“I can’t deal with this for the next fifteen years”, my friend says to me. “This mean girl stuff is only going to get worse the older they get.”
I looked at our girls, all mere four years of them, tiny kindergarteners with minds full of crafts, fart jokes, and if they can take Bunny with them to bed, now having to equip themselves with the social skills of teenagers. I felt furious, because anger is always the first, easiest feeling, but then I just felt really serious. Like this is parenting. Not the nappy changes and the cooked dinners, but the responsibility of facing big, real, messy things alongside your children and wading with them through it.
There is a bullying situation at Ella’s kindergarten centred on the most common form in girls: relational aggression. The you’re-not-my-friend-anymore-you’re-not-coming-to-my-party type. It’s mild, sure, but these girls are four years old and the hurt feelings that are caused by these comments are damaging to tiny impressionable minds and hearts not yet developed. The we-don’t-like-boys-and-come-on-so-and-so-let’s-play-over-here only polarizes peers and manipulates them into a situation the bully can control. And not only that, these behaviours encourage others to be bullies, relaying this aggression home to family members and other friends. Ella has a few times now snapped to Billy that he is not her best friend anymore and just go away would you, leaving him wailing in the corner, betrayed and inconsolable. We have had lengthy, passionate discussions about what friendship looks and feels like and I basically need to sleep for the next month or start growing a coffee patch directly in my backyard. Though I’m relieved to discover Ella has removed herself from the girls doing the bullying and developed friendships with other children, the fact that it’s occurring at all makes me not only furious, it makes me sad. And after lengthy discussions with the kindergarten teachers, what’s more disturbing to me is the denial from the parents of the mean girls, unable to see their child’s behaviour for what it is and step in accordingly.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with how terrible the world is. I do it all the time. Just the other night, I had dinner with a girlfriend and without even knowing it, our conversation went down the path of what-is-wrong-with-people in nearly every facet of life: parenting, self-ownership and responsibility, gay rights, the refugee crisis, self-entitlement and the common ‘government worker’ mindset, politics and the Trump campaign — honestly, I left dejected, thinking I should never have birthed children into this world at all.
But here’s the thing. Brock Turner rapes an unconscious girl and receives a pathetically weak sentence and the world is up in arms about it. White privilege is slammed and issues like consent and violence against women are passionately clarified and discussed – blogs and tweets and Facebook commentary flies through the air because people are involved and people have something to say and people won’t stand for that shit.
A mass shooting occurs in a gay club in Orlando and the internet explodes. Gay pride marches fill the streets and religious leaders change their tune on homosexuality and laws get passed for same-sex marriages. Hundreds of members of US Congress protest in the House of Representatives as they push for action on revised gun legislation. The NRA gets heavily scrutinised with rallies and political pressure to face the dirty business undermining American gun laws because people aren’t stupid and because people are sick of their babies being shot to death while rich senators sit in parliament approving the right for all Americans to own a gun, even those on terrorist watch lists.
Thirty years ago, parents of babies with Down syndrome were advised to place them in an institution. Now? Now they’re getting college sponsorships and getting married and becoming valuable members of society with something to contribute — causing the world to challenge anyone who uses the word ‘retard’ in a derogatory sense.
There is a scene from Parenthood I love. A little black boy is talking to his mum about being called a nigger. She talks to him about racism in a great, child-friendly way and then at the end she says, “You know, when I was your age, my mum used to dream of the day a black person was elected for president. Do you know Obama? Obama is a the President of America and honey, he is a black man. The world is getting better. Slowly, people are getting better. Have faith in that.”
It’s a messy, complicated world out there because it’s made up of messy, complicated people and ideas. That’s humans for you. Completely jacked up. Our society is full of racists, xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists, religious extremists and right-wing fanatics all marching to the beat of the same drum: Hate – which is really Fear combined with a promise to restore what is lost to you if only you march along. And indeed, these hate-groups leave you wondering how the world will ever get better.
But hate doesn’t just belong to extremist groups. Hate belongs to the driver of the car who just got cut off. Hate belongs to the person who feels threatened by a differing opinion. Hate belongs to me when my child is violated or my safety is threatened and the point is that the world is messy and complicated because you and I are messy and complicated, full of flaws and contradictions and judgements and jacked up thoughts because we’re all in pain about something.
We all have the sickness. We all have the capacity to contribute to the problem of exclusion, suspicion, intolerance, fear, judgement and hate, and the truth is, we probably do it on a daily basis. I immediately disliked the parents of the bully at Ella’s kindergarten without for one second even attempting to think about additional factors or address this conflict situation with them in an open, healthy, constructive, empowering way. Shut down and guard up immediately, my pointy blame finger shooting right out and flicking in their direction.
It comes down to this.
Waiting for politicians to lead is like waiting for a bus when you’re drowning in the middle of the ocean. Leaders, though influential, aren’t the ones who are going to change this world anyway.
The world is slowly getting better because you and I are slowly getting better.
It’s you and it’s me and it’s our own selves we need to look at first when even attempting to consider a peaceful world. It is not my job to be the judge. It is my job to be the solution. In bullying disputes and in everyday parenting, in the way I think and the things I talk about, in the changes I make and the money I donate and the people I support and the behaviours I address. Always. In every waking moment of every day. It’s exhausting, obviously. Why the hell anyone would want to grow up is beyond me. Give me glitter and unicorns and bunnies and pigtails any day.
But like my friend Anna said: We all have a responsibility to seek out those pockets, however small, in our everyday and mundane lives to truly show up and engage with this messy and beautiful world of complicated people and ideas, and with all of our own individual flaws and contradictions, keep trying to move towards openness, tolerance, respect and humility.
When we know better, we do better and parents? With your empty coffee cups and your tired eyes? The job you have of raising the next generation right is massive and serious and you should just freak out about it right now because that’s what any normal person would do. The only chance we have of improving each generation is to raise children who also embrace openness, tolerance, diversity, humility, respect and inclusion, eradicating hate and entitlement entirely from the psyche. Think you can do that? Great. Thanks. Let’s do it together. Self-help books here we come. In actual fact I’ve just ordered a book called Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades. Joel is all: Um, could you just abbreviate the main bits for me in dot points?
Stay strong fellow warriors. Life is hard, but life has coffee so, you know, we totally got this. New life mottos: Don’t be a jerk. Be the solution.