Posts Tagged ‘parenting’
As mom to an 11 year old boy barreling his way towards the teen years, I sometimes wonder (in the collision course of parenting, preteen rebellion, and life lessons) just who is teaching who. From his first kindergarten experience, throughout the entirety of his elementary school years, to his first almost completed year of middle school…he has shared a classroom with Ben (*name has been changed for obvious reasons), who has remained somewhat an outsider to his peers since taking his first step into elementary school. The beginning years were kinder. A time when innocent acceptance was the norm and kids were more focused on their similarities rather than their differences. But times change. Kids grow up. They begin asserting their independence and searching for their identities amid a sea of possibilities. Trying to “fit in” and avoid being singled out. This search for identity coupled with the need to belong leads to a survival of the fittest showdown. Who will make the cool cut? Who won’t? Bullies, on patrol looking a victim, troll the school for an ego to shred…in efforts to boost theirs. Sacrificing an easy target’s ego for their own.
It’s just recently that my son has entered the social battle field that is middle school.
In all of his 11 years, I’ve been persistent when it comes to compassion and empathy for others. Having seen, first hand, the short term and long term effects bullying has on a person’s self perception, and consequently, self destruction ~ I couldn’t bear the thought of a person I was responsible for ever having a hand in bringing that kind of misery and insecurity to a fellow human being. I pushed him regularly to see life through the eyes of someone other than himself. To be compassionate and empathetic. To be a friend, rather than a critic. So, in kindergarten, when he took notice of Ben’s challenges and befriended him, I couldn’t have been more proud. Becoming a safe place for Ben in a place where he didn’t quite fit in was so admirable, so simply and beautifully…human. He was doing exactly what I’d hoped he would. Accepting without judgment.
He was an inspiration to me, reminding me to practice what I preach. A daily reality check on my own reactions and feelings towards others.
Ben was crazy about him. Followed him everywhere. As time went on, Ben’s difficulties fitting in became more and more obvious. The other students were beginning to take notice. And they were much less compassionate and accepting. With our first year of middle school almost behind us, I began to notice he ~ who had always loved school and was riddled with stress at the thought of missing class ~ was asking to miss school, to stay home…day after day. He feigned the usual…a tummy ache, a headache, a muscle ache. But never a heartache, which I would soon discover was the culprit.
After my endless questioning about his sudden desire to miss school, he finally curled up beside me, broke down, cried, and begged me to stay home. He had confirmed my worst fears. He was being picked on, bullied. And for the very thing I had pushed him to do since he had entered school. For taking in the underdog. For not following the herd. For refusing to join the taunting and exclusion of a fellow student. He was being bullied by association. The other kids had succumbed to the need to fit in, set their sights on Ben’s weaknesses, and were descending on him like hungry wolves. Because Ben had found a safe place in him and clung to him for support, and because he couldn’t bear to hurt him by joining the taunting herd, he had become easy prey at Ben’s side. The pecking order establishment of his middle school years was in full swing. And his kindness was quickly sinking him straight down where the bottom feeders would peck away at him and dismantle his self confidence.
Always having guided him away from becoming the bully… it hadn’t really occurred to me that he may one day be the bullied.
He was crushed. I was crushed. He felt defeated. I felt guilty. After all, I was the one who had harped on the realities of what harsh words could do to a person’s spirit. And now, it was his spirit that was taking the beating. What could I do? An education in psychology, years of experience with children, past struggles as a parent…all left me helpless in the face of an untouchable bully who had targeted my son.
I wasn’t prepared to prepare him for psychological battle.
As his mom, my knee-jerk reaction was defense. I had to protect him, even if it meant forsaking another child. So, I found myself advising him to do the opposite of what I had told him for so many years. I told him to avoid Ben, who had depended on him since kindergarten as a friend. Not to join in on the bullying of him. But to look the other way. To abandon him when he needed him most. To distance himself from him in order to remove the target from his own back.
I cringed as the words escaped my mouth. Mortified at my own feelings. But this was my baby. And I had to do anything I could to keep his very delicate and developing self confidence intact. I knew that middle school was a dog eat dog world…
And I knew that if he carried around a bone, he would be eaten alive.
But his response was yet another thing I was ill-prepared for and left me ashamed and in tears. He looked me straight in the eye and said,
“But mom, if I don’t talk to him, no one else will. I don’t want him to be all alone.”
My heart broke…for the second time. The first time out of empathy for this chunk of my heart that was walking around outside my body. The second time as a result of clashing pride and regret.
How was it that he could be stronger than I in this scenario?
