How to help a friend

Dear Daughter,

You know, there are a lot of really good people in this world. We mostly hear about the bad ones—and there are a lot of them as well—but don’t let anyone tell you that there is more bad than good in this world. Because I truly believe that it’s just the opposite.

In the weeks following the birth of the baby, so many of my friends and family members stepped outside of their comfort zones to lend a helping hand. They made us dinners, cleaned the house, and offered to help me with anything I needed. We even had to tell people to stop making us food because we had too much! I was overwhelmed by their generosity, and even felt a little guilty for it. It’s not like I was sick. I’d had a baby, which is a tremendous gift in and of itself. I was blessed enough to have a new child, let alone people begging to feed and serve me!

For some reason, all of my life, loved ones have gone out of their way to help me with things. I’m not sure why; it’s not like I’ve been dealt a rough hand. I think there are just a lot of giving people in my life, people who delight in helping others. And during the times that I did need help, I humbly accepted it.

It’s recently dawned on me, however, that I haven’t returned the favor as often as I should have. I don’t help my family members as much as they help me, and I don’t reach out to my friends in the way that they reach out to me. All of this time I’ve been receiving, receiving, receiving (always gratefully, but still…) and I’ve done very little giving, giving, giving. I like helping people by listening to them and giving advice but I’m not so good at the real-life, practical, everyday stuff. Sadly, it usually doesn’t even occur to me to do such a thing.

Daughter, I encourage you to open your eyes to the needs of the people in your life. Pay close attention to what might be lacking in their current situation, and figure out a way in which you can fill that gap. Help them with their schoolwork. Give them your dessert at lunch. Teach them how to play a sport. When you’re older, offer to cook for them, or watch their kids for a few hours so they can get some rest. Be acutely keen to their needs and offer to help. Don’t wait to be asked for help, because they’ll never ask. Just stick your neck out there and do whatever it is they need. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

Love,
Mom

More adventures with Jan and Marsha (which is actually Marcia)

So I totally wrote the word “Marsha” about 50 times in yesterday’s post, only to find out later that the Brady Bunch character’s name is really spelled “Marcia.” I’m so embarrassed that I didn’t check on that before writing the post. That’s like Proofreading 101! And I call myself an editor…

Oh well, you live, you learn.

Anyway, I came across this video clip of a classic Jan vs. Marcia moment and thought it perfectly summed up what I wrote about yesterday, with some good advice from Mr. and Mrs. Brady at the end.

How to be a Jan amongst Marshas

Dear Daughter,

Yesterday a reader of this blog asked me for advice on how not to feel inferior when one of your friends seems to have it all. This is something that a lot of young women struggle with, so I decided to dedicate a full post to it.

It’s what I like to call The Marsha Effect. There’s an old TV show called The Brady Bunch, which was about a family of six kids (three boys, three girls). The middle girl was named Jan and her older sister was Marsha. Jan was the smart, clumsy, kind of nerdy one who wore glasses and had a plain appearance. Marsha, on the other hand, was beautiful, popular, charismatic, and seemed to do no wrong in the eyes of her parents or anyone. Jan was almost always jealous of Marsha, and one of the popular sayings from the show is when Jan would stomp her foot and say, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”

These moments in the show were comical but are a hard-hitting reality for many women. We all have a “Marsha” in our life, the one for whom everything works out, the one that everyone loves and focuses their attention on. And we want to be happy for the Marshas. After all, it’s not like they don’t deserve the throne of greatness. It’s just that, in their greatness, we feel inferior, like there’s nothing we can do to rise up to her level. Next to her, we feel overlooked, ignored, not special enough to be noticed.

Such feelings of inferiority can cause a downward spiral of insecurity, which can lead to other dangerous things like depression, bitterness and maybe even the desire to sabotage the Marsha in your life.

I don’t have a secret potion on how to handle such a situation. But here are some ways to stand out as a “Jan” amongst Marshas:

1) Don’t ever, ever try to be someone you’re not. This is very important. You may find yourself wishing you were like Marsha but you’re not. You’re you, and you’re awesome. Don’t try to change your appearance or personality simply for the sake of getting Marsha-like attention. People will catch on to the fact that you’re a phony, and you’ll be alienated even more because of it.

2) Focus on your strengths. There was one thing Jan had that Marsha didn’t: intelligence. And in Jan’s strongest moments, she used her smarts to stand out, to get the credit that she deserved. Similarly, you have a gift that no one else does. Whether it’s your singing voice or artistic ability or your humor… figure out what it is, work on perfecting it, and when you feel inferior, remember you have this amazing gift that makes you unique.

3) Smile more and practice good posture. It seems silly but these simple physical gestures, which actually are not very simple at times, exude oodles of self-confidence. It’s hard not to notice someone with a warm smile and a tall posture.

