Warning- long post ahead. Go make some popcorn, get your morning coffee, grab a snack or something to drink. You'll be here a while.
We've got yet another situation where Jeff and I have to step into the roll of very strict parents. The crackdown, no tolerance types. It's no fun and I get very aggravated and frustrated when our plans get trashed because of the choices of a single child in my home.
I'll start at the beginning.
Tuesday morning, I got an e-mail from the head of Teagan's school. There was a problem and she wanted to talk to me about it. I called in that morning. Teagan has been bullying her classmates. She's not just bullying one kid. There is a list of kids. In fact, I'm betting she's managed to bully every kid in her class at least once. She apparently has a gift for finding the weakness in a child and preying on it. And- the really scary part- she gets satisfaction, even happiness, from hurting others. She has made it clear to her teachers that she is fully aware of what she is choosing to do to others. She actually sets kids up so she can knock them down. It isn't just taking advantage of a situation that falls in her lap. She out and out sets kids up to specifically be cruel to them.
I was heart broken yesterday. I had shut my office door for the call. Good thing because there was about 20 minutes of fighting tears- and flat out crying- when I hung up the phone. I started off questioning how we parent her. Then wondering if she's been deeply hurt by someone and I'm not aware of it. Then wondering if there is just something wrong with her. I called Christy and asked if we could skip the gym- I really wanted comfort food and needed someone to talk to. I posted on my local moms' discussion board about it- seeking advice. I researched bullying and read articles and blog entries. I tried to call my Employee Assistance Program (complete fail- no one answered any of the phone numbers I had been given). I took some points of advice from my fellow Indy Moms. It had to be made clear to Teagan that we have a no tolerance policy when it comes to choosing to be cruel to others.
Here are some things I know about my daughter:
- When she chooses to do something, she has already got it all figured out in her head and she is now practicing to be the absolute best at whatever it is. So if she found herself being a bully, she thought about it and then went on to keep trying to do it better.
- She tests limits. In some ways, I think she wanted to see how far she could go. And she is still testing. And she will always test.
- She has an amazing flair for the dramatic. If you touch her hand while talking to her, it can trigger hysterical screaming and wailing and lead to a 45 minute meltdown that results in being sent directly to bed.
Here is something I learned about me- and this is where yesterday's post came in. I haven't accurately presented myself online. To some degree, that's on me. To some degree, it's what people choose to read. I was a little surprised at the comments that labeled me an "AP parent." I was firmly AP (attachment parenting) when my kids were babies. I believe in co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, and so on. I also believe in gentle discipline. But I've learned (and been pretty open) that gentle discipline isn't always what works with my daughter. Yelling and the occassional spanking does happen in my home. And when I say I give my kids choices- it doesn't mean they run the show and it doesn't mean the choices are wishy washy and all positive. The choices are often "do this or I punish you" but framed in a more positive way. I know Christy, Latifa, Jeff, my mom, and many others can vouch for me. I am a pretty authoritative parent. I am pretty strict and we have consistent discipline in our home. I am a parent, not a friend. I don't like having to stick to the rules all the time but I recognize that this is what is best for my kids- especially my authority challenging daughter.
This is why my first creeping doubts with that phone call were in regards to my parenting. Was I too strict? Did Teagan feel bullied by me? Had I created this in her? Talking with Christy helped me confirm- no, I'm not too strict or cruel. I am the parent and backing off on how we run our home will lead to the kids being in charge.
Anyway, I don't like to wallow in the crappy emotional stuff for too long. I worked my way through it and decided on a plan of action with Jeff. I came home with little signs I'd made at work. Wednesday morning, I sat Teagan down and was point blank honest with her. I knew about what she'd done to so and so, so and so, and so and so. And it isn't ok. I explained my signs- "I will be kind... with my words, with my hands, with my face." I explained and engaged her in discussion about ways she'd been cruel with her words, hands/feet, and face to her friends at school. We talked about examples of ways to be kind and good to others in those areas. We talked about expectations- when you expect something from someone, that's how it should be. Mommy and Daddy expect Teagan to be kind to other people. Period. At school, at home, at church. Period. Teagan expects things from us, too. She expects to come home and have dinner, watch TV, play in the playroom, read books before bed, have stuffed animals and pillows and blankets on her bed, have clean clothes to choose from in the morning, etc. If you don't do what is expected of you, we won't provide what you are expecting either. Welcome to the concept of being grounded.
Today started out great for her at school. (I won't even go into the histrionic meltdowns we dealt with last night and this morning.) I had posted our kindness signs in various places at home and sent one to school in her backpack. Her teacher liked it so much- and it goes so well with what they already do in the classroom- that she asked Teagan to present it to the class and they posted it beside the Kindness Pledge that the kids say together every day. Perfect start to what should have been a great day for her. But things started to unravel a bit. Testing that limit to see how far she can push... what will they really tell Mommy and Daddy... when do I lose privileges at school... when do they take away things... And the sucky part of parenting kicked in right away.
Wednesday night is dinner at church night. It means no cooking or choosing dinner. It means time with my church family- friends that I really care about and who care about us. It's something we've incorporated into our weekly routine and we all look forward to it each week. Day One of the kindness plan and Teagan failed in terms of our No Tolerance stance. Which means no church. Which means come home, eat food, wash up in tub, go to bed. No books, no playtime, no fun.
Parenting is hard. Parenting is about sacrifice.
Jeff and I have to crack down into survival mode at home- we have to recognize when one of us will need to get out of the house for a while, when we will need to go out together for a bit, when we have to tag team so the other handles the discipline (Jeff is gifted at that- my temper can really flare and he can stay amazingly calm; on the flip side, when he does get pushed to the point of temper flare, I can step in and be calm- we work well together that way).
I don't have the answers. I've never tried to have the answers. I'm really pretty focused on my kids, my home, my responsibilities. My plate is over flowing as it is. I'm happy to offer advice if I've got expereince that might help but I am never going to try and tell someone else how to parent. I used to think I knew a lot. I used to think I had answers and should be listened to. Having kids of my own taught me how ignorant I really am. I think a big step in parenting is accepting how much you don't know and moving forward from there. I have a lot of knowledge and some of it helps. Some of it means nothing for my situation. Some of it is very helpful for others.
We are all doing the same thing- seeking our path and making the best choices we can with each situation we encounter.
So with all the buzzing in the media and elsewhere about bullying, I suppose I have my own little niche in it now, too. From the opposite side. From the side of a mother trying to teach her bullying child to not bully. Trying to teach empathy, compassion, kindness. Trying to stop the bully and foster the angel. My fear as a parent was always that I would someday have to deal with my kids being bullied- I never imagined that my child would BE the bully.
Wish us luck.