Monday, April 16, 2012

The Value of Popularity

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about how Charlotte fits in with her peers. In part this is because I hadn't been certain that we would home school her and she might end up at the local elementary school.

Right now, when I observe Charlotte with her peer group, I think she's a bit socially awkward. She isn't as concerned with personal space as others and is overly enthusiastic for even the small things. It kind of makes me cringe a little when I see them react to her excitement over something they don't consider a big deal.

After exploring the issue of her social behavior a little more, I've decided it is important to me because I want Charlotte to have a better social experience growing up than I did.

If my memory is correct, I was "popular" until 4th grade. I had lots of friends, don't remember being the object of teasing or bullying, and faintly recall creating an exclusive club for my friends and I to join. However, once 4th grade started, I was in a different school and didn't have any social capital to build on. Then, after 9 weeks, I was in another school. Same story. Moving onto 5th grade, I was in yet another school.

By the end of 5th grade, my family moved to a new city. At the beginning of summer. To a neighborhood with hardly any kids, let alone any my own age. To their credit, my parents enrolled my brother and I into a summer camp, but there were enough days at home that summer and the next that the entertaining myself with food started to affect my body shape.

So, lucky me, I got to start 6th grade as an overweight newcomer, in the special program for "gifted" kids. You'd have thought they would all be uncool together, but that wasn't really the case. Even in our class of 20 or so students, there was still a hierarchy of coolness. I was not even on the scale.

Fortunately, it wasn't all doom and gloom. I made friends, some of whom I still talk to until this day (Hi Michelle & Jennifer!) But from that point forward, I never really fit in. In fact, I don't think I really fit in anywhere until I was in my 30's (Thanks MOPS!). Seriously. It took me that long to work my life out so people enjoyed being around me, or at least tolerated my bad habits long enough to see the good in me.

And in between 6th grade and 30? There was a lot of teasing and a lot of bullying and a lot of being lonely.

Everything in me wants to protect Charlotte and Mary from that life experience. Is that a realistic desire? No, but it doesn't change what I want for them.

Luke's post about the "Popular Kids" prompted me to explore more of what I want for my daughters. I asked my daughter's Sunday School teacher to share with me what she saw as Charlotte's strengths and weaknesses. And what she told me made me feel a little better. While she kind of hedged on the weaknesses as being typical of a 4 year old, she also observed that Charlotte is extremely compassionate and knows how to manage her emotions well by walking away from a conflict instead of escalating it.

That made me really proud of Charlotte. I realized that even if her peers consider her a little odd because of her enthusiasm for animal crackers, it's okay. Because even though I want to protect her from unkind looks and "mean girls," at the end of her life, I'd much rather she have spent her time worrying about helping others than fitting in.
"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.' Matthew 25:37-40

5 comments:

  1. I was one of those "bullied kids" from kindergarten, all the way through 11th grade. I could have been my senior year, but I'll be honest, I don't remember it due to some VERY bad choices. College didn't go so well either. No matter what I've done socially, professionally or the like, I've never fit in. And you know what? I'm totally okay with that. I'm true to myself, my husband, my daughter and most importantly, GOD. There are some days I look around and say "you know, I don't have any close friends, and I don't need them to be happy". I do my own thing. Dance to the beat of my own drum. I doubt I'm going to be at the end of my life thinking "wow, I wish I would have had more close friends". I just want to make those that I love the happiest. And that includes me. Charlotte will find her way. You'll see.

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  2. I was a popular kid throughout my educational years and I'm sorry to say, a mean girl at times. I never understood what the hurt was until college when I was no longer the "cool kid" and I was teased and humiliated. I turned to food at that point for comfort. It's taken a long time for me to realize that being "cool" wasn't cool at all and that I really wished that I had had more compassion for the feelings of others as I was growing up. If I had I probably would have adjusted to being an adult better than I have. Focus on your daughters being well-rounded emotionally and to be in tune with those around them. There are upsides and downsides to popularity. The grass isn't always greener on the other side.

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  3. Enthusiasm for animal crackers? Oh boy, that was me too. Wish I could find the photo of me with my face stuffed with them as a toddler [smile].

    May Charlotte make friends who find joy in her excitement and encourage her to use her compassion and exuberance to bless those around her!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    ~Luke

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  4. I miss you on facebook, Jennifer! I've thought of several questions I wanted to ask you, but didnt really know how to get a hold of you. And then this morning, remembered your blog! Thank goodness Google has a memory! Will you send me your email address???

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  5. Charlotte will do great! She is being reared by loving parents. I think she will be a leader. I would want my child to be her friend. Good luck!

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