Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Trials of Being a Girl: Cliques and Friendships

When I was in junior high, the cool girls sat at a different lunch table.

Every day, they would sit together in the lunchroom – the four of them – Jodi and Teresa and Diane and Cindy, chatting and giggling with secrets that only they shared. They did the same thing every noon. They would each purchase a different type of bagged chips or cheese popcorn, unfold a napkin, and pour the contents into one provocative mix. The rest of us girls would look up over our individual paper sack lunches with envy. If only we could be a part of their clique – if only we could take part of that chip mix.

In her novel Cat’s Eye, author Margaret Atwood describes the sometimes troubling friendships of girls: "Little girls are small and cute only to grown-ups. To each other they are life sized.”

As grown women, we often reminisce about our childhood friendships. Many of us had a best friend, someone who we confided in and played alongside: from swing sets to Barbies to trying on our older sister’s mascara. But we can also remember the pain of childhood friendships: the cliques, the snobbery, the bossy girls who led the pack and decided who belonged and who should be excluded.

In fourth grade, my daughter entered this minefield. She was best friends with one girl in her class. She also had an "enemy light". This girl did not like my daughter and made her feelings perfectly clear with little comments and rolled eyes. I kept giving my daughter advice: try to kill her with kindness, I suggested; or, ignore her and she'll stop. Nothing worked. We prayed about the situation. She often came home in tears. Then the ultimate betrayal happened. The mean girl convinced my daughter's BFF to turn against her. Suddenly my daughter was alone in the world of female hurt, and I was powerless against it.

I called the teacher who read the whole class a story about being caring and friendly to those in need. It did little good. It took time to lessen the hurt, and my daughter learned some lessons from it. She learned to not put all of her friendship in any one person. She also learned that girls can be cruel to one another.

I encouraged her to not be that kind of girl, to not be that kind of woman.

When I was young, I remember my mom praying that my brother and sister and I would find good friends: friends who would help us, encourage us, and provide positive peer pressure. For all the worrying we do about media's influence, I think parents would be well advised to pay careful attention to our children's friendships. It is in the working out of these relationships, the positive and the negative, that our kids mature and learn how to handle conflict and how to stand up for what they believe.

I am also profoundly thankful to my own friends, from childhood to now, who have stood by my side and made me a better woman.

You know who you are :-)... Thank you all.
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