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Recent social media and television reports (including Good Morning America) have highlighted a disturbing aspect of the social lives of American girls: mean moms.
Bloggers and mothers from around the country have attested to stories of mothers using “social engineering” to ensure the popularity of their own daughters, using mean behavior and bullying to exclude others.
Stories of excluding certain girls from party invitations, from camp cabins, or other bullying examples abound.
Professor and Principal, Doctor Karen Siris.
Behavior is bullying if it is repeated, continues over time, and is used to harass the same target. Teasing, name-calling, and exclusion are all bullying behaviors.
And while much has been written about the psychological effects of bullying, it’s also important to address the issue head-on:
- To determine if we ourselves are the bullies.
- A mother’s motivation may be to protect, care for, encourage and support their daughters, yet the way in which we choose to express this may actually be damaging others.
- We may have unintentionally become bullies in order to get what we believe is necessary for our own daughters, in the process modeling unwanted behavior.
- As a mom, we may not even realize that our behavior is damaging to these young girls. We may see it only as protecting our own child from the intense social pressures around them. And certainly most mothers would agree that they act out of love. However, any of our behavior which excludes rather than seeks to include is most likely detrimental to the well-being of others and a poor role model for our own daughters.
- Some daughters may then emulate their mother’s behavior and become bullies to other girls, thinking that it’s okay because of how their mother behaves. Others may intuitively sense their mother’s behavior is not okay and may withdraw or isolate. In these instances a mom may become angry at them for not feeling grateful, often exacerbating the problem.
What we need to acknowledge is that if we are defending, attacking, protecting, and in some instances outright bullying, that we do this because of our own feelings of impotence, inadequacy or powerlessness.
This lack usually has roots in our childhood and adolescence and carries over into our adult lives, where we may feel powerless in our careers, relationships, or general outlook on life. A mom might have been minimized, ignored fully, or abused in her childhood and or adolescence, and may even be wishing on a unconscious level that she had had the protection and care of her own mother.
Regardless of the cause, it is still important to recognize our own actions without guilt or judgment. We then need to learn to work on the underlying causes and behaviors, so that we may embody the good that we all aspire to in parenting and life.
How to behave with compassion towards your daughters’ friends and classmates:
- Honesty: the first step is admitting to yourself, and then possibly to your daughter if you feel comfortable, that your previous behavior has brought harm to others.
- Realizing that you only have the power to change your own behavior, not the behavior of anyone else around you, including your daughter. This is especially important because it forces us to realize that we cannot control whether our child is popular or not.
- Exploring your own childhood or adolescence for feelings and circumstances around not being popular enough, cool enough, not feeling enough or just generally not enough. Try journaling for fifteen minutes and see what comes up. For many of us this is a very tough step and we may need professional help to guide us through.
- Reflecting on what it is that you truly want for your daughter. Do you want her to be kind, happy, at peace with herself, or do you most wish for her to be part of the “in crowd”? Again, this is tough work and may reveal some deeper insights into ourselves.
- Working to notice your behavior on a moment by moment basis: this is the hardest work of all, as our emotional habits are usually very entrenched. However, when we feel the need to defend or protect or ensure the social survival of our daughters, it is in that moment that we can make the choice to extend compassion to other girls.
This includes not joining in when other moms gossip about girls that are not part of the crowd, as well as not initiating gossip with parents, teachers, youth ministers, etc. Even if you cannot catch yourself in each moment, even just reflecting afterwards on possible new behaviors is a step in the right direction.
- Accepting that there is hope for all of us to move towards more compassion, more love, and more acceptance for all beings.
As with any type of self-work, it may help to speak with a licensed therapist for support and encouragement while doing these exercises.
At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, our experienced psychotherapists have worked with mothers, families, and individuals to find more compassion and love for themselves and others. We welcome you with open arms.