For the past few years, Eldest Daughter has been struggling with a couple of “mean girls” at school. It’s a tricky situation: one of the girls (let’s call her Stacey) has been an on again, off again friend since Kindergarten. Although they are not in the same class this year, they see each other at lunch, recess and almost every after-school activity. When things are good between them, they are very, very good. They enjoy each other’s company and have fun together. But when things are bad they are nasty. Stacey has the manipulative prowess of a woman four times her age, and although I would like to say that I love all of God’s children and would never think to question the innocence of a fifth grade girl, I admit that there have been several times I’ve wondered whether or not everyone would be better off were this horrid little beast packaged up and mailed to Siberia.
Due to the many hours they are together at school each week, Eldest believes that life is easiest if she can keep the peace. She has resigned herself to keeping Stacey happy, because when she is happy she is less cruel. As you can imagine, this leaves me feeling angry and powerless and just plain heartbroken for my sweet, generous child. The adults at her school are aware of the situation but have been reluctant to get involved because, like any seasoned bully, Stacey is on her best behavior around teachers and staff. She saves her most terrible, cutting words for times the girls are out of earshot, so no adult has ever witnessed any of this behavior.
Until recently, my ex-husband and I have focused on giving our daughter tools to deal with Stacey on her own. We talk through the things that happen and how they make her feel, and then we talk through possible ways to respond. We ply her with encouraging words and tell her how proud we are that she is too kind-hearted to lash out at Stacey, but that it’s not her job to keep this girl happy. It’s her job to be a kid, have fun at school, and stand up for herself when necessary. Usually these conversations seem to help. But last week she stopped being able to sleep at her dad’s house. She said her mind was too full; she was stressed and overwhelmed and dreaded seeing Stacey at after-school care. So we decided it was time to talk to her teacher.
It turns out that Eldest isn’t the only girl in her class who has been victimized by Stacey, and Eldest’s teacher was livid. “No one treats my girls this way,” she told me (bless her), and vowed to do something about it. But I was, and continue to be, very torn. On one hand, I’m incredibly relieved that Eldest has an advocate at school, an adult who is willing to help keep her safe. But on the other hand, we are all too familiar with the skill and secrecy Stacey uses against her victims. She holds grudges. She is very, very patient. And she does not hesitate to strike the moment an adult isn’t watching. If she finds out that Eldest’s “tattling” was in any way related to whatever consequences this teacher finds appropriate, Eldest’s life will be a living hell. And god help us, we haven’t even reached middle school.
What can I do? How can I help my child? Oh, how I wish for the relative simplicity of boys. I wish Eldest could just pummel this girl, assert her confidence and dominance, and be done with it. But the spider web that is the female social hierarchy is so wicked and complex; even as a relatively well-adjusted adult, I find this system nearly impossible to navigate. It kills me that my beautiful girl is suffering at the hands of another kid. If I could, I would keep her by my side always and protect her from everything painful and awful in this world. But parenthood is never that easy. And she will inevitably get hurt. This is the horrible truth that no one tells you when they hand you your wrinkled newborn for the first time, her skin still wet from your womb. You cannot protect her from everything. The only thing you can do is love her, fiercely, through it all. And if you’re lucky, that will help.