Mothers: Go to the Dark Side with your Daughters

Back Alone

Teenage girls can be cruel, but pre-school age girls can be pretty darn cruel as well. I recently took my two year old, Arden, for a play date at a park with three other moms who all have four year old daughters. The four year old girls were friends since birth, regularly spent time together, and their moms considered them to be best friends. When I arrived at the park, I was appalled by what I saw. The girls were acting plain evil, saying things to each other like “I hate you,” “you’re ugly,” and I even witnessed one girl spit on another. Yes, spit. It’s critical to mention that these girls’ mothers are kind, religious, educated women- not the type that I ordinarily would have stereotyped as raising children who behave this way. The mothers were frustrated and intolerant of this behavior, routinely separating their daughters and threatening to leave the park if it continued.

This was my first dose of pre-school “Mean Girls” and it was daunting. I realize girls can be mean to each other, but never would have imagined it starting as early as four (and from what I’ve heard, even earlier). When I was in fourth grade, a fifth grade girl named Dana bullied me. My maiden name is Daku (pronounced Day-koo) and when I would walk into the school cafeteria for lunch, Dana would loudly and repeatedly chant in front of all the other kids, “Eeeew, It’s Daku.” It was mortifying. That was 25 years ago, and I still remember the feeling that overcame me when the clock struck “lunchtime” and I knew I’d be ridiculed on my way to the table. We’ve all had a Dana in our life, and at some point, we’ve probably been a Dana. The point is that you don’t easily forget the crappy way our Danas made us feel.

Back to the playground. Arden was unaffected by the Mean Girls, and was playing in a sand box with another child who was closer to her age. I watched her as she played and became consumed with her innocence because, at two, she doesn’t know the pain of being hurt or rejected. She only knows that she prefers to sleep with Mommy and Daddy, get goldfish crackers in her lunch, and wear her Minnie Mouse nightgown to bed.

Weeks after this play date, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Mean Girls and the reality that my daughters will eventually face the heartbreak of rejection.  I wanted to know the best way to address the pain that they- and I- would feel when they were excluded from the lunch table, didn’t make cuts for a sports team, or weren’t invited to a birthday party. What would I say? What would I do? How would I be able to protect them? I combed over this issue for a solution ad nauseam with girlfriends who have young daughters and nobody could offer an easy answer other than “they’ll grow out of it.”

I think somebody else figured out the solution.  A couple years ago, I stumbled upon Brene Brown, Ph.D. while watching a TED Talk about the power of vulnerability. Brene is a research professor at the University of Houston who studies vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness. In her recent book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, she completely nailed the “what to do when my daughter is rejected” issue. Nailed. It. The solution is to sit with your daughter in the dark.

In the book, Brene’s adolescent daughter came home from school feeling hurt after repeatedly being one of the last kids picked for soccer teams at recess. Her daughter advised, “two popular kids are the captains and they pick teams… after all the cool kids are named, the popular kids decide to split the others. I’m always one of the others. I never get to be named.” As her daughter sat in her unlit bedroom crying, Brene resisted the urge to turn on the lights to alleviate her own discomfort and, instead, sat with her in the literal and emotional dark. She put her hand around her daughter’s shoulder and said, “I know what it’s like to be the other.” Brene and her daughter went on to connect about some of Brene’s own experiences in life when otherness was both powerful and painful. Fast forward several pages, Brene’s daughter used Brene’s example of empathy to connect with Brene when she was featured as one of “The Others” on a publicity poster for a speaking engagement. This opportunity for connection would have been lost if Brene wouldn’t have first sat with her daughter in the dark.

In our own lives, events like these are critical because they become “teaching moments” for our children to learn about the power of compassion and connection. Brene easily could have done what I likely would have done in a similar situation, which is to dismiss her daughter’s feelings by saying something to the tune of “if so-and-so isn’t picking you for the soccer team, then play tennis with so-and-so instead.” Or maybe I would have said, “it doesn’t matter what they think…” Or perhaps I would have instinctively regurgitated the biggest load of garbage that our parents told us about sticks and stones breaking our bones.

It will be easy if my daughters end up being resilient and unfazed by rejection, but if they are not, I don’t want to make them feel wrong or invalidated for caring. I don’t want to make them feel silly for not immediately “getting over it.” I want to help them understand that rejection is something that everybody faces. I hope there never is a “dark” for my daughters, but if and when there is, I dang sure am going to sit with them in it.

What are effective ways you’ve dealt with your children facing rejection?


