A few months back, I was out with a group of women; some I knew well, others on a more casual basis. The conversation was light and energetic when one question caught us all off guard. “How do I tell my teenage daughter that the playground never goes away?”
The room grew quiet and after a few moments, an animated and in-depth conversation took place, discussing the adult playground.
Do modern middle-aged mean girls exist, we asked? Those we once knew to be (elementary) playground or (high school) cafeteria bullies? The conclusion, sadly, was a unanimous yes.
Girls and Women Can Be Mean
Let’s face it: girls and women can be mean. I’m not sure I have the solution, but having said that, how do we navigate this dynamic? How do we provide our daughters with the truth and tools to cope with, and more so, to be conscious of it?
Further, how do we explain it to our sons (who may one day support a wife or daughter through being targeted by a mean girl) how this interaction works, and why it still exists?
For years, we’ve openly discussed this from a professional perspective (for example, office competitions, climbing the corporate ladder, and so on), and there have even been movies illustrating the extreme… think The Devil Wears Prada.
But it also exists in our personal life. Whether first or second hand, we’ve all witnessed the same behaviour and can quickly recall an experience, both as a young girl and adult woman, where we felt targeted in a playground. If you can’t, then consider yourself fortunate.
How Can We Manage?
It seems we will never escape bullies. So, rather than avoiding this reality, how can we better manage this?
We all want to feel a sense of belonging and significance. We work hard to build our identities, and belong to circles and groups whose values mean something to us and feel familiar. But…sometimes we get lost in this pursuit of belonging and instead try to fit in, resulting in a cost to ourselves and our relationships. How authentic is it? How far are we willing to go to feel accepted by others?
I discussed this concept further with a few girlfriends and colleagues. I’d reached out to them to ask more about it and gain their thoughts. Their perspective was that yes, it can worsen with age and even begin to impact your career and relationships as much of it is driven by envy or jealousy, social status or wealth, and material things. Competition is a natural human urge, but insecurity and exclusivity don’t have to be. We can all think of someone we know as “passive aggressive” who seems to say things that hurt under the pretense of caring. But, I firmly believe (and as I’ve said before), what Suzy says of Sally says more about Suzy than it does Sally. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all – or – in that moment of weakness, turn the finger at yourself and ask why you’re projecting hurt and insecurities on other people.
It’s Up To Us To Decide What We Will Tolerate and Where We Will “Play”
As adult, middle-aged women, it’s up to us to make decisions in becoming who we are. Part of this is making conscious decisions to avoid “fish bowl” circumstances that can potentially draw us away from our values and our real selves. For some, the mean girl dynamic can worsen with age, but as middle-aged women, we don’t have to tolerate it. The real luxury of being middle-aged is having the freedom to choose: the freedom to control your life and to also not give a f**k. Boundaries are a healthy thing to uphold, and choosing which playgrounds to spend time in is entirely up to us. Take some quiet space this summer to reflect on the playgrounds you currently navigate in. Are they healthy, or do you need to create boundaries or make changes?
Time Is a Non-renewable Resource
We all have a limited capacity, and when we consider our time on this earth, we need to make it count. Remember time is a non-renewable resource. Speak with your daughters and sons about the healthy practice of setting boundaries – both personally and professionally. Don’t waste time indulging negativity. Nurture relationships with those that lift you, learn to say no when it’s in your own best interest, and leave negative influences behind with confidence. You may have to share the playground shovel every now and then, but you do not need to tolerate mean girls.
Be the example of a shining light, an inclusive person, and a positive leader. Why? Because we all need to be lifted (without question) by others sometimes, and because the next generation is watching. And…because we can!
Denise speaks regularly on personal and professional development, workplace wellness, setting boundaries, and authentic leadership. Learn more here.
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Thank you Trish for the kindred spirit playground we play in and the gift of another year of celebrating our birthdays together! xo
Photos by Michael 🙂