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    Bullying, Empathy, and Fixing Stuff that Shouldn't be Broken

    I read a very sad piece a few days ago, from Catherine at HerBadMother.com. Catherine’s nephew Tanner, who has Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy (a terminal illness which confines him to a wheelchair), is being bullied at school. Any bullying is awful, but there’s something particularly appalling about bullying a disabled – and dying – child which has me feeling sick to my stomach.


    I started a post, and didn’t quite finish it, and shelved it (so it goes with the 37 pages of unfinished blog posts I have going right now), only to bring it back out in the light, after reading Catherine’s follow-up post, today whose title is aptly titled: Seriously, World. Because, seriously. Bullying a disabled child? And seriously? I can't believe she even had to write the follow up. It makes my heart hurt.


    I’ve written about bullying before.  It’s a matter which speaks to me personally – as I was bullied terribly as a child. Terribly, of course, is relative. To me, it was terrible. Any, ALL bullying is terrible.


    But the thing that makes me so angry about bullying is this: It’s preventable. Reread: IT’S PREVENTABLE, people. World. Seriously. You just gotta treat people nicer.



    In the vast, vast majority of cases, I’m going to venture a not-too-far-out guess: Children who bully are children who are bullied at home. And I don’t only mean parents who physically push around or verbally abuse their kids (though there are, unfortunately, plenty – too many – of those [of this, I also know personally]). But I mean also, the subtle bullying of a parent deciding NOT to put importance on her infant’s cries “he’s just doing that to manipulate me – he can cry it out in there, and learn to eat/sleep when I say it’s time to eat/sleep”. Or, bullying exhibit B: not honoring a toddler’s tantrum as a real expression of big feelings by a little person not big enough yet to understand how to verbalize those feelings in a socially appropriate way, as in: “he’s gonna stay in that time out all day ‘til he learns to obey me”.  Or, a bullied-at-home child may be abused – physically, verbally, emotionally – as in spank, smack, “shut up”! 


    My take is this: Small injuries for little ones, when continually brushed off by parents (such as, “oh, you didn’t hurt yourself, you’re fine, stop crying about nothing”), comparisons (“at least your brother knows how to behave” or “you’ll never fit into your sister’s jeans, don’t even try”), or, bigger insults and useless, hurtful labels, (“you’re such a troublemaker” or ”you never listen” or “you’ll never be able to do it”) don’t just go away… they get buried, internalized, only to come to the surface when that child has the opportunity to respond in kind to another, smaller, child. The anger, the hurt, the belittlement – parents, people, world: think about what you’re saying and doing to your child. Think about how you interact with your children. Think about how you want them to face the world.  What you say, how you treat your children? THAT is how they are likely treat others, or, how they are likely to be treated themselves (I’d like to take a moment to venture another not-too-far-out guess that if a less outgoing child has grown up in an environment where they are bullied, and it’s tolerated, even expected, they may continue to find themselves attracted to situations and relationships in which they are abused, ignored, harmed, and bullied.). It doesn’t just go away. Kids treat kids the way they are treated. 


    No one wants this for their child. No parent wants their child to be bullied. No parent wants their child to BE a bully.  But we have a choice, parents. We parents can treat our children with kindness, respect, empathy. We don't have to bully or boss around our kids; we can empathize with them, guide them, help them gently on this path of life that's all new and un-jaded to them.  


    Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that a time-out at home or a parent who occasionally loses her temper equals a child who trips a kid & laughs about it on the playground. I’m not saying that every parent can or should even strive to parent perfectly.


    What I AM saying is that if every parent would just aim to treat their children – treat EVERYONE – as they would want to be treated, this world would be a heck of a better, kinder, gentler, more forgiving place to be. Every bit of love you give you children, it comes back, tenfold.  Every kind word, every gentle touch – they give it out to the world. You, parents, are the most important and powerful people in your children’s lives.  Use your power to show them, through how you treat them, how they should treat the world.