    35 Comments on Mothers: Go to the Dark Side with your Daughters

    1. Sommer
      July 12, 2017 at 7:44 pm (5 years ago)

      I was in the “others” category for most of my childhood. My parents always said “ignore it” or “quit it.” Fortunately, I was more apt to listen to my grandmother who didn’t let anyone tell her she was unworthy or less. Her role modeling of confidence and strength still sticks with me. I strive to do the same for my children. But the time my daughter came to me crying on the playground because someone told her “your not good enough to do the monkey bars” I initially froze. I didn’t want to let her down and say the wrong thing. Then like an angel on my shoulder I heard my Grammie’s words and I told her “I just say you cross those monkey bars in one try. You’ve been working at it for weeks. You know you can do it right? (She nodded) Then tell her your turn is next and cross those monkey bars like you’ve done so many times before.” She did, again and again, and now she invites other kids to do them too and offers to show them how. I don’t always get it right but that day or clicked and I’m so glad it did.

    2. Lowanda J
      June 30, 2015 at 2:54 pm (7 years ago)

      Being in the dark is all about being real and that is how I am with all of my kids…biological and students. Validating their feelings is so important. I love everything you wrote here and may pass this on to some of the parents I work with. #TuesTalk visit from Sunshine and Elephants.

      • jenniferdaku
        July 2, 2015 at 9:59 pm (7 years ago)

        Thanks so much for stopping by and for the feedback, Lowanda. I love all of Brene Brown’s books and I recommending passing them along to anyone you deem appropriate. Cheers (and have a wonderful 4th of July).

    3. Michelle
      June 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm (7 years ago)

      Having three daughters and sitting in the dark with myself all through my life I know first hand the ugly feelings that can manifest through these emotions. Both my husband and I have spent many a nights, days, weeks sitting in the dark and waiting out the storms with our girls. As a teacher, I see it all too often and so sensitive to it at an early age, I nip in immediately in the bud in my classroom. Sometimes there is nothing you can do but just be there and hold their hand, let them cry and love on them. After awhile taking them shopping always lifts the spirit!!! LOL! True though, it works!!

      • jenniferdaku
        July 2, 2015 at 10:02 pm (7 years ago)

        Thanks for the feedback, Michelle! I remember growing up, my grandmother (who was a longtime elementary school teacher) would always say the “sticks and stones” quote, which always was false because we know that words can hurt the worst. And yes, I can totally get on board with retail therapy.

    4. Mila
      June 17, 2015 at 9:35 am (7 years ago)

      That’s a great post!
      I agree. And don’t we all have the need to be vulnerable and cry in the dark sometimes?
      As the child’s pain, is parents’ pain, parents want so much to make it better, make the pain go away and don’t let their child suffer, that they accidentally may make their child feel more misunderstood. That’s a great advice: to accept that our children will face a rejection and heartache at some point and to suffer with them.
      Lots of hugs!

    5. Kathleen
      June 13, 2015 at 10:26 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks, that is a powerful post. It seems rejection is so common yet one can feel like the only one suffering.
      Thanks for you shining light on this subject and bringing it to #HomeMattersParty

      • jenniferdaku
        June 14, 2015 at 6:06 pm (7 years ago)

        Thanks for stopping by Kathleen. Good point about people feeling like they are the only ones battling rejection.

    6. Ann Grubbs n Critters
      June 12, 2015 at 11:13 am (7 years ago)

      Found your blog through a linky. Kids can be so evil, and girls can be especially mean. It hurts to read stories like that. And yes, I’ll be sitting with my daughter (and my son) in the dark if that happens.

    7. Melinda
      June 7, 2015 at 11:51 pm (7 years ago)

      Here from Sunday Features.
      I always felt helpless when it happened to my girls. I would just hug them, cry with them, and tell them it had happened to me too.

    8. Leslie Harris
      June 7, 2015 at 6:58 pm (7 years ago)

      I have boys. Now in college. But I can’t tell you how many ugly “mean girl” stories I personally witnessed when my boys were in grade school. As a ‘boy Mom’ watching from the sidelines –it was a small, private Catholic school– I noticed the emergence of the cliques and ‘princesses’–throughout their elementary years and I’m sad to say that my observation was that ” the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
      Mean girl behavior happens when empathy for others isn’t taught and/or expected. And I don’t mean just mouthing it…I mean living it. Encouraging inclusiveness…by having your daughter invite the shy girl in the class because she always gets left out….and helping her understand the other person’s feelings…by processing her real-life interactions with her classmates.
      Instead when it came to mean girl behavior I repeatedly observed mothers making excuses for their daughters by choosing to see their daughters as ‘the victim,’ or choosing the see the dynamics ONLY through the eyes of their child. I also saw a lot of mothers of mean girls who –unconsciously or not—got too much gratification from their daughter’s popularity. I know it sounds harsh, but by the time my sons graduated from high school I had learned that if a girl was polite and kind and genuine I could pretty much count on seeing those traits in her mother.

