Today, my oldest son turns 11-years-old. I brought him lunch at school, like I’ve done every year since he’s been in school. Honestly, I didn’t want to go. I had a raging migraine and could hardly get out of bed. However, I didn’t want to break tradition. We have very few traditions left, and I’d like to maintain the ones still standing. Also, I couldn’t bear the thought of him eating alone, on his birthday nonetheless, because he has had a falling out with his two best friends.

As a parent, it’s hard to see your child hurting. What I didn’t realize at the time was my son’s current experience would bring up a lot of old childhood emotions of my own.

I think every school has that one person, God forbid there be more than one, whose soul purpose growing up is to be General of the Popular Kids. This person seems nice enough in the beginning, but that’s just a recruiting tactic. Maybe you buy into it or maybe you don’t. For me, I was good at picking up society cues and I simply want to survive middle school, so I enlisted. What’s the worst that can happen, right? It didn’t take long before the general established the clique troop to end all cliques troops. Sorry, Taylor, but squads were a thing long before you were born!┬áIf you don’t comply with what the troop wanted, especially what the general wanted, you would be punished. Think Hitler, but prettier.

My school’s Miss Hitler wanted her troop to follow her lead in everything. If she started drinking, then it was advised the rest of the troop should too, otherwise you’d be dishonorably discharged. Drugs, sex, bullying, running the rumor mill, you name it. Given the list of troop requirements, I was in and out of the troop a lot. There was only so much I was willing to do in an attempt to keep my rank. As if puberty weren’t enough to manage! She treated those just outside of the troop terrible, and those inside even worse. I ended up on the chopping block more than my fair share. I’d be hated one day and loved the next. Sometimes, you wouldn’t even have to piss off the general; Miss H got my boyfriend to break up with me because someone else in the troop liked him.

I believe the Miss H’s of the world begin their quest for world domination based on their lack of self-love. It’s the ‘ol saying, “I’ll blow your candle out to make mine burn brighter.” They feed off weakness and get their power from fear – entrapping others in an emotionally abusive cycle. It’s easy pickings during those awkward and hormonally-charged years.

Miss H’s reign as general lasted well into high school. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I found a small pocket of friends (outside of Miss H’s troop) I could trust, be myself around, and have fun with…without the fear of yet another public execution! I’m happy to report that I’m still connected with those friends today.

I think there’s a lot of us who think we’re “over” something. When in reality, we’ve just learned to deal with it, or worse, have accepted it as part of our identity. I’m writing this to help me let go of these past hurts, so I can properly hold the emotional space necessary for my son the next time he comes home from school upset, sad, and defeated. What I’ll tell him, is exactly what my younger and still-wounded self also needs to hear:

This is all a part of life and growing up; it’s neither good nor bad. While it might not feel good, you never know what might come from this experience. [Insert hugs.] These experiences don’t define you or your worth. I love you and I think you’re awesome. [Insert more hugs.] You’re perfectly imperfect just like everyone else. Be open to making new friends or repairing old ones. Everyone makes mistakes and you need friends who will accept you just as you are today, because you’re worth it. [Insert more hugs, of course.]

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