At my daughter’s middle school, one of the litmus tests of your popularity is if your locker gets decorated on the morning of your birthday. Will your friends remember your special day and tape Twix bars and random cat memes to the front of your locker?
For those stricken with a summer birthday, there’s no need to fear as “half birthdays” are acknowledged if you fall into this camp. If it falls on a weekend, the Friday before is the day to find out if you’re loved.
While this special gesture can bring delight to some teens, for others it is just another reminder that they are unseen and insignificant—once again.
Moms have become so keenly aware of the anxiety-ridden tradition that they’ve taken matters into their own hands by approaching their children’s classmates weeks before to remind/require them to decorate their child’s locker. I think there may be a secret stash of random decorations and candy in case of emergencies.
Just thinking about the first time I encountered this phenomenon, I feel butterflies in my stomach. As a mom of two teenage girls, the sheer complexity of their social hierarchy and its ever changing rules are daunting. I recognize that it’s normal in the teen years to compare and define their identity based on what other girls think of them. But are secret phone calls to other moms to make sure their locker gets decorated really how I want them to be assured of feeling loved? Knowing that on any given day it just might slip from one of the girls that Morgan’s mom “made me” decorate her locker.
I’m so done with middle school, people! I don’t want to play those games anymore!
We all want to be known and loved and maybe most acutely as a teenage girl. And before you write that sentence off as a cliché, let’s define what the word actually means.
Cliché is a phrase or opinion that’s overused and betrays a lack of original thought. It’s a “duh” moment—so much so that we usually blow right past it. With teen girls we’ve become accustomed to it being a time filled with low self-esteem, petty drama with friends, and an all-out war on who’s the most powerful/influential person on social media.
Depending on how our personal teen years played out, we may assume that like us, they’ll just “get through it”. They’ll experience the ups and downs of teen girl drama and come out of it just fine. Or, we may start to demonize the girls who hurt our daughters—making them the problem and our sweet and innocent daughter the victim. Perhaps, we curate their experience by planning their social life for them and shielding them from heartache. All in an attempt to make sure they feel known and loved by their peers.
But can I offer you another option? One that I’ve seen work miracles in my own two girls’ lives?
Invite mature healthy women into the lives of your teen girls in an intentional way and allow them to speak into your daughter’s identity. Because let’s be honest, her peers don’t have a fully developed frontal cortex as they swirl around in their own self-centered hormonal hurricane. Allowing the voices of our girls’ peers to be the loudest or carry the most weight is problematic to say the least.
The beauty of the Courageous Girls movement is that our daughters learn to have healthy encouraging relationships with one another by watching their mothers as models.
But maybe you’re like me and Courageous Girls wasn’t a thing when your daughters were younger. So now you’re wondering if you’ve missed your window of opportunity? I want to encourage you that you haven’t! There are still ways to invite women into your daughter’s life.
When my daughters each turned thirteen, we planned a special celebration that we called The 13 Women Celebration. The preparation began months before their birthday. We talked about how they felt about becoming a teenager. My oldest was excited, ready to become a teen and have more freedom and opportunity to spread her wings. My youngest felt intimidated—like she was being expected to suddenly become more mature and more “grown up” than she felt. By seeing my two daughters’ drastically different takes on becoming a teen, I realized that they both had preconceived notions of what becoming a teenager meant. Having the talk about how they were each feeling about becoming a teenager was a great opportunity for me to get a peek into their world.
We talked about some of the challenges that can happen in relationships with other women. I wanted them to know that this wasn’t just isolated to their teen years, but that tensions happen between adult women as well.
I also wanted to normalize that sometimes they would feel misunderstood, mistreated, or even like they were a mistake. As much as I wanted them to be alert to all relational heartache they might experience, I also wanted to model for them what healthy relationships with women could look like. It was then that I had a vision of creating an opportunity for them to experience the power of being seen, known and loved.