He had confided in me. Had I said the right thing? Advised the right thing? I still don’t know. But I do know that for the time being, he doesn’t feign illness to avoid school. His confidence is back, if only until the wolves descend again. I can only hope that I’m able to arm him with enough self confidence to fend them off.
Since then, his school principal has instituted a mandatory film for the entire school to watch. A film based on the real life struggles of a young boy who was bullied, how he had become desperate enough to physically hurt himself, and how the bullies dealt with the guilt of what their actions had done to another human being. That film had a huge impact on my son. He cried recalling the details to me. I could not be more proud of the middle school we call our academic home ~ for their proactive efforts in exposing and educating young children on the realities of bullying. Preteen and teen children are naturally inept at seeing things from another person’s perspective. Especially a person with whom they have nothing in common.
But the parents, the schools, and the media are finally saying “no more.” No more sweeping this issue under the rug. No more making excuses for our youth. No more allowing our children to suffer in silence. We’re uniting for the sake of young innocence, for the sake of broken spirits, and for the sake of missed opportunities for those who have resorted to taking their own lives to escape the mental torment.
For the first time, we’re forcing kids to look at bullying through the eyes of both the bully and the bullied. For the first time, we’re holding kids accountable for the cruelty they impose on a weaker peer. For the first time, we’re holding ourselves accountable for allowing it to happen as we look the other way. And for the first time ~ hopefully ~ we can find the courage and the leadership as adults to stop the cruelty and teach compassion.
I taught my son compassion. But in the face of the bully when the cost became too great, I retreated…
And he taught me that compassion doesn’t come cheap. And that sometimes, with matters of the heart, we adults have more to learn from children than they do from us.
The movie Bully opens in theaters on March 30. If you have children in or approaching the very difficult years of middle school or high school, take the time to see it with them. It could change, or save, a life.
There’s a popular notion spoon fed to us by barbie media…willingly embraced by the conservative woman, vehemently rejected by the liberal woman, yet, on some level, wrestled with by every woman. Open wide! The notion of “happily ever after.” A studly white knight on a horse who whisks us off to the land of eternal bliss. Rescues us from…reality? As “Sex and the City’s” most beloved princess, Charlotte, so shamelessly put it… “Women really just want to be rescued.” Now chew on that. According to princess pop culture and every wedding coordinator taxed with the job of creating “happily ever after,” women do indeed want the fairy tale. A prince charming who will sweep her off her feet, wed her in an over-the-top elaborate princess style shindig her friends will never match, give her to-die-for genetically endowed cooing babies, and take care of her forevermore, forevermore… forNevermore?
This notion proves to be very enticing…that is, until the honeymoon is over, she ages, her prince charming drops the charm, her adorable grown “babies” are mouthing off to her, fighting, and turning her into a screaming referee with a “Your face is gonna get stuck like that!” complex. Add to this dwindling romance and escalating financial stress. And suddenly, she doesn’t feel so princess-esque anymore. In no “happily ever after” does mass media suggest the princess will later be spending her days cooking, cleaning, and refereeing while dragging the tired exhausted shadow of her formerly hot ass around the house in a sloppy pony tail and holey sweats! As if! Cinderella was rescued from her shabby clothes and household chores. Hmmm…now that she thinks about it, she’s not feeling so rescued after all. The media has patronized and misadvised her. What the hell happened to her fairy tale? Or was the fairy tale just…a tall tale?
From the moment we take our first step or utter our first syllable, we’re slammed with one fantasy of “happily ever after” after another. The Disney animated princess…Barbie…or better yet…the animated Princess Barbie! Blurs of blond-haired blue-eyed beauties winning over their prince with one flutter of their exaggerated eyelashes, one toss of their synthetic hair, and not one ambitious bone in their “made in china” bodies. All hail the media! As little girls, we aspire to be “pretty in pink” princesses. Why? Because we’re encouraged to, of course. This parent trying to “out-love” that parent by indulging us in over-the-top princess birthday parties. And our parental crowning doesn’t stop there. In case the metaphorical crowning wasn’t enough, we’re encouraged to tan up, wig up, and dumb down to walk “beauty” pageant runways straight out of the womb. All in hopes of being adorned with the awe-inspiring symbol of beauty itself…the over-sized tiara…the bigger, the glitzier, the better. As we grow into young women, we aspire to find our handsome prince charming, become Mrs. Charming, and live “happily ever after” …replacing the tiara with a diamond ring intended to represent just how “BIG” he loves us. Finally, as newlyweds, the pressure is on to help populate our tragically underpopulated planet. One baby, two, nineteen...and counting? It’s our privilege…our duty, no?