      • jenniferdaku
        June 7, 2015 at 8:25 pm (7 years ago)

        Wow, thanks for sharing your interesting perspective, Leslie. As a new mom, I always value the feedback of other moms who have “been there, seen that!” I have girlfriends who have seen a pattern of sinister moms who actually like that their four year-olds are inclusive and I can’t flipping believe it! Your comment really hits home… did you see an issue with “mean boys”?

        • Leslie Harris
          June 8, 2015 at 10:33 am (7 years ago)

          No. I didn’t. What I observed was that boys pretty much deal with conflict in a more direct way. They get mad. They say it. Their actions tend to match their words and then it’s over. I found it so much more refreshing and I still see that kind of directness with my husband and my boys. Maybe you notice this with your husband too. Not a lot of behind the scenes gossiping or drama huh?
          Hmm…you’re really making me think now Jennifer. The sign of a wonderful writer I might add 🙂

    9. Ginger
      March 11, 2015 at 3:33 pm (7 years ago)

      I totally don’t get it! I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen desperate mothers appropriately discipline their daughters for mean girl behavior and they have told me about the many discussions they have had with them and yet, this mean girl behavior still happens. It began for my little girl at a Mommy’s Morning Out class at age 3. Some little girl would be her best friend one day and mean girl the next. It’s so hard to sit with your daughter in the dark! Prayers for all the mothers and daughters going this every day.

      • jenniferdaku
        March 11, 2015 at 8:40 pm (7 years ago)

        Agreed, Ginger. Thanks for your insight. It really does take a village…

    10. Christy
      March 11, 2015 at 9:26 am (7 years ago)

      The main thing that popped up for me while reading this was, “Why didn’t the parents of the Mean Girls do something about their behavior?”

      I think Brene Brown would likely be a proponent of sitting the girls down, asking why they were treating each other badly, and determining how they might act in the future instead.

      We’ll all have to face rejection at some point, but we don’t have to allow children to become bullies. Confronting the behavior early and often might be one way to address it so that it doesn’t become something bigger.

    11. Brandi Clevinger
      March 6, 2015 at 7:32 pm (7 years ago)

      My daughter will be eight next month and has already faced a few scenarios with mean girls. My daughter is beautiful, smart, funny, and other girls are magnets to her. The ones that get jealous of her are the ones that are mean. I’ve talked to my daughter about it and she says she feels sorry for the ones that are mean to her. She says they are mean because others are mean to her.

      Even though I like her thinking, I know she will not always be so resilient. I dread those days when she will get hurt and rejected.

      I found your post at Inspire Me Mondays.

      • jenniferdaku
        March 7, 2015 at 7:19 pm (7 years ago)

        Brandi- thanks for stopping by my blog and for sharing your personal experience. Reading this was heartbreaking to me… but your daughter seems like she’s fierce so far and even seems compassionate toward her aggressors. She has a good heart. Everyone faces rejection, and we have to watch our daughters face it in order for them to grow, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t stink in the meantime.

    12. Mujeres Bonitas Calientes
      March 4, 2015 at 2:23 pm (7 years ago)

      An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker
      who has been doing a little research on this.
      And he in fact ordered me dinner simply because I stumbled upon it for
      him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!
      But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this subject here on your web site.

    13. Jessy @ The Life Jolie
      March 4, 2015 at 9:59 am (7 years ago)

      Thank you for posting this, I have a little bit of time before this (my daughter is 8 months old) but I’ve thought about this topic a lot. We’ve all been one of the others at some point and girls can be down right nasty (even now at 30, I’m struggling with the fact that my closest girlfriends are all moving away and I am terrified about the prospect of having to find new women to hang out with).

      One thing I really regret from my adolescence is not having the courage to be person to go sit with the one who ends up alone, or to stick up for them if someone is giving them a hard time. I only hope I can help my daughter learn the confidence and courage to sit with the “loner” and let them know that someone is there if the roles are reversed.

      I stopped by from Wow Me Wednesday.