4) Give, give, give. Instead of dwelling on your own inferiority all the time, turn your eyes outward and see where you can help others. Use your aforementioned strengths to serve those who truly are inferior in our society, or simply to help a friend who is hurting. Taking the focus off of yourself (and off Marsha) and shifting it to others will serve as a reminder that this world is bigger than you, than Marsha, than all the people who worship the ground Marsha walks on. You can make a contribution to that big world, and doing so is far more rewarding than being the most popular girl in the room.

We all have a little Marsha in us. We just have to find it.

But being a Jan is pretty cool, too.

Love,
Mom

On being popular…

Dear Daughter,

Yesterday while you were at your dad’s house, you and I had the following convo via text:

You: Hi mom i am almost at home and i am so happy
Me: Good! Why are u so happy?
You: Everyone was saying bye to me at the end of the day
Me: Cool. You’re getting popular. 🙂
You: I know it’s so weird. what makes me so popular?

Uh-oh.

Popularity is funny. Everyone wants to be popular, even adults! But in youth and adolescence, popularity is the ultimate goal. If you’re considered popular at that age, it’s like you’ve “made it,” you’ve accomplished your lifelong mission. Not every kid views it that way but most do. It’s just a natural rite of passage.

You’ve already seen how movies portray popularity. It’s not pretty. With a few rare exceptions (like High School Musical), the popular kids in movies are the jerks, the bullies. They pick on the loser kids and snub their noses at anyone not worthy enough to be in their elite group of “friends.” I don’t completely agree with this image of the popular kid. It wasn’t that bad at my school growing up, and I hope it’s not that bad in most schools, but I do know there is some truth to the stereotype.

Here’s what happens, psychologically: For the most part, people become popular by being well-liked, by being nice, fun and confident. Everyone wants to be around nice, fun and confident people, so it makes sense that such characteristics can be found in popular people. The problem is, once the nice, fun and confident kid has “arrived” and reached Popular Status, he sometimes forgets what got him there in the first place. Because so many people want to be around him and be like him, he becomes like a god. After awhile he views himself as a god too. Before you know it, nice, fun and confident are replaced with mean, entitled and arrogant. He relies more on his established status rather than his good qualities to determine his worth. And that’s when bullying and alienation begin.

Daughter, I want you to be popular. I’ve seen how happy it makes you to be well-liked, and that makes me happy. But don’t ever forget what made you well-liked in the first place. Don’t ever stop being sweet and funny, your two greatest qualities. Don’t ever, ever look down on anyone else for not being as “cool” as you are. For some kids, cool doesn’t come as naturally as it does to others, so give them a break. Don’t ever let your popularity get to your head, because doing so could mean hurting others.

Be the exception to the rule. Be popular by being nice, always.

Love,
Mom

The two things to know about bullying

Dear Daughter,

A hot topic in the news lately is bullying, because there have been many instances (far too many) of kids committing suicide as a result of being bullied. It’s horribly tragic and such a shame. I firmly believe that this can be prevented, and that parents are the number one source of prevention. So it’s time I start talking to you about it.

First of all, I must admit that I’m perplexed as to why this is happening suddenly. Bullying is nothing new. It’s been around since the beginning of humanity. So why is it that the results of bullying are so extreme now? Is the type of bullying worse than it’s ever been? Are kids more sensitive? Or is the world just so complex now that kids simply can’t handle one more difficulty? I suppose it’s a mixture of all three.

Whatever the causes, I have two messages for you today: one is to avoid bullying with all of your might, and the second is to speak up if you’re being bullied.

There will always be kids in your class who are “different,” outsiders, not desirable to be around. You will be tempted to make fun of them because of this. Especially when all of your friends are making fun of them. But before you do, I implore you to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if YOU were the one who was “different.” Would you want people alienating you and teasing you incessantly? Would you want to be the one sitting all by yourself at lunch? There was a time, in sixth grade, when I was the girl with no friends, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s beyond painful. It’s difficult for those kids to even wake up every day, knowing they’re about to face more and more rejection. Don’t contribute to their pain and fear.

I’m not saying you need to be best friends with that person, but I am saying you should treat him or her how you would want to be treated. At the very least, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. They might appreciate your silence, that you’re the ONE kid who leaves them alone. But it also wouldn’t hurt to take it one step further: smile at them or talk to them about something you know they’re interested in every once in a while. MAYBE even ask them to sit with you at lunch. Your friends might be appalled, but chances are good they’ll also admire your leadership and willingness to step outside the box by befriending the unfriended. Who knows, maybe your actions can change the way your entire group of friends thinks about the kid. It’s worth trying, at least.

And finally, if you’re being bullied, don’t just sit there and take it. Stand up for yourself wherever possible, show people that you are unique and that your uniqueness makes you awesome. If it gets really bad, tell us or your teachers or some other authority figure about it, in case disciplinary action needs to be taken. And find coping mechanisms, so you can focus on things other than the bullying. Bury yourself in a hobby or sport. Exercise. Invest in your relationship with God, whose immense love for you will always cancel out the hatred of the bullies.