When we do finally get word that the stork is circling overhead, we rejoice over the success of our dutiful whoopee. Baby on board! It’s at this moment that our fairy tale is complete. Or at least the one set in motion by June Cleaver and popularized by the mass media.
No sleep, dirty diapers, and non-existent sex life aside, there’s a flaw in Cinderella’s perfectly stitched gown of happily ever after. Ambition! Today’s woman goes to college, becomes educated, and adds successful career to her dreamy fairy tale checklist. She dreams of all the things princess pop “cult”ure has washed her brains with. But princess pop culture has an elephant in the room…and that elephant is college educated and dreams of changing the world…one poopy diaper at a time. Apparently. She wants to marry the perfect man, raise the perfect children, and attain the perfect career. She can have it all, right? When she first embarks on this feat, she fails to see the practical conflict of her maternal and professional ambitions because she’s young…because she has no concept of “can’t” …and because no one warns her…no one exposes the “fairy tale” for the lying sham it is.
Happily ever after is a myth.
It is an elusive sasquatch creeping into our adolescent psyches touting its over-sized existence, yet failing to produce cold hard proof. But experience will educate her…reveal the truth. She CAN marry her prince charming. She CAN have 2.5 kids. She CAN have a reputable successful career. Disclaimer: The simultaneous combination of the three may cause spontaneous combustion! And extinguishing the problem will leave the bigfoot supermom drowning in the puddle of despair she fears most…Failure.
The working mom tries to do it all. Rushes the kids to daycare, drags into work, tries to be all she can be professionally while juggling the disapproving sneer from her boss and phone calls about sick or misbehaving kids, scrambles to pick up the kids on time..and races home to complete homework, baths, dinner, laundry, dishes, bedtime, and sex like a Stepford wife on speed. A forced smile through it all. But behind that robotic smile lurks a bottomless pit of guilt, self-doubt, exhaustion, and a persistent sense of failure. For no matter how much she does… it’s never enough. So, she pushes herself to the brink of insanity, and then she dares to push a little more. As she continues to spread herself too thin, she begins to feel her world crumbling around her. She loses her bearings. She feels…lost. But lacks the “me” time to find her way out.
Maintaining a full-time successful career while trying to slay the child-rearing dragon is a feat that will eventually leave her charred and begging for mercy. Consequently, some modern moms are opting to put a career on hold, stay home, and take on the dragon full time. Seems the easier option…for now. But is the dragon’s head the only trophy she seeks? The reality: a stay home mom may slay the child-rearing dragon with ease…but it’s the demon in her own head that proves to take her down…the struggle between herself and her myth.
The college educated stay-home mom is riddled with unfulfilled professional ambition. Her own personal fairy tale hell threatens to bring her sanity to its knees. On one hand, she weighs the commitment to her children…to be available whenever they need her…as a nurturer, a teacher, a playmate, a friend. On the other, she weighs the desire to work, have an identity, make her own money, be successful, and make a difference in her corner of the world. All the while, the weight of both relentlessly crushing her.
How does she do both…and do them well?
If she opts for the 9 to 5 career, she sacrifices fleeting time with her kids. They miss out on parent-child events at school, afternoon soccer, baseball, dance, help with homework. They become latch-key kids. They see her for two chore-filled hours a day before they must sleep to prepare for the next day, another in which she will play a minor role. They act out because they feel last in her list of daily priorities. Guilt consumes her. However, if she stays home and forfeits her career, she sacrifices herself. Disappoints herself on a daily basis. Begins to drown in her own pity pool of missed opportunities. Watches the professional life she planned and dreamed of in college slink off into the night robbing her of self-confidence and leaving her a stranger to herself. Mid-life looms…she wonders… “What now? Who wants to hire a mom who has been at home for so long…college degree or not. I have a resume filled with diaper duties and fending off cooties…and Dora the Explorer as a reference.” Her struggle continues.
Regardless of the choice she makes, her maternal side and her professional side remain in a perpetual tug of war.
Ambition proves to be her double-edged sword. She struggles daily not to disappoint the supposed “fairy tale” she’s created…and, at the same time, not to disappoint her “me” she’s yet to create. But at the end of the day, it’s her “me” she’s yet to create that seems to be falling by the wayside. She wants it all, damn it. A prince charming. Happy kids. Love and success for them all. But she also wants…HER. Her career. Her success. Her happiness. She wants to look in the mirror and recognize her once ambitious face. To be proud not only of her family, but of herself. To make a difference in the world she’s introducing to her children. To set a feminist example for her daughter…convince her she can do anything she sets her mind to. The sky is NOT her limit, for beyond her sky lies an unknown and unexplored universe. But a paradox presents itself. As she preaches unbridled ambition for the taking, she does so as a mother who has done the opposite…
telling her daughter to take on the world and let nothing stand in her way, but showing her to sacrifice it all to raise a family.
