I’ve become aware of an interesting and terrifying phenomenon lately.
We had an evening to meet the teacher for our son’s 4 year old preschool class, and while I was chatting with a parent off to the side, my husband overheard a troubling conversation between a parent and the teacher. He said the mother was quietly telling the teacher of her daughter’s experience the previous year, in another school’s classroom. This woman’s daughter was extremely excited to start preschool, but the other girls in the classroom (it was a “girl heavy class” meaning it was mostly girls) were all familiar with each other from the 2 year old classroom the year before. They had formed a clique already. THREE year olds. Not thirteen, THREE. They wouldn’t allow this little girl to be their friend, and she came home in tears every day from school until the parents decided that they would pull her out and try again at a different school the following year.
I came home and immediately told my neighbor this story. She was watching my kids so we could be at the parent night. She didn't seem very surprised; she told me that the previous Sunday in the church Sunday school, her daughter, also three, was told by a group of girls that she couldn’t come to one of the girl's birthday parties. Only certain of the other friends could come. My neighbor said that her daughter was in tears when they picked her up from Sunday School and she took time to reiterate to her daughter, a delightful little bubble of joy whom I personally love, that the other girls don’t make the rules and she is actually invited to said birthday party. She made a point to avoid all talk of "mean girls" because she didn't want to introduce that as a concept at this age. But all day her daughter would get upset about her treatment in Church.
HOW is it possible that cliques are happening at three years old? My son’s new teacher assured the mother of the girl who will be in his class (and his new best friend if I have any say in the situation, which I do because I signed up to be room mom and am using Beverly Goldberg as my role model) that since this was a “boy heavy class” there almost definitely wouldn’t be the drama that this little girl had experienced before. When we got back home, we told our son about all the kids who would be in his class and made sure to name-drop this little girl in the hopes that he would feel comfortable with her and be her friend.
What are we doing, moms? Why are our daughters being mean girls at age three?
I’ve been thinking about it, and looking at what role I could play in tearing down this negativity that’s sewn into girls, towards other girls, from a young age. There was a line in an episode of Black-ish after the election of 45 where Wanda Sykes questions her white female co-worker on why her “sisters” didn’t show up for Hillary, and why 52% of them (us) voted Conservative. The woman said something which I’ll never forget (salute to the writers) “first of all, white women aren’t sisters. We hate each other.”
That stuck with me because it rang so true, but it’s just not something I've ever put my finger on. Sisterhood is not something I’ve been raised in. I grew up with brothers and formed amazing female friendships, and I can’t say that I personally witnessed intense mean-girling myself. But I certainly witnessed negative competition between girls as I was growing up, and in little ways it’s perpetuated over and over. We can't be born this way, can we?
And I wonder what I can do, right now and for the rest of my life, to encourage the sisterhood mindset in my daughter and all the little girls that I come into contact with. Because I live in a neighborhood surrounded by little friends for my children, there are girls everywhere! What can we as moms, in particular, do to model sisterhood and not mean-girlism for these future queens?
If I’m being honest with myself, I can cut back on the gossip.
It’s HARD because we don’t really see it as gossip. I don’t anyway; sometimes it feels so necessary to commiserate with another mom, especially if someone is doing something particularly nuts. But my son has just turned 4, and I can see how this plays out now that our children are getting old enough to pick up on subtle cues. I’ve made it a point recently to make sure I reach out to everyone equally so that my children (and the small horde of children that are usually around the house) see that as normal. Everyone is a friend, everyone is worth your time and attention. Everyone gets socializing. Every little friend gets cared for in the exact same tone and with the same care. Am I going to feel the exact same towards every child who crosses my path? No because humans don't react to every human the same and we don't always connect on the same levels. Children are just small humans, so it's fine that every single one isn't going to be my favorite. But I can treat them all with the same respect so that they pick up on that habit.
If we want our girls to grow up being decent, inclusive humans, we have to actively model decency and inclusivity every chance we get. We have to take a hard look at our lives and ask ourselves in what ways we can raise up other women. In what ways can I support the women around me, and how am I speaking to my children about it? And what about you: if a woman around you needs something, like last minute childcare due to an unforeseen circumstance, do you offer to take her kids so she can handle her business? You don't have to love babysitting, you just have to have a passion for the success of women. When women succeed, the world succeeds.
As much as it's important for me to see my daughter being inclusive and befriending anyone in need of a friend, I want my son to see this just as much. For one reason, men are so obviously not getting the emotional education that they require from a young age and boys need friends and feelings talk just as much as girls. But for another, slightly more selfish reason, I don't want my son bringing home a Regina George-esque mean girl one day! (If he so chooses to bring a girl home) Because that will be really inconvenient for me when I have to tell him to politely and respectfully break it off with her and go for whomever most resembles Leslie Knope (again, if that's his heart's desire.)
There has to be something better we can do, moms. Let's be sisters and raise our daughters to be sisters. Let's lend a helping hand whenever we can because we raise each other up always, we don't break each other down.