Here is how to raise a mean girl:
A) Be one in front of her.
B) Let her be one in front of you.
We went to our community pool this afternoon and there were a few girls there on a duck float the size of Kansas. And here's the thing about a floatie the size of Kansas in a community pool on a hot summer afternoon. Every kid in the place is going to want to play on it. It's the law of pool toys. Especially big ones. Especially in July. But it was the end of the day and the crowd had dwindled and at this point, there were only two girls playing on it when my daughter approached and asked for a turn.
First they said later. Then they said no. Then they told her not to hang on it. Then they purposely steered it to the opposite end of the pool to avoid her. And then they turned their backs on her, never giving her end of the pool another glance.
My daughter (and son, for that matter) is a really nice kid.
She is empathetic. She is kind. She thinks about people's feelings and is considerate of others in any situation. She likes to befriend the new kid. She thinks two is fun but three is even more fun. She is warm and polite and caring.
And when she isn't any of those things (because kids are kids, after all), we are there.
I wish I could say that it was all nature and that it took no effort on our part over the past ten years to help mold her into a kind person. But it's not true. We worked really hard on raising nice kids. On instilling kindness in them. On teaching them to share and more importantly, ensuring that they do. On showing gratitude and respect to people we encounter and expecting them to do the same. On calling them out when they don't. Because I believe it's really much easier for a kid (especially girls, whether we like it or not) to be unkind. It's much easier for them to ignore a new kid. To avoid a conversation they would maybe rather not have. To stick to the friends they know and only those friends. It's easier for kids to be selfish and non-empathetic and simplistic in their emotions.
Unless we teach them otherwise.
I watched the girl on the floatie's mom on the other side of the pool. She was busy chatting with friends, enjoying her day, didn't so much as look over at her kids for the 30+ minutes we were there. She didn't check to see if they were sharing. She didn't break her conversation with her girlfriends to have one with her kids. To notice the other kids in the pool.
I thought about saying something to those girls, as I have done so many times in the past in defense of my kids and others. I thought about encouraging them to give my daughter a turn. Asking them to share. Trying to teach them a little something about kindness and generosity.
But I didn't say a thing.
Because even if I had, it would have been a fleeting moment in their ten years of experience. Ten years of getting away with poor behavior and mean girl attitudes that, at worst, are being taught to them (because I firmly believe that whole apples and trees theory) and at best, are being ignored.
Today, it was just a pool float. My daughter swam away and found her brother and ended up playing some diving game in the deep end until we left. She was bummed she didn't get to try the duck, but she moved on.
But for me it was more than that. It was a reminder that my work as a mother counts beyond "please" and "thank you" and random July afternoons by the pool. That it's impactful in ways big and small, all the time. Not just in the behaviors I emulate for them, but in the ones I look out for and more importantly, call out. In instances we may forget after a few minutes and those that might stick around in our memories forever.
It was a reminder that you have to do the work to raise a kind girl. But you also have to do the work not to raise a mean one.
And both are equally important in the end.
Because apple. And tree. And duck floaties. And all that.