So she wonders…is she teaching her to be all she can be? Or is she simply perpetuating the fairy tale hell?
How can she possibly teach her kids to raise their hands and reach for the stars when she’s tied her own hands behind her back? How can she manage to satisfy the dreams of both herself and her kids? How can any mother?
Mirror, mirror, on the wall…
What DO women want? DO we want the fairy tale? Or does the fairy tale want us?
“Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace.” ~ Eugene O’Neill
In any marriage, there are a few major contenders vying for title of “Most Fought Over Issue.” The way in which we discipline our kids proudly takes its rightful place among these contenders. When we marry our chosen love, we’re pretty naive as to what we’re getting ourselves into when it comes to disciplining our future look-alikes. In fact, we tend to romanticize the idea of having children a bit… only imagining the adorable little baby babbling away…failing to imagine that mouthy little 5 year old who has the uncanny ability to oppose us at every crossing, whether it’s wanting candy for breakfast or screaming aloud at us publicly in an attempt to shame us into buying him that “can’t live without” toy that will meet it’s fate in the Bermuda Triangle of lost toys within the week. But now that reality has set in as parents, how will mom and dad agree on how to discourage the unwanted behaviors and encourage the opposite?
Discipline is as necessary to a child’s upbringing as love. Our children crave boundaries, rules, love, and discipline. Without discipline, rules and boundaries are imaginary to a child…only clouds of empty gibberish floating from our mouths, bouncing off of them and back at us like tiny boomerangs. Empty promises of “I’ll spank you if you do that!” only teach them to ignore and disrespect us. If we do want our children to respect us and learn boundaries, we must back up our threatened consequences. But how exactly do we do that if one parent preaches “spank him” and another parent prefers taking away that prized Nintendo DS that is seemingly glued to his hand?
While we may disagree on our paths for discipline, our desired destination is the same…we want to raise well-behaved, respectable children who are able to follow rules, find happiness in themselves, and love and accept those around them. Our chosen paths for accomplishing this will often mirror our parents’ paths. If one parent was raised by authoritarian parents who were very strict and insisted that the children do exactly as they say, or else, then that parent will likely parent in a similar manner. On the other hand, if a parent were raised by more lenient parents who gave the children more of a voice and tended not to focus on rules and discipline, that parent may follow suit. Whichever path you choose, it’s rare that it be identical to your spouse’s path. Given this, at some point, we will butt heads over how to punish our kids.
Probably one of the most important things that can be done initially is to educate ourselves on age appropriate expectations. Different expectations, as well as punishments, apply for children of different ages. Once aware of these, we can come together (without the kids) and discuss punishments we prefer and which punishment fits which crime. If one of us feels very strongly against a certain punishment, but the other parent feels it should be employed, maybe we could agree on that punishment being used only under the worst of circumstances. For smaller crimes, we could employ the other parent’s choices. This way, neither parent is being “unheard.” Each of you has a say in how to discipline your children without one overriding the other.
Because many families today are blended, a child’s disciplinary kitchen may be spilling over with cooks…between biological mom, her new husband, biological dad, and his new wife. I can only imagine how trying this can be for all involved. Children will, in the beginning, have a certain amount of distrust and resentment towards new spouses, understandably. While his newly married parent may be blissful in the new marriage, it can be a very emotionally confusing time for a child…whatever the age. It’s recommended that in the event of a new marriage, the stepparent take a backseat with discipline for the first couple of years. Let the biological parent take the lead and be the “bad guy” for a while. During this time, the stepparent and child can bond and develop a friendship, followed by love and trust. Once the trust is there, discipline can follow. Until then, discipline on the part of the stepparent will only be met with resentment and frustration, and will, therefore, be counterproductive.
At some point, parents will engage in a battle of words (in front of the kids) over how to handle a situation. While debating the issue, it’s best to keep the focus on the child’s behavior–not on parental bickering. Children catch on very quickly and will pit you against one another in an attempt to manipulate the situation to their benefit…BEWARE of these cunning little cuties…looks deceive. While most of our decisions should be made in private regarding punishment, it’s not always realistic. New “situations” rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times. When this happens, we have an amazing opportunity to provide a life lesson for our child. Hearing his parents talk rationally (without degrading, verbally abusing, or disregarding the other) and hearing them listen to the other’s viewpoints will be beneficial. This will teach him how to have a healthy argument and how to come together toward a common goal, while respecting his own AND others’ opinions. On the flipside, listening to his parents yell back and forth, make snarky remarks towards each other, and eventually stop speaking will teach him to only think of himself, never to listen to others, and to avoid differences. Result: an adult completely ignorant on how to hear, be heard, and come to a healthy agreement.
