Growing Pains

I was having dinner with another Mother the other night. She is about a decade ahead of me on the Mommy path, her oldest, age 12.  Dark sunglasses failed to hide her swollen eyes as she quickly swiped the tears that escaped from underneath them.  Her daughter had spent the past two days crying over a party to which she was not invited.  Her story struck a chord with me and its hard to say which one of them held more of my empathy. I have my own share of middle school “mean girls” memories, and it takes about a millisecond to reach back and re-live them as if I am sitting here in braces, Aquanet sprayed bangs, tight-rolled jeans and tretorns.  Pardon me while I get a tissue.

But, going further, how much more will my heart break when one of my own babies is on the receiving end of such adolescent  behavior?  My chest literally tightens at the thought. Pardon me again while I go vomit.

I don’t know if I was raised with a different set of rules or an extra spoonful of awareness for people’s feelings, but even at age 8, I can remember being concerned about the inclusion of others.  My home was always open to all, and holidays were overflowing with visitors.  There was never a hierarchy of friends who did or didn’t make the cut for special events and gatherings. If you had no place to go, or ten places to go but wanted to drop in, you were welcome. ALWAYS, even if my father had to make a quick run to the elementary school to borrow folding chairs from his Art classroom.

Every May, when my birthday came around I was faced with the conundrum of making the guest list.  And every May, we would toss the paper invitations in the trash, move the party outside and open it up to the whole grade….popular kids, not so popular kids, smart kids, odd kids, all kids.  If my memory serves, all mingled together without cliqued boundaries and had a blast.

So, as I listened to my friend, I choked back my own tears over her 12 year old’s broken heart.  She was pleading for advice and I came up short. What do you say?  How do you instill in them the self-worth and steadfast security with who they are, so much so that the snobs of this world become nothing more than fleas they can easily swat off their proud shoulders?

I fumbled for these answers and realized I don’t have them. I’m almost 35 and still struggle with the ability to swat away such pests.  There have been times that our family has not made the precious list for exclusive gatherings, and it continues to bring up self-doubt with every reminder.

So, it occurred to us, after a tuna melt, a turkey and brie sandwich, a brownie and 4 glasses of Chardonnay between the two of us, that maybe that ability isn’t one to aspire to have.  Maybe it comes as a package deal with the very insensitivity we wish to protect ourselves from.

Perhaps part of being a caring human being is getting your feelings hurt, as hard as it is.  Building up calluses that protect us might seem like a good idea and result in less hurt, but do we really want to become one of the mean girls?  If that’s the alternative, I think I’ll take the hurt feelings.  They build character, don’t you think?


14 responses to “Growing Pains

  1. Heather Vincent Larkin

    Yes! Life’s best lessons are usually the hardest and can be very rough on the heart.

  2. I agree with Heather! I am not sure I am going to survive watching the heartache of my children…….ahhhh

  3. Working with 14, 15, & 16 year olds kids everyday in a high school, this is a common theme. I spend my entire day “fixing” dramas like these…In fact, it seems that I do very little teaching anymore between all of the tears and fights. That being said though, I have found that it makes a big difference to love both parties in the argument. I understand that a mother would only know her daughter’s pain. BUT- It has given me great insight into how to help children cope with these “disasters” that seem to last a lifetime when in the moment, but really only last less than 24 hours in reality. I always tell my kids that if they take my advice, I promise them that things will work out for the best and everything will be fine by the weekend. I do, however, make sure to tell them that I have never had the ability to actually take my advice and have caused my own dramas to drag out and out for endless amounts of useless time. Being from a family who had a father who simply said, “but honey, you’re the most beautiful girl in the world, they are just jealous” and a mother who said “I’m sure that’ not true. That girl would’ve have really done that!”, there is a fine line of clarity. SItting down with a 14 year old and asking her to acknowledge how she might be making the other girl feel when she is around her goes a long way. SImply siding with the girl who is crying in that moment does little more than put a bandaid on the situation and she will walk out of your conversation to tell someone else the same story…that person will tell someone else, who will tell someone else…and the telephone game begins…by sometime next year, the girl will officially have absolutely no friends! Long story short: you can cry with your babies who are hurting, but teaching them the invaluable method of coping and understanding other people will be more productive. My advice to my 14 year old girls: Ask yourself: Why is the other girl acting this way? Do you think her life is really easier than yours? Does she have family issues that your perfect family picture (from the outside) with a mother and a father and your perfect pretty hair and ipod with the best tunes on it (or you have the best singing voice 😉 that makes her feel less than you? She probably doesn’t even know why. On the outside, we all can make the world think we have it all under control. We can boss other kids around and make them feel like crap in order to make ourselves feel better…BUT- in the long run, we are all people with weaknesses that deserve each of us- especially those of us who are mistreated by them, to love every single person for who they are. AND-In the end, those mean girls will be at their 20th class reunion with absolutely no memory of the incident and you’ll be the cool chick! (who still has the best singing voice 😉 ha!

    • Very wise and very true. It s always good to look at things from everyone’s perspective. Such a gift you’re giving your kids. Every day. They are lucky to have you as a teacher!

  4. Oh the joys of adolescence! Although, I can remember “mean girl/boy” instances in elementary school, too. I agree with Kassie about how important it is to respond to your child’s upset feelings by helping them to acknowledge their own feelings, while at the same time examining other sides of the situation. I started doing that with my kids when they were toddlers. Unfortunately, tolerance, acceptance, and understanding that your own self-worth is not based on making others feel insecure is not something that is modeled for all children. My sphere of influence is limited to my children. So, I try to teach them to be tolerant, accepting, empathetic, and to value themselves. I know feelings will get hurt and tears will be shed – I can’t prevent it from happening, only help them through it.

  5. I loath the first tears of broken hearts. What will I say? How will I help them through that pain? It is a part of growing up… It sucks. I try not to think about it. Thanks for the posting, I think you are right…it is a necessary evil to help mold who we are.

    • I’m hoping we’ll figure it out when it happens. But they will always be our babies at 2 or 32, and seeing thier hearts break will suck no matter what we say. But we made it throught it, right?

  6. Somehow I made it through thinking that everything would be okay when we were grownups. I said that the mean girls or the rich girls or the prettier girls would not succeed in life. I’d wind up with a better job and a better life because I was a better person. That’s what I said to make it through the teasing and the sneers.
    Know what? They’re not fat, they’re not poor, and they’re not losers. The mean girls in school turned out to be successful and beautiful and rich…and just as shallow as they were back then.
    And now I know I still compared myself to them, and it was just as toxic to my self worth as what they tried to do to me.
    So I was complicit in their b.s. And that feels rotten.
    [I refuse to acknowledge right now that my babies will ever be hurt or will ever hurt others. I have to hang out in the small kid stuff for now, even if it’s wearing me down to a physical nub, because the big kid stuff just breaks my heart.]

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