A Mean Girl Epiphany

For elementary-school drama, a mom heeds pope's advice

My 9-year-old daughter has a best friend. They share hugs, notes, and a mutual obsessive love of guinea pigs.

However, my daughter’s best friend is also a brat to the Bieber degree. Eye rolling, passive-aggressive digs, and dismissive giggles are her bread and butter. Let’s call her Heather.

How can we defend the hurt daughter? How can we turn ugly moments into teachable ones?

Heather is harsh. And Heather appears to be violently allergic to my other daughter — my other twin girl. All of Heather’s mean girl tricks make a beeline toward Twin, and Twin often dissolves in tears from the cruel attacks.

It’s been a heart-souring experience learning that Heather has a love-hate relationship with my girls. She’s sweet and affectionate with one — but filled with disdain for the other.

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My husband and I have discussed it many times. We try to figure out what makes Heather tick. How can we defend the hurt daughter? How can we turn the ugly moments into teachable ones for the daughter Heather favors?

‘She Deserves Better’
Maternal instincts kick in easily when it comes to defending the weeping daughter. No parent wants to see her kid cry. So my husband and I hug her, console her and remind her that she deserves better.

But the other issue is how to prevent the favored daughter from absorbing Heather’s incendiary behavior. And so we remind her why the unkind behavior is unacceptable, and we explain how important it is to stick up for her sister.

We’ve considered refusing to let the favored daughter spend time with Heather. But remember what happened when the parents tried to keep Romeo and Juliette apart? It was not good. And perhaps the only bond more emotional and powerful than that of young lovers is that of 9-year-old bestie-boos.

When I revisit Pope Francis’ messages, I see layers of guidance. He spoke of love and forgiveness at the core of nearly all his speeches.

Besides, you can’t freeze out all the Heathers. So for now, we choose “Teachable Moments Time.” It’s catchy and repetitive, just like “Hammer Time,” minus the billowing pants. What do you say to someone being unkind to your sibling? “Can’t Touch Sis.”

In the midst of all this, I’m reminded of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C., last month. His messages about lifting up the poor and dispossessed and how love empowers us resonated with me.

I felt closer to him than to other popes, as if he was speaking directly to me. So much so that it was a surprise when he didn’t offer suggestions about how to handle the mean girl issue.

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Of course, the pope probably doesn’t spend as much time with 9-year-old girls as I do. But I think since he’s a “big picture” guy, we can still gain guidance from his words, even as it pertains to the comings and goings of little lasses.

This is why, when I revisit the messages that Pope Francis shared during his visit, I see layers of guidance. He spoke of love and forgiveness. And I’m reminded that Heather is a 9-year-old girl. She’s a child who makes mistakes, just as I do.

The teachable moment can, and should, also touch on forgiveness. What better way to teach than by setting an example?

So I willingly show my forgiveness to young Heather and show her kindness.

If I’m being honest, I can’t be sure if Heather will even notice my effort. But I hope both of my daughters might somehow breathe it in. If I do it right, they might notice a slight change in tone. It would be such a gift if they learned, through my example, to empower themselves with compassion.

That lesson would mean the pope’s visit was even more relevant, powerful and profound than I originally realized.

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