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Butt Out: This Means Me

The phone rang yesterday evening. It was one of Big Girl’s classmates’ moms. One of the five or so I called on Election Day when my mom, my sitter, called in sick, and I was looking to do a playdate. We chatted. She apologized for not calling sooner. We talked about a bat bake sale that the kids recently hosted. We chatted about the teachers. We chatted about a recent field trip. That’s when I ran into problems. “Oh, I feel so bad about what happened with [Big Girl] yesterday.” My mommy radar went on full alert. What did she mean, I asked. “You know, about what happened with R.” I sighed. R. again. The little girl who, since the beginning of the year, has been the bane of my existence. The little girl who, because she is fighting with L. (who is one of my daughter’s close friends from last year), decided to latch on to Big Girl. (Right now my daughter is a prize, as the teacher explained. Something R. can lord over L.)

I sat there listening as the classmate’s mom told me how, on the field trip, Big Girl had tried sitting down next to R., who promptly snapped, “I don’t want you sitting next to me!” (Oh, did I mention that R. likes to manipulate my daughter? Being nice sometimes, mean others?) We finished our conversation, the classmate’s mom telling me how, when she saw it happening, she went over and stuck up for Big Girl, telling R. that she wasn’t being nice. I listened but all the while I was distracted. Why didn’t Big Girl tell me about the issue? Why didn’t she trust me? When I thought about it, I figured out why. I’m so sensitized to bullying and people being unkind that I want to jump up and slay every R. who says boo to my daughter.

When I was in grade school and junior high I got picked on. A lot. I used to come home with stories. How this one said that to me, and that one called me something else. How a few of the teachers were even unkind to me. I would come home looking for help, but my mother always told me I needed to deal with what was going on myself. That I needed to stick up for myself. (I can’t blame her. A widow at 35, she had three kids and two jobs. She needed someone to stick up for her, too, but no one was around.) And so I grew to hate school more and more. It got so bad that –because my mom left for work around 7, so we had to get ourselves to school — some days I simply stayed home. I rationalized that it was easier dealing with the yelling at home than dealing with the teasing in school.

But Big Girl isn’t going through what I went through. Not by a long shot. She’s in a great school, and she has plenty of friends. That’s why I know the protecto-mode strategy I often go into isn’t the right one. I know it in my head anyway. Any therapist would say the only way Big Girl is going to learn how to be strong against an obvious bully like R. is to be hurt by her. You can’t learn to avoid pain if you never feel it. And by rescuing Big Girl whenever she’s about to be hurt, I’m preventing good-for-her pain. I am the person I am today not in spite of, but because of those mean kids who tortured me in school. I have a lot of great friends now because I know what a good friend looks like. And trust me, it took me a while to learn. Heck, it even took me a while to learn how to be a good friend because I was so used to being hurt, I often sabotaged relationships.

Unfortunately, knowing all this doesn’t stop me from wanting to gather Big Girl into my arms every morning, and put her into a special bubble. A bubble that protects her against barbs and criticisms, against I-don’t-want-you-to-sit-heres and wow-your-glasses-are-funny-lookings. And the many, many worse things, that as a little girl growing up in today’s world, Big Girl is going to hear. I have to find a happy medium. I have to find a way to help her without smothering her. I have to give her advice without telling her what to do. I have to let her get hurt so she can figure out which girls are the ones she should be friends with, and which ones are the bitches. (Sorry R.’s parents: Your daughter is acting like a bitch. And yes, I am aware how mean it is to call a 6-year-old a bitch.)

That’s why, last night as I tucked her into bed, I told her that I was going to butt out from now on unless she wanted my help. I told her that I wanted to hear about when she got hurt, but I also promised that if she did confide in me, I wouldn’t say anything. I’d just listen. She could trust me and let me be there for her, I said. And then I explained why I was so quick to dismiss people who were unkind to her: Because I love her so much my heart feels like it’s going to explode when I think about her getting hurt. She put her arms around my neck, pulled me close, and kissed my nose. Five times. And then she snuggled down and closed her eyes. And so I am here putting my vows in writing so I have to keep my own promises. As much as it hurts me. I’m going to let her get hurt. (But I don’t promise I’m going to like it.)