While we will inevitably differ on ideas of discipline, we must remember that our goal is the same. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares? This shouldn’t be our focus. Raising wonderful, caring, law-abiding individuals-THIS should be our focus. Entering into marriage and parenthood begins our long, winding road of confusion and pandemonium. But if we work alongside each other, instead of against each other, our road is much more pleasant. At the end of that road, we’ll find that our once mouthy, difficult 5 year old has evolved into an intelligent, well-adjusted, successful individual….no one ever said the road was short, or easy (for those who may have made that stupendously stupid assumption, ignorance is bliss — as I’m sure they were not yet parents). As you know, parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. Sissies need not apply…
“You’re ugly. You’re stupid. You have no friends. Don’t sit by me! Everyone hates you!” Ever stop to think about just how powerful your words are once they depart from your mouth? Words may just be the most lethal in our arsenal of weapons. This applies even more so in junior high/high school where acceptance is vital to one’s ego. While physical wounds will heal, emotional wounds are likely to forever haunt us. Even when we think we’ve overcome our childhood emotional trauma, like a thief in the night, it will manage to return and claim yet another piece of our self worth. Words have the power to build a person up, and consequently, to tear a person down. Bullying among children is not a new phenomenon. But, having children of my own who are reaching the age of the “bully,” I find myself pondering the whys, hows, and what ifs surrounding these aggressive attacks. Why do bullies bully? How do they choose a target? How does the targeted child cope? What can we, as parents, do to prevent our kids from becoming the next statistic?
We know that the bully’s motive is simply to mask his own insecurities. He is fueled by two things: a succumbing victim and a pack of followers cheering him on and providing him the social validation needed to further raise his own self-esteem…in other words-to gain social status at the cost of another’s demise. We also know a bully will choose as his target anyone lacking the one most coveted possession by any and all teens: popularity. Without it…well, you’re nobody, therefore fair game for ridicule. The wrong look, clothes, labels, friends, size, sexual orientation, parents…any one of these “differences” can doom one to social exile. It seems that these days, one doesn’t necessarily have to fall into the “unpopular” category. One can fall victim to bullying simply by making an enemy out of the wrong person. Getting just one person’s feathers ruffled can result in a domino effect…bullying by association. “My friend said she ______. Don’t speak to her anymore. If you talk to her, you’re not my friend.” By the end of the week, a small transgression against this one person has grown into mass treachery of the most unforgivable kind. From here, the victim spirals downward thinking his reputation is irrevocably damaged. While some adults tend to minimize the mini-dramas created by their kids, this kind of social devastation can be paralyzing to children. Some become severely depressed and lose interest in every aspect of their lives. They may refuse to attend school in an attempt to avoid the inevitable taunting… tragically, to some suicide seems the only imaginable solution. Children as young as 11 have committed suicide as a means of desperate escape from the emotional tortures of bullying…both from school and from technology. The newest bully on the block: the internet. Children were once able to escape their social hell at school and feel safe at home. But with home now becoming a battleground on which they are attacked via facebook, email, texting, etc., there is no “safe” place for retreat. So now a sense of social drowning is taking over, and the idea of suicide is more and more seductive to teen and pre-teen victims.
Perhaps the only real way to confront this epidemic is head-on. Many victims’ parents are speaking out on the fact that schools are looking the other way when it comes to bullying. Our silence is not only providing the cover needed to conceal these devastating social attacks, but it also robs victims of the validation needed to fight back. The cost of this “let’s not get involved-it’s not our problem” attitude is loss of innocent lives, not to mention the broken spirits of countless other victims who may entertain the thought of opting out of life. We owe it to our kids to give them the ammo needed to fend off attackers. Schools and parents are the two main educational resources available to children. If we don’t get involved, who will? Perhaps a solution lies with schools including lessons on bullying as part of the curriculum. Armed with knowledge, understanding, and exposure of the behavior, victims may be better equipped to cope with impending fallout. Maybe this same knowledge and understanding will trigger self-analysis on the part of the bully, while also creating a little empathy for his victim. Exposure can be quite the effective deterrent. Without doubt, this behavior will never go away. But isn’t it our job as parents, educators, and nurturers of our children to arm them with the education and awareness needed to fight against and conquer one of the most prevalent trials of growing up…social warfare?
Maybe it’s time to bully the bully?
“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes