Six years ago, when my daughter was still safely hidden from the world in my body, our birthing class instructor asked us a question. I can’t remember the exact wording now, but it was something along the lines this: “What scares you about becoming a parent?” Most of us answered with imminent fears—childbirth, having a newborn rely on us every step of the way—things like that. One Dad-to-be answered differently, however. His answer has stuck with me all this time. He said something along the lines of, “I don’t want her to be picked on, left out, or made fun of. More than that, I want her to learn about including others. I don’t want her to be the mean girl that does picks on, leaves our, or makes fun of other girls. My heart would be broken either way.”
I remember thinking, in that moment, “Oh, my gosh. I’m having a girl. Girls are SO MEAN!” Then I calmed myself down with, “But I won’t have to worry about this for a LONG time.”
A few months ago, I got a note from Lily’s teacher in her agenda, informing me of some less than stellar behavior. Long story short, she ran down the hallway, shouting from the bathroom, for no real reason. When the teacher talked to her about it, she said she knew she was going to get in trouble for doing it, but she did it anyway. This didn’t sound like my child who loves school and hates getting in trouble. Upon prodding, I discovered that another little girl told her they wouldn’t be friends anymore unless she did that. Lily said, “I knew I was going to get in trouble, Mommy, but I had to do it because I want friends.” She followed that up with, “I would never say something like that to her.”
She was in kindergarten.
Needless to say, that incident opened up a line of communication I had believed I could postpone at least until the tween years. We talk a lot now about good friends versus bad ones. Good friends do not use their friendship to make you do things you don’t want to do. Good friends build you up, cheer for you, and help you become a better person. They don’t get you into trouble, and they’ll understand when you say “no” or “I can’t do that” to their requests. Good friends love you for being YOU—not for changing into something they want you to be.
A few days later, she got into, the car crying. Another little girl said they had nothing in common, and therefore, unless Lily changed EVERYTHING about herself, they were no longer friends. Sobbing, she told me “But Mommy, I don’t like any of the things she likes. I don’t WANT to like those things. I will play princesses with her, but I don’t want to forget that I love superheroes! Why can’t I like what I like and she like what she likes, and we be friends?”
Why can’t she?
I took that as my cue to teach her about including others. Some of my closest friends, including my husband (her Daddy), and I don’t like every single thing the other does, I explained. That’s what makes us good friends! We have different ideas, perspectives, and thoughts. Including others in your circle is important because you never know what you may be able to teach (and learn from!) each other. I explained to her that it was completely OK to dislike cats or princesses—but to still like her friend. These times are perfect opportunities for them to use their wild kindergarten imaginations and picture a play world where they could play together as a superhero and a princess. I encouraged her to try a “both” approach rather than “one or the other” type games. She happily accepted this answer. The next day, she reported that she had an entire group of kids playing together. Each one did their own thing in the middle of a fantasy world where everything fit together. She said, “It was so fun! People played with us that never did before!”
That, my dear, is is the beauty of including others. Being a good friend means including everyone—even if their ideas don’t quite fit with yours.
We encourage Lily every day to be herself. We build her up and tell her that she has some wonderful qualities to offer the world. She shouldn’t have to change herself for the world to love her. I know that my days of doing this, of helping her navigate through friendships, is far from over. However, I’m hoping that by starting now, we can soften the inevitable future blows. Wouldn’t it be amazing, if instead of a world of exclusion, we raised a world of people who seek out ways of embracing and including others? People who love one another in spite of their differences?