      • jenniferdaku
        March 4, 2015 at 8:50 pm (7 years ago)

        I think that not having the courage to sit with someone alone at the lunch table comes from the universal desire to feel a sense of belonging and, when you’re growing up, the sense of belonging comes from doing what the crowd is doing. We’ve all been there. Like you, I hope my daughters get enough emotional support at home that they aren’t seeking it (as much) at school.

    14. Gwen
      March 3, 2015 at 2:07 am (7 years ago)

      I just stumbled onto your blog…I taught first grade for many years. 17? I think that’s a hard age. I worked on helping the crying girls realize, Why do you even WANT to hang out with mean people?? Is so and so nice?? Yes. So and so, do you want to play with her? And that got the nice girls ganging together. We talked as a class why a mean person should get attention? Ignore them. We want a story. They can sit at their desk ( yes at first grade a boy leaned over and threatened to kill the boy next to him and told how). But before long, after using scenarios with these pig flash cards and what we thought we should do in a situation, it had ideas on the back. This became a favorite free time activity. Weird Huh? But I watched. And I wasn’t afraid to go to the principal about mean bully girls. My Mom is 97. It was like that for HER in first grade. It’s never new is it. My Grandma who would be 124 this last month if alive, was about four and someone took her doll and it was a big deal. Just think! Mean kids 120 years ago. And I felt most comfort with talking to my parents. It did not really happen until I was in my 40’s. And I’d not been prepared!!! And yes my mom in her 80’s was there and it was really comforting. I pray your little one stays innocent. I’m sorry but this is NOT the right play group for you. Even going alone with her and seeing who she plays with…kids ran around a fountain on Saturday–all different families but cute to watch. Best to you and for now? Look for church little friends in her class or neighbors or a ballet class and invite a parent you seem okay with to try a play time. Best to you. Your girl sounds innocent and sweet. Most of my students were too. I just did not tolerate a few wrecking it for the good, kind and innocent ones. Happy parenting. A long process as I have a TBI. My Mom is still my dearest friend I run crying to.

      • jenniferdaku
        March 3, 2015 at 9:13 pm (7 years ago)

        Wow, Gwen, your feedback is awesome and thanks for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed the idea of talking about the bullying instead of ignoring it. I think the cohesiveness of it can help the kids relate and ultimately act against it. Thanks for sharing your story and your personal experience. Cheers!

    15. Emily
      March 1, 2015 at 10:44 pm (7 years ago)

      I have a 3.5 year old and a 15 month old…I just don’t think that I am ready for mean girls! I’m shocked that it starts at such an early age!!

      • jenniferdaku
        March 2, 2015 at 8:24 pm (7 years ago)

        Agreed! Get ready for it, mama!

    16. free music downloads to my phone
      February 26, 2015 at 5:10 pm (7 years ago)

      There’s certainly a great deal to find out about this issue.
      I love all of the points you’ve made.

      • jenniferdaku
        February 26, 2015 at 8:43 pm (7 years ago)

        Thank you so much for the feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

    17. Nicole
      January 22, 2015 at 11:29 pm (7 years ago)

      I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Jen. What great insight! Thanks for sharing!

      • jenniferdaku
        January 23, 2015 at 9:31 am (7 years ago)

        Thanks, Lady! We’ve been pretty dark together before.

      • jenniferdaku
        January 21, 2015 at 9:06 pm (7 years ago)

        Can I get an Amen?

    18. Marcie Miller
      January 21, 2015 at 1:51 pm (7 years ago)

      This is a great post!

      • jenniferdaku
        January 21, 2015 at 3:11 pm (7 years ago)

        Thank you Marcie!

    19. Kim Stapleton
      January 21, 2015 at 1:49 pm (7 years ago)

      What a good read, Jen! Recently, the kids and I have encountered ’bouts of racism both directed at me & them. I, for one thought that I had left my “Dana’s” far behind but, after reading your blog, I agree, coming into the dark, is probably not a bad idea. Right now, both my kids are still so innocent and just like Arden they’ve been oblivious to the ugliness but, I know one day, we all might be sitting in the dark together & I’m okay with that, especially if after a while, we turn the lights back on.

      • jenniferdaku
        January 21, 2015 at 3:14 pm (7 years ago)

        Thanks for sharing your interesting perspective, Kim. I think our natural instincts, both as parents and humans, tell us to dismiss or downplay the hurtful behavior like it doesn’t matter. Sitting in the dark, for me, was extremely counter-intuitive, but I’m excited to see where it leads. Please keep me posted on the outcome. (And I think your kids are freaking adorable).