Queen Bees and Mama Bears: Tribing around Our Daughters

“Hey,” my friend Jana said to me last week. “A friend of mine is inviting moms to get together next weekend to talk about cliques and other issues their daughters are facing at school. Just the moms, no kids. Wanna come?”

Um, yes please.

And also, BRILLIANT idea.

And also, WHY do we moms not get together ALL THE TIME to problem solve?

As moms with daughters know, this problem is a doozy. Navigating the social landscape can be a minefield for girls, especially as they approach middle school age. Boys have issues, too, but between cliques, gossip, and unspoken popularity contests, girls can create social hierarchies with alarming political precision.

We all experienced that in our own tween and teen years. We all remember how much it sucked. We all want something different for our daughters. But is there anything we can do about it as moms?

YES. We can start by “tribing.” (That’s my invented verb for moms gathering together to share wisdom, experience, and support.) We moms are amazing at tribing when we put our minds to it.

Ten of us did that on Saturday. We met in a coffee shop meeting room with pastries, a Mama Bear mission, and no children.

After we introduced ourselves, the mom who organized the meeting laid out a vision for the group:
To create a safe space where all moms are welcome, where we can talk about issues our daughters are facing, and where there’s no way to do it wrong.  In this space, we can take care of some of our own healing, as well as gain tools to help our tween and teen daughters handle whatever comes their way.

Seriously brilliant.

To start the discussion, the organizer led us on a trip down memory lane, through our own middle and high school years. What do you remember about kids who were “popular”? What qualities did you perceive them as having?

She wrote down the qualities we threw out and put them inside a box on the board. Then we tossed out the qualities of the kids who were “out,” ostracized, or decidedly unpopular. This is what it looked like:

We talked about how this in-the-box/out-of-the-box social system really hurts everyone. Those inside the box sometimes have less freedom than those outside of it because of the expectations put upon them and the fear of being cast out. And, of course, those outside of the box suffer the most from bullying and feeling like they don’t belong.

One mom pointed out that we grown women can perpetuate this “in/out” idea for our daughters unintentionally. When we gush over a friend’s weight loss, for example, are we communicating that fat is out and thin is in? When we rave about a particular brand name (a Coach purse, a North Face jacket), are we doing the same thing?

We also talked about the judgments people make in reverse—that when we perceive ourselves as outside-the-box, we can easily make unfair assumptions about people inside it. We might assume that because someone is popular, they’re also snobby. Or we might think that someone is judging us for our weight, hair, or clothes, simply because we see those things as criteria for them liking us.

It was interesting to see how focusing on our own past experiences really helped us think through what our daughters are facing. And the wisdom behind that focus became clear as we talked.

When our daughters come to us and say “So-and-so told me I’m fat,” our first reaction, naturally, is anger. We may see that as an instinctual Mama Bear response, but how much of our anger is also a reaction to our own past hurts? How can we help our daughters handle these issues if we are still grappling with them ourselves?

RIGHT?! The brilliance of this idea, I tell you.

We also consulted about some possibilities for future meetings, such as bringing in school counselors to share their thoughts and gathering with our girls when we feel like we’ve got a good footing. Ideally, we’ll pass some of the wisdom we gain through this process on to our girls, to help them through some of the pitfalls of a screwed up social system.

So that’s where we started. When we meet again next month, we’ll discuss the first chapter of “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World,” by Rosalind Wiseman (affiliate link, FYI). I’ve always wanted to read that book, so it’ll be great to have a group to discuss it with.

I’m super excited about this, you guys. Sometimes we forget, as we forge through life individually with our families, that a group of women with a common goal is a powerful force. It’s amazing what we can do when we build one another up instead of tearing one another down. That’s ultimately what we want our daughters to learn.

Tribe on, Mamas.

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

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