“Does me not wanting to be friends with the mean girl, make me the mean girl, Mom?”

We relocated about a month ago and this week the kids started at their new school. The adjustment has been tougher than I anticipated, since I see my kiddos as resilient, resourceful, social creatures, who are able to adapt to new situations with success. In this case, I had a sobbing pre-teen who was insisting she will never have any friends again and clinging to me in the kitchen well after bedtime.

After we determined that her running away and living with her best friend “back home,” wasn’t the most viable option, we got into some great conversation about how awful it can feel when we think we don’t belong.

Being a young lady is hard enough, then you add a new school and the feeling of being alone to the mix, it does feel like the end of the world. I remember. In sixth grade we moved to a new state and away from everything I knew. I was hurt, afraid, lonely, angry and felt unheard and resentful. I imagined all my friends “back home” carrying on with their lives and having the best time ever, without me. It stings. So, I dug deep into that memory and put on my daughter’s shoes for a while as we stood there.

First came the obligatory parental questions, and after a little work, she opened up with something I was not expecting. She informed me she had decided not to persue a friendship with one of the girls in her class that she thought would be a good match, because, in her words, “It looks like she already has a best friend and I don’t want to get in the way of that or make anyone upset with me, since I am the new girl now, no one knows me enough to defend me, so I would be all alone in saying I didn’t mean any harm.” While I understood where she was coming from my heart became heavier almost instantly. Then we went on to say, “The only other girl who really tried to talk to me, well, she isn’t the kind of girl I want to be friends with.”

Of course I wondered, why? How could she know in those small interactions that this girl wasn’t for her? I worried, unfairly, that she was being a bit judgemental and was prepared for a, don’t judge a book by the cover speech. Thankfully ,I felt a tugging on my heart and simply said, “What makes you think that?”

“Well, she isn’t very nice, Mom. She was snappy with people and talking about kids behind their backs. I don’t want to be friends with her because I don’t want people to think I am that way too, but, I don’t want to be mean either. Does me not wanting to be friends with the mean girl, make me the mean girl, Mom?”

Yikes. As usual, there are no real black or white answers to these kinds of questions, which is the reason that parenting makes me want to hide in my closet eating brownies out of the pan with my fingers. In that one deep breath moment, I was proud of her for knowing the type of village she wants to surround herself with and the kind she doesn’t want to belong to, and I wanted to squeeze her for understanding that she didn’t quite know how to handle this dilemma without being a reflection of what she doesn’t want. And I told her so, while squeezing her.

I saw a meme on FB the other day that said: “I’m not a helicopter mom, tiger mom, free-range mom, soccer mom, crunchy mom, or attachment mom. I’m just a regular mom trying not to raise a-holes.”

And yes, my friends, that is just it. All I want to do is rasie children to express empathy, who are aware of others and are kind. They can certainly have opinions and I encourage them to be bold and express themselves, but, not without regard to those on the receiving end. I pray my children learn the value of kindness, of integrity, of doing the right thing not because it will get them something in return, but solely because it is right and they have been taught right from wrong.

So, we talked about being polite, but keeping distance. About being open and truthful, but not harsh or hurtful. We talked about how it would feel to be in this other girl’s position, maybe she has been judged wrongly and is on the denfensive. Maybe she is looking to start over and make new friends. It’s quite possible she feels alone too. Whether or not that is a natural consequence of her behavior is hard to say, but we don’t know what we don’t know.

It took some cookies, hot tea, lots of hugs and a scheudled visit with her best friend “back home” before she looked more like the girl I know. The girl who went to bed skipping up the stairs, hair bobbing and smiling, feeling a little more eqipped to handle the messy road through another day of fifth grade.

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