My biggest hope is that you’ll be loved and accepted and that you will love and accept others. I hope that when the bullied kid is grown and looks back on his younger years and remembers you, he’ll think, “She was different from the others. She made my life a little easier.” Make that your goal today.

Love,
Mom

How to be a good friend, part 2

Dear Daughter,

Yesterday I wrote about the reasons why you should stick with your friends through thick and thin. Today, I’d like to add to that by giving some practical tips on how to be a good friend.

Disclaimer: I am doing this as much for myself as I am for you. I do not claim to be a pro at any of the following items. I just know what I, you, everyone should do to keep a friendship thriving. Whether we practice the below items or not… well, that’s what separates the women from the girls.

So, based on my observations, trials and errors, here are some things to remember:

1) Don’t gossip. This is soooo much easier said than done. There will be times when a friend will drive you absolutely crazy, and all you want to do is vent about it. (By the way, lots of people, including myself, try to pass off gossip as “venting.” It may sound like a better word but it still means the same ol’ ugly thing: talking badly about someone behind their back.) Just assume that when you gossip about a friend, she’ll find out about it. Think about the consequences of such a scenario. Likely not good. So, as my mother used to tell me, if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.

2) Have her back. If someone else is talking trash about your friend, especially if she’s not around to defend herself, stick up for her. Gently tell the person that you care about your friend and don’t want to participate in the slander. Point out your friend’s good characteristics; give the person another point of view. They may start to see her in a different way, once they know what you see in her.

3) Don’t ditch your friends for a boy. So many girls make this mistake. I’ve made it. It’s tough… when you’re single and having a blast with your girlfriends every weekend, and suddenly you enter a relationship and have to share your time, it can be a difficult balancing act. Especially as you get older and closer to marriage. But there is a way to maintain your friendships and a healthy relationship at the same time. You may not see your friends as often as you used to, but still involve them in your life as much as possible. Call them, meet up for coffee once in a while, have a girls night once or twice a month. There are at least three benefits to this: a) Your friends will appreciate knowing you’re still there for them; b) you’ll like having some girl time; and c) your boyfriend will respect you more, knowing you don’t need to be around him 24/7.

There are many other ways to be a good friend, and I’ll share more of them with you as time goes on. None of this is easy, but the more devoted to your friends you are, the more natural it becomes to apply the items above. When you grow close enough to a person to treat her like family, you won’t want to gossip, you’ll adamantly have her back, and you won’t be able to fathom ditching her for a boy. I can’t wait to see you develop such a close bond. There’s nothing like it.

Love,
Mom

How to be a good friend

Dear Daughter,

Friendship is difficult. Especially among women. You’re already experiencing some of those difficulties at a young age, and that makes me sad but it’s all the more reason for me to coach you through it now.

I have learned a LOT about friendship, mainly through mistakes I’ve made, because there were plenty. I think being so close with my sister actually made me a bad friend to others when I was young. I didn’t really need anyone else because I had her. So friends were dispensable to me. Once I got to really know someone and all their faults, I’d walk away from them. I only wanted the fun, nice parts of friendship, not the raw, gritty parts. If only I’d known then that such an attitude would hurt me in the long run.

After college, I returned to my hometown, pregnant and unmarried. My sister lived hundreds of miles away from me at that point, and I had abandoned (or at best lost touch with) all of my childhood friends. I was all alone, at a time when I needed friends more than anything.

I went to church and made new friends that way. Only this time I carried with me a new approach. This time I would be committed to my friends; I wouldn’t leave them when times got tough. I wasn’t perfect at this, but there was a big improvement from the friendships of my youth. What became clear to me is that sticking with someone, flaws and all, made us closer and therefore made life richer. All those years I thought I was protecting myself from hardship and pain, and maybe I was a little bit, but I was also keeping myself from true connection and unconditional love.

Three years ago I moved to a new area, once again without knowing anyone, and once again I got connected to a church (are you sensing a pattern here?), where I made tons of friends who are now like family. There are times when I tend to revert back to my old ways, when I want to run away because things aren’t peachy keen. But then I remember back to when doing so caused me only loneliness and heartache. So I dig in and embrace my friendships, flawed as they are.

I’ll close with a story that I think best defines friendship. When I was 16 years old, I broke my nose. In the week that followed, I was in tremendous pain and my nose swelled to the size of Texas. That Saturday, I had a color guard competition, and while my nose was okay enough for me to compete, I had to wear a stupid band-aid on it all day. I felt ugly and insecure. When I showed up to the school that morning, five of my closest friends greeted me… and they each had a band-aid on their nose. They knew how humiliated I was and they were going to humiliate themselves right along with me. I had never experienced such a loving gesture of solidarity in my life. And clearly, I’ll never forget it.

Daughter, I hope that you will be the one wearing a band-aid on your nose when your friend is feeling ugly and insecure. I hope you’ll stick with your friends through thick and thin. Your life will only be better because of it. Friendship sure is messy sometimes, but it’s also one of life’s greatest blessings.

Love,
Mom

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