    Empathy. The golden rule. Treat your kids – as often as possible – as you’d want your best friend or partner or anyone to treat you, and you’re a step closer to making sure tragedies like Catherine describes, don’t happen.

    Posted: Dec 13 2011, 18:42 by kelly | Comments (2) RSS comment feed |
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    They are with you, yet they belong not to you.

    Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you.
    And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
    You may house their bodies, but not souls.
    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
    You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
    ~Khalil Gilbran


    My children are growing up. We all know this happens, is going to happen – even when we are pregnant, we start thinking, planning: will they be astronauts, concert pianists, writers, maybe win the Nobel Peace Prize?  We wonder where they’ll go to college, maybe even play the game of what that will feel like – that far-off so-called “empty nest” feeling our parents experienced when we “grew up”; maybe feel that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs – but quickly we can brush it away, as we bring baby to the breast, and settle back in to shared sleep.  All is right with the world when your tiny infant is asleep on your chest.


    When they’re babies, we have so much vested in their day-to-day care: breastfeeding, diaper changing, clothing, sleeping, playing. As they get a bit older, we start to offer some of that care to others around us – extended family, close friends, perhaps a nanny or daycare providers. Still, they return to us, completely ours, tiny, dependent. Where they go, what they do, even how their own messages are interpreted – is up to us.


    It is around the three year mark where I started to really realize that my children… weren’t really mine. Of course, they are always a part of me – they forever are entwined with my DNA, my memories, and our physical connection, where they grew in my womb, is for all time etched into their little tummies. But they are only mine now because I want them… and they want me.


    But sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, they push away from me. They relish in their freedom – swinging, running, playing… hitting, back-talking. They too, are realizing they aren’t mine; that they are their own. They can choose their clothing – and put it on their own bodies. They can walk out the door and down the block – and come back. They can choose which book they want to read – and read it. They can realize they are hungry – and make themselves food. They can picture a grand Lego structure in their minds – and build it… while I simply watch. They can choose to be angry – and how they want to express that. My son, he knows how to whistle. My daughter, she knows how to read music and play the piano with both hands. I sit back, amazed, yet observing – Montessori-style – at these children who are so self-directed, strong-willed… and entirely themselves. They know who they are while I’m left to I wonder where they came from; where they are going; what their purpose is, and will be.  I feel them pushing away from me. Sometimes I feel myself pulling them back.  I want to pull back harder, but... I know I can’t; I shouldn’t.  So I observe, and offer assistance when requested.

    I remember when I used to be able to pick them up, swaddle them, nurse them, soothe their crying with the simplest things: milk, motion, singing. I can’t do that anymore. Their needs are bigger, the solutions more complicated, the problems more difficult: a friend said something that hurt feelings, a worry over when we will die – or when they will die, concern that we have more than others and why is that, thoughts about disease and hunger and pollution, consideration about what they’ll be as adults, about WHY we – their parents – do what we do, or have done what we’ve done as adults, wondering exactly how and when and why  babies are made. My answers to their questions are necessarily more intricate and complex now than they ever were… and I am starting to realize that my answers aren’t always enough. My experience isn’t necessarily the best example. Their teachers help answer questions, as does the internet, and books, and… they are growing up. 


    At night, my children still ask for me to lie with them. They snuggle in – one on each side of me – like little puppies. Baby shuttles docking with the Mothership. I feel like they recharge at that time – lights off, no pressure. We do a lot of talking there in the dark, along with cuddling, resting, relaxing back into familiar baby-mama mode that some days I miss so much. I treasure the moments they choose to return to me – ask to play, request my help on a project, want me to snuggle them to sleep. My children are growing up, and I with them. It’s an amazing journey – one for which I don’t always feel adequately prepared – but for which I’m so glad I signed on.

    Posted: Dec 03 2011, 11:13 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Babies | Children | Parenting