We moved to a new city right after spring break last year. My kids were almost done with their school year, and they had to begin again at a new school. It was particularly rough on them. My sixth grader is quiet, and she had finally started to feel comfortable at her last school when it was time to leave again. My second grader still cries often because he misses his old friends.
It will take time, but I know they will settle here, too. They will find their people. They are experts at being the new kids, and I am proud of them.
But man, is it rough. It breaks this mama’s heart to hear that they are lonely. That they feel excluded. That there was no one to play with them at recess, so they just bounced a ball by themselves.
My middle schooler told me a story about asking to join a game of volleyball with some girls from her new class. One girl informed her that the game was full. There wasn’t space for any more players. My daughter sat down on a bench to watch, and a few minutes later, two more girls came up, asked to play, and were admitted into the game. She came home and told me she just feels invisible.
“No one is mean to me. But no one lets me in. They just ignore me,” she said.
I gave her my talk. Find your people. Girls who are not welcoming, girls who gossip about people, girls who exclude others—those are not your people. I don’t care if you only find two other girls who share these values.
Find these girls. Make them your friends. They are the only ones worth your time.
I also silently cursed mean girls.
A few weeks after the volleyball incident, I dropped my middle schooler off at a birthday party. After gushing on and on to the mom of the birthday girl, thanking her for inviting my daughter, I stood to the side trying to locate my sons (who were running around wildly). We were invited to stay for the party, but it didn’t seem like any other moms were staying, and my daughter wanted a chance to get to know her new classmates outside of school, so I told her we’d be back in a couple of hours. As I called to the boys that we were leaving, another mom appeared at my side.
She said, “Are you the new family?”
“That’s us!” I answered.
“Is that your daughter?” she asked, pointing at my sweet girl who was standing outside a closed circle of a group of girls from her class looking awkward, sad, and lonely.
I told her that was my daughter. I asked which one was her daughter, and she told me it was the “you-can’t-play-with-us” girl (in other words). Then she explained, “Your daughter is going to have a really hard time fitting in here. She won’t find it easy to make friends.”
I asked her to explain what she meant, and she said, “These kids have known each other since preschool. They are already friends. They aren’t used to new people, and they certainly aren’t going to let a new girl into their group of friends. I know how that is.”
I said, “You know how it feels to be new?”
She said, “No. I know how it is to have the same friends. I went to a small school as well, and we’d known each other forever. When a new kid showed up in middle school, we were all friends already and didn’t have any desire to be friendly to new kids. We had our friends already. So I know they won’t let your daughter in. But they are great kids.”
I absolutely didn’t think of anything smart to say in the moment. But on the way home I was fuming. Obviously, the daughter has a lot in common with her mother. Maybe if they had ever experienced life from another perspective their opinion might change.
But let me say this: I am thankful for our moves.
I am thankful they have made my children tenderhearted.
I am thankful they know what it feels like to be on the outside because it makes them more compassionate. They will always welcome a stranger because they know what it feels like to be new.
I am thankful that if a girl walks up to my daughter and asks to join the game she is playing that my daughter will say, “Yes.” And smile. And ask her name.
I am thankful for our moves because they have made my children resilient and strong.
If we want to make the world a more forgiving place, let’s start here, parents.
Let’s set an example of hospitality. Let’s welcome the strangers with a smile and an invitation to coffee. Let’s offer them our cell numbers in case they have any questions as they are settling in. Let’s find people on social media and get connected so that they can integrate faster into our groups.
Because our kids are watching. They learn how to be kind people by the example we set. If we want more peace for our children’s futures, let’s work hard to be examples of peacemaking now.