“But Mommy, what if nobody likes me? What if I have no friends?” This was the question posed to me in the mommyvan the other day when we passed the elementary school Lil’ Bit will attend next year. It was an easy answer: “you are a sweet girl, and a great friend. You are nice to everyone – of course they will like you. Be kind to others and they will be kind to you” Meanwhile, my heart and brain were sending a silent screaming prayer to God of: “Please! Watch over her, be with her, give her strength and courage, and don’t let the mean kids hurt her!”
Lil’ Bit and I are two peas in a pod – gullible, open, a little too chatty, a bit out there, independent, creative, wild imagination, incredibly loyal, but above all – we fit into the category of: “people pleaser”. We like everyone we meet, and want everyone to like us, and the statement : some people just aren’t going to like you is tough, and sad. Unfortunately, most “people pleasers” will tirelessly work to prove this statement incorrect, and they will be hurt along this journey.
Enter the school years, self-doubt, and the ever-present, and publicized issue of bullying.
The term ‘bullying’ elicits all types of responses: everything from the extreme no tolerance and total punishment for any level of infraction to the simple explanation, boys will be boys or girls will be girls.
Here are my thoughts on bullying: I do agree with those who say the word is often overused, and should only apply in the most extreme situations. You will very rarely see anyone who has experienced true bullying jump up wildly raising their hands and screaming “oh, me, I know all about this one. I was a social pariah, wondering every morning what torment, humiliation, and sadness that I would be subject to that day, and where I would hide or fade into the background praying with every fiber of my being to make it through one more day so I am one day closer to escaping, and never having to return to this place or these people.” What you will hear is “I was bullied and it was awful.” and those who also were will nod in silent solidarity. No words need to be spoken. Like all parents, I want my kiddos to have good happy memories, I want their days to be always be filled with joy – but I can’t help feeling afraid. Afraid of what lies ahead, and that I may miss a sign that something is severely wrong. The silent suffering and the self-doubt can be just as debilitating as the taunting, teasing, humiliation, and abuse. If you are lucky you will survive it, and come out a better, stronger version of yourself ready to take on the world. The wounds will heal but the scars remain.
We learn our values, and develop our core at a young age, and the inherent fiber of ones being rarely changes. Fortunately, as you age you learn to adapt, how to deal, how to cope , and who to avoid. Once those days of adolescence are behind you, it is much easier to take a stance of, I don’t really care what you say or what you think. You allow yourself grace, and forgiveness, you find people to surround yourself with that compliment your personality and make you feel safe, and accepted. You try to instill a sense of strength, and goodness in your children, knowing that even the most hovering helicopter parent cannot be there every second of every day to commit some sort of parental heroism; swooping in to save your sweet baby from whatever may cause anguish.
If you can’t already tell, I have first hand experience. This isn’t something I usually admit, I’m more of the ‘nod in solidarity’ type.
While I have learned to find peace with my experience, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone – especially my kiddos. I don’t intend for them to know anything of my experience until they are much older (if ever), and it is my hope that they will never be in a situation either as bullied or a bully that I have to recount my experience before it is due time.
Ellen DeGeneres closes each show with the words “Be kind to one another.” I admit, I am a huge Ellen fan so I know I am biased, but these words are simple, and so very meaningful – as human beings, being kind to each other is the least we can do, and one of the core values we should be instilling in our children. We tell our children to share, we tell or children to play with everyone, we tell our children to be nice – but do we teach them, do we model a behavior of kindness? Is it unrealistic in our society to be kind when unobserved, and on a regular basis? You certainly don’t get ahead by stopping to help others. There are dozens of articles on ending the Mommy Wars. When really it should be: why do the Mommy Wars exist? Why are we convinced that our individual lifestyles, and parenting decisions are the correct way to do life, and someone else’s is not equally as correct? How do we answer our children when they ask why so and so gets a certain privilege or experience they don’t? Why are there signs at children’s ball fields reminding parents to behave, and that it’s just a game? Has the term “bullying’ simply become a politically correct buzz word to describe any bad behavior or is the problem growing? Why are there cliques starting in elementary school, and why as parents aren’t we stopping it? I understand having close friends, but it is important to remind our children (and ourselves) that true friends are not going anywhere just because you made a new friend, or were nice to someone else. Our children need these lessons – we need these lessons
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it really bothers me that Lil’ Bit is concerned that she might not be accepted by her peers. I know it’s common for kiddos to have these types of fears in new situations, but she’s just turned 5 y’all, it’s just not right for this to be an issue for my sweet girl, or any other kiddo. Sure a culture of kindness won’t get you to the top of the social/business/recognition food chain but when did being #1 become more important than being a compassionate human being?
As tough as Lil’ Bit’s question has been to mull over, I’m glad she asked, I’m glad she brought her fears to my attention – and I will continue to hope and pray her fears are unfounded. Most of all, it has reminded me to be kind, my kiddos are learning from me even when I am not intentionally teaching.
Hug your kiddos y’all – sometimes their fears are way beyond their years. And as Ellen says, “be kind to one another” – if for no reason other than, your kiddos (or maybe even somebody else’s) are watching and learning.