So I had my girls identify thirteen or more women that had played a significant role in their lives. This was actually much easier than I thought it would be. My girls included beloved friends, teachers, coaches, church leaders and even babysitters. The women ranged from single, married, divorced, current moms and to young women who were still in their twenties. Most were Christians, but not all. I wanted my girls to have input from a variety of women as each would bring their own unique voice to the celebration.
Once we had our list, I sent an email to each of them, inviting them to participate in two ways.
First, I asked them each to write a letter to the birthday girl. Here’s an excerpt from that email:
Please write a letter to Morgan, whatever God brings to your heart. Here are a couple of ideas to get your creativity going, but by no means is this required! Words of encouragement as she launches into early adulthood, affirmations of what you see in her, perhaps God will give you a vision for her future, scriptures that God brings to mind, a story of a way you’ve seen God work in her life or through her life. I really trust the spirit to work through each of you in a unique way! It could be written, printed, scribbled on a napkin, you could even email it to me…whatever works for you!
Second, we invited them to join us for a 13th birthday celebration at our home. We gathered in a circle in my living room and each woman was asked to read the letter to my daughter out loud. (Consider collecting videos if distance or a pandemic limit a gathering.)
I’m having tears well up in my eyes as I remember these special moments. My heart is warmed as I think about how these women called out my daughter’s unique talents, funny anecdotes that bonded them together, and brought words of encouragement and hope. My oldest daughter is gregarious and loves to be on stage. Her eyes lit up like she was the lead in a Broadway musical and her audience was giving her a standing ovation. My younger daughter is more shy and reserved. Her head was low as women started reading but as the words flowed over her I saw her body straighten up, her eyes sparkle and a smile radiate over her face.
They experienced, in their own unique ways, the overwhelming love of God—to be the center of His attention, the apple of His eye, His beloved. Remarkable themes emerged from what each woman wrote. Many Bible verses seemed to be repeated. My girls’ hearts were touched in the most tender of places. God knew exactly what they both needed to hear as they were walking into their teen years.
All of the letters and cards were then gathered and put into a large scrapbook. Now, when my girls receive a special note or card, they add them to their book. It’s not uncommon to walk past their room and see them flipping through the pages. On difficult days when they are feeling unseen by their peers, I encourage them to go grab their books and be reminded of who they are. And secretly, some days I open their books to be reminded as well.
What surprised me most about this celebration was how much it impacted the women who were there. From belly laughs to tears that couldn’t be held back, each person was touched by something they heard. We jokingly said that we all needed to have “13 Women” parties for ourselves so that we could hear that we were loved and known. Words intended for my daughter’s hearts were used by God to touch each of us. It was a foretaste of heaven right in my living room and such a beautiful depiction of what friendship with women is meant to be.
We ALL need to hear words of affirmation and hope. Being a mom can be a thankless job sometimes and I can often fall into the belief that I’m not doing it very well. I’m also a single mom, and sometimes that makes me feel guilty or less than because my kids aren’t growing up in a two-parent home. But hearing other women call out the beauty in my daughters helped me realize that they actually are pretty amazing girls. I recognized that for all the ways I’ve worried I was messing my kids up, there were 13+ other women who were picking up the slack. These women were loving them, knowing them, and helping them mature into the women they would become.
Circling back to our cliché, we ALL need to be known and loved. There is a teenage girl inside each of us, wondering if we’ll be remembered. Not just on our birthday, but in the everyday seasons of life. This experience has propelled me to speak words of life not only into my girls but into those around me in the everyday. I want to call out the beautiful that others might not recognize in themselves. I also want to receive those words from others instead of shrugging them off with some lame false humility when I really NEED to hear that I am loved and known.
We all have a book full of letters to return to when we are needing to be reassured we are loved. God’s Word is full of the riches of His unwavering love for us. He knows the tender places not only in our girls’ hearts but in ours as well. He knows the themes playing over and over in our lives and He has just the right words we all need to hear. God is the Master Decorator of our proverbial locker and we’ll never have to worry that we’ll be forgotten.