Really? That’s what I thought.
No one likes to admit that they actually like popularity contests, yet we participate in them all the time! Who gets the most thumbs-up, Yearbook superlatives, Prom King & Queen, Bachelor shows, etc, etc, etc. There are contests like this all the time and in all sorts of forms. Most of the time we shrug them off as entertainment or harmless. And maybe they are. I think it truly is part of human nature to strive to BE popular and to LIKE the popular person. I am okay with popularity competitions, as long as the winner is the one competing. What I hate, loathe, and despise are parent centered popularity contests.
I have a cousin who’s daughter often participates in beauty pageants. Once she pleaded with everyone for DAYS on Facebook to go and “like” her daughter’s picture. The child with the most “likes” would win the “Most Photogenic” category. My cousin was hell-bent on her daughter winning. And she did. However, my cousin had to badger her large collection of Facebook “friends” several times a day to do it. Persistence won that category. But really, was her daughter the most photogenic, or was it really just a popularity contest? It had everything to do with the popularity of the parent and how many friends they had that could be swayed to go and click on something–not how photogenic her kid was, nor even how popular the kid was!
I’ve noticed this trend at my kids’ school as well. The kids who’s parents bring in the best cupcakes for birthday parties are the well liked kids. The kids with the parents throwing the more lavish parties, supplying more activities in the classroom, and sending in the fanciest Valentines are the more popular kids. Popularity via Mom & Dad’s time and money. Shameful. Mostly because these kids are in Kindergarten!
Now, I have to admit that I do spend a great deal of time worrying about my own kids’ popularity. I feel silly when I do, but I don’t want them to be lonely. As they get older, I am aware of all the crazy stuff they are going to have to go through and experience, and they are going to need shoulders other than mine to rejoice with and cry on. And I certainly don’t want them to be bullied. However, they are going to have to seek out their popularity on their own merit and not through fancy Mommy-made cupcakes. Or Valentines. I don’t believe in giving candy to five-year olds and I am not about to buy a box of bland puns on expensive cardboard so my son can attempt to win a class worth of affection. My kids are going to make their own heart-felt sentiments. My kids will prove their worth and gain their popularity through creativity, hard work, and honesty.
Honesty. It turns out that that means a lot to a five-year old. And it was honesty and creativity that kind of backfired on me. My son made some very cute cards for all of his classmates and wrote something unique for each individual, then stuffed them in his backpack. Thankfully I had the wherewithal to take a peek before I sent him off to school. Sometimes honesty can be so mean!
We ended up (trying) to have a long discussion about hurting people’s feelings with words; if you don’t have something nice to say-don’t say anything at all; white lies; being a good friend and including everyone. My son only got out of the conversation that he did something wrong and would have to re-do half of his Valentine work. He was not pleased. But he also didn’t understand why he had to make Valentines for students he was not friends with, for kids he flat out didn’t like. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t just tell them the God’s honest truth. A good person wouldn’t lie. A real friend wouldn’t lie. He couldn’t equate honesty with malice or hurt feelings. In the end, he chose to color in a few hearts, paste a few stickers, and write nothing.
And you know what? It kills me a little inside. I think my five-year old was on the right track with his honest, albeit hurtful, Valentines. At least I think so in theory. He shouldn’t have to lie to anyone to be liked. He shouldn’t have to include the kids he doesn’t get along with. And he shouldn’t have to strive for popularity. The time and money put into anything shouldn’t equate to friendships down the road and “likes” on Facebook should be worthless. It’s about the few kids that he does like that should matter. It’s about the nice things that automatically come to his mind when thinking about friends, not being stumped on coming up with something “good” to say about someone else. My kid is right; Popularity is stupid. I can relax. He won’t be lonely since he already knows it’s about the quality of his friendships, not the quantity, and I’m sure it will be those quality friendships that will get him through anything.
So, on that note, I want to wish everyone an honestly happy Valentine’s Day. Don’t feel compelled to pass out admiration or friendship to people who aren’t enhancing your life. Be truly thankful to those friends that really matter to you, because that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY