And yet, when they are being torn down, they walk a fine line between calling someone out on their unacceptable behavior and joining them at the bottom. The hardest lesson is always learning to respond with kindness in the face of adversity time and time again.
You try your best to put on your own smile and not interfere. Sometimes you may even cry yourself to sleep at night because you can’t take away the pain she feels and sometimes, you need to let it go and give her the space to learn these valuable lessons on her own. So you pull yourself together, lean on someone deserving of the title of friend and pray she survives so that one day she too will find a true friend to meet her on the front porch with a gallon of ice cream and two spoons when she needs it most, whether it be in fifth grade, eighth grade, high school or college.