When you were a girl, were you a Queen Bee?
Once people read Queen Bees & Wannabes, I am often asked if I was teased when I was a girl. I think people assume that I was either a Queen Bee (so my work is an attempt to right the wrongs I committed when I was young), or people assume I was the opposite, and was cruelly teased and targeted by other girls.
Actually, like many people I played different roles depending on my age and circumstance. From 3rd through 5th grade I was often teased by my friends. At the same time I was a horrible Queen Bee to a very nice girl I grew up with—much to my mother’s horror and embarrassment. When I was in 6th grade I moved to a new city and went to an all-girls’ school, and that’s where I had my first experiences with “mean girls” I barely knew. At the same time, there were also really nice girls at that school who reached out to me whom I will always remember fondly.
Why did you get into this work?
Although there were and continue to be many reasons why I do this work, I think one of the most influential was an experience I had in Mr. Rosenberg’s 8th grade history class. We were studying the Civil Rights Movement and one of the assigned books was a compilation of interviews entitled, My Feet Are Tired But My Soul is Rested. The one that stood out was an interview with Fred Shuttlesworth, a minister from Birmingham, Alabama, who had helped lead boycotts and demonstrations. I was so moved by his words that I wanted to meet him.
The next thing I knew, my mother connected with a friend of hers who lived in Cincinnati, where Reverend Shuttlesworth had moved and now led his congregation. While staying with our family friends over the weekend, I attended Reverend Shuttlesworth’s church services and interviewed him about his role in the Civil Rights Movement. That weekend changed my life. For the first time I had a glimmer of what my future path would be. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew no matter what I did when I grew up I wanted to be doing something to make the world a more socially just place.
How do you know what you know about girls and boys?
Sometimes I wonder about that myself, but here is my best guess: This is the only job I have ever had (minus waiting tables or summer jobs in high school and college). I began working with girls and boys when I was 21, so I have never been far enough away from youth culture to forget what it feels like to be a teen. In addition, since I have had to continually develop and improve my work, I’m always trying out new ideas. One of the reasons I love working with kids and teens is that they let me know pretty quickly when I am on to something or when I’m wasting their time. While I don’t like them telling me I’m failing, I have to listen to them so I can improve. Sometimes I fail spectacularly but I always get up again and try to do better next time.
Why did you write Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads?
The inspiration for Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads actually came from several experiences. A few years ago I had a couple of nasty run-ins with parents at some of my presentations. And even though they were mean, I hate to admit it, but I was mean right back. One night shortly after, I looked in the mirror and asked myself how could I teach my students to behave with respect for one another if I wasn’t willing to do it myself?
At the same time I realized that the more I worked with parents, the more I noticed the dynamics among adults were very similar to those that occurred among my students. While there were always students who thought they could get away with treating other people badly because of their social and economic status, there were parents, coaches, teachers, and principals who behaved exactly the same way. What was worse was that so many adults didn’t feel like they could challenge these bullying adults’ behavior, allowing them to control the climate and educational agenda of the school unfairly.
Lastly, I wrote the book because I have had incredibly funny and yes, sometimes-horrible, experiences with parents. When I have them, I am very tempted to say to someone nearby, “Can you believe this? Did this person really just say that?” In that way, sharing some of these experiences in this book is also cathartic for me. But in all seriousness, I have written Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads as a way to reach out to the influential adults in the lives of children so that we can truly be the advocates they need us to be.
Do you have kids? How has that changed you?
I have two sons that are two years apart. Has it changed me? Yes and no. I don’t think I’m a better teacher to young people because I have kids of my own, but I do think I’m much better at working with parents since having kids. It’s easier to empathize or even understand the craziest parenting behavior because you know that being a parent can make even the most sane person feel like they’re losing their mind. Like most parents, my children teach me more about myself than frankly I often want to know. There’s no one I love more or makes me laugh harder, then only one second later makes me want to scream and pull my hair out. My husband and I struggle like so many parents on exactly the same issues I write about, and we don’t get through it any easier.