Were you ever bullied as a child? Were you a bully? How has it affected who you are as an adult? How has it affected the way you parent? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

4 Responses to “Butt Out: This Means Me”

  1. MarthaandMe says:

    I think you handled this well. I do think that sometimes a kid needs a parent to butt in though (not saying in this situation you should). I had a situation where I was bullied and victimized at school and there wasn’t anyone who did anything. Like you, I stayed home a lot. A little help from someone would have gone a long way. Your daughter sounds like she’s doing so well and as a parent I know how hard it is to step aside and let them work out their own problems!

  2. susan delgiorno says:

    I was bullied relentlessly for about a year in grade school. In order to avoid the people who were bullying me, I used to stay in the school yard really late in order to avoid them on the way home. They would kick me, punch me, push me, taunt me. Being one to never defend myself, I didn’t deal with it directly. I should have fought back, but it was often 3 against 1, and I thought avoidance was the better option. I don’t think I told my mother, she wouldn’t have done anything about it. Or would she have? I’ll never know.
    I would never ignore someone physically harming my daughter. But like you, I did decide to allow her to deal with some of the emotional fallout from being hurt. Now we talk about everything, discuss different ways to handle situations, and I let her come to her own conclusions UNLESS I think there’s potential for physical or long term harm. And she’s growing up just fine and has warded off a few bullies, with a lot of self confidence and intelligence. I’m proud to be her mom.

  3. Shari says:

    I am sometimes afraid that our children are growing up in a world that is fair, where everyone is a winner, etc. My son’s mini baseball league doesn’t even keep score and no one gets out even if the ball makes it to first base before the batter gets there. Everyone gets a trophy, etc. I wonder what will happen when they learn the real dissapointments in life. You had a tough decision to make but while sometimes it IS necessary to butt in, many times it isn’t. I think it is smart of you to let her know you are there for her, but to also let her develop her own skin and coping techniques. I just came home from a week away and found out that when my dad picked up my 6 year old from school on Monday he saw a boy in his class tackle him SO hard that it literally knocked the wind out of my son. My father told me that all Sam was doing was running with a football, and this boy who had atleast 20 lbs on Sam pounced on him unprovoked. I debated what to do about this. I asked Sam if he was upset. He said no. He also said that this boy was the “boss” and if Sam stood up to him that he would “fire” Sam. I decided that for now I will stay out of it. I told him that I would keep my eyes opened and if this boy got more agressive I would step in. Meanwhile I am trying to build his confidence as a leader. I recently discovered that his hebrew name means “father of many nations”. I have used this to persuade him that he can tell children “don’t play like that” and they will still remain his friend. That he can be a leader and not a follower. Sigh.
    Thanks for the post, it is nice to know we are all in this together!

  4. Donna says:

    I was bullied a lot in 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and part of 9th grades. Relentlessly. So much so, that when I re-encountered these two individuals as adults, and they were mean still (yes, twenty years after high school), I spent the full hour of my bi-weekly therapy session on just that… Why did it bring back the same panic of “When’s the other shoe going to drop?” “What will they do next?” I am a wife, a mother of two, a college graduate, and work outside the home as an accountant. I’m a grown up, for all practical intents and purposes, so why do these two, who live over 400 miles away, 20+ years later, invoke such fear, and I revert back to the freightened, insecure girl I was at age 15. To further fuel my fire, knowing my 20 year reunion was rapidly approaching, I had an unwavering suspicion that the other shoe WAS going to drop, that their childish antics were far from over, and much to my chagrin, I was right. At 2AM, the evening my daughter was released from a four-day hospital stay (four days of no sleep due to vitals being taken every hour and her sleeping in my arms for four days straight), my phone rang. After two hours of harassing phone calls, a visit from a police officer and a formal report filed, it was revealed who was making these juvenile prank calls, and I was vindicated. The other shoe had fallen. Twenty years later, and a formal police report filed, I am STILL waiting for the other shoe to drop, but having stood up for myself and having faced my fears, I’m ready, though it took a lot of emotional trials to get past, I win. Katelyn will too.

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