How To Be Popular

My ten year old has never cared much about what other people thought of her, and I always admired that about her. Sometimes I’ve wished she cared a tiny bit more, especially about her hygiene, but overall I’ve appreciated that she has never tried to keep up with trends or be someone who she’s not. She’s never asked me for Stanley Cup or a Lululemon bag. She has no interested in skincare or make-up. And she has always seemed mostly unbothered by not being invited to a birthday party or included in a school clique. As a tween and teen, I most definitely cared about trends and being included, so her lackadaisical attitude towards all things superficial has fascinated and impressed me.

She’s not introverted at all. In fact, her life revolves around having playdates and she is a very loyal friend. But watching her in social settings is hard for me because I can see her being excluded and rejected almost every time she’s around a group of kids. I’m not sure how aware she is of the rejection because she has a hard time picking up social cues. But I’ll see the way two girls will look at each other and smile or roll their eyes when she is talking. I’ll hear girls make-up bogus excuses for why they can’t hang out with her when she asks.  Just today I watched a classmate criticize the way she was running during a field day relay when almost every other kid did it wrong too. And I’ve witnessed one of her best friends leave her out when the more popular girls were around. It’s painful as a Mom to see your child be treated like that, but I am pretty sure it has always hurt me more than it hurt her. At least until recently.

G has always preferred playing with just one or two friends at a time because she doesn’t like to compete for her friends’ attention. And even though I’ve always been a more-the-merry type of person, I completely respect that preference and have even started cherishing one-on-one time with my friends as well. But alas, she has entered the tween years where popularity is everything and having just one or two good friends isn’t enough for most kids. So now she is struggling to keep up with the girls who prefer quantity over quality if she wants to keep them in her life.

I found her writing a list with bath crayons in the shower last night and I asked her what it was for. She had three things written down and she told me it was what she needed to do to be popular. The first was “Group” because she thinks she needs to join a friend group so she had more friends. The second thing on the list was “Taylor” because all the popular girls like Taylor Swift. The third said “HOW PG.” She didn’t want to tell me what that meant so I started to guess silly things like “Holy Octopus Wings Playing Games.” Nope, that wasn’t it. She finally told me that it meant “Hang out with popular girls” and I instantly sighed. I really thought I had dodged this bullet.

It has taken me decades to learn and embrace that a small number of wonderful, close friends is so much better than a room full of acquaintances. I’ve been deeply hurt multiple times when I’ve realized that I cared a lot more about a friend than they cared about me. I’ve put a lot of effort into friendships and it hasn’t always been reciprocated. I’ve been intentionally excluded from activities or groups that I so badly wanted to be a part of. But I’ve also made some of the most wonderful friends this life has to offer. I’ve been loved and accepted, exactly how I am, by beautiful humans who would never make me feel like a second tier friend. And I wish I could transfer everything I’ve learned about friendship to my ten year old so she doesn’t have to endure all the heartache that comes from learning it firsthand. Last night when I tried to tell her that often the popular girls are also the mean girls and she should instead focus on finding friends who accept her and make her feel good about herself, she said, “Mom, you don’t understand.” Oh sweetie, I do. I understand more than you could ever know.

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