Growing up, I was usually very sensitive to others’ plights. I remember siding with the underdog, refusing to follow the crowd if I didn’t like what was going on. I was always in the middle, not ostracized but certainly not popular. My youth, though, was happy and well balanced. I was taught empathy and the importance of community by my parents. I have worked from day one to ensure that my children are the same type of people. I want my kids to do their own thing, to stick up for someone if they are being picked on and to befriend (or at least be friendly to) all children.
Then I wondered, who doesn’t want their kids to have these traits? Does anyone hope their child will be a bully? So I started watching kids and parents in different situations. And I’m thinking that while no one actively sets out to raise a bully, some parents don’t see their child’s actions clearly. Maybe they are just raising their child the way they were raised. Or maybe they simply don’t care; sadly, I’ve certainly run into that.
I was at the pool a couple summers ago, and happened to be sitting next to a perfectly nice woman who had her 3 year old daughter with her. We were chatting while Chip sat and splashed in the baby pool and her daughter played with her bucket. Her daughter tried to poor water on Chip. I asked her not to. Her mother laughed. The little girl did it again, and her mother found it more funny, but knew enough to redirect her. Um. Redirect her right over to two other mothers sitting a couple feet away in the pool. The little girl proceeded to dump cold water all over one of them. The woman tuned around, surprised and the girl’s mother giggled and said “Oh no, sweety! You have to ask before you dump water on people!” So the little girl gets another bucket of water and proceeds to ask this random person if she can dump water on her. The woman looked uncertainly at the little girl’s mother who just serenely watched the whole thing. And I’m sitting there, floored, wondering why this woman does not tell her daughter “No! We do not dump water on people!” My mind is thinking “of course this poor woman does not want water dumped on her, no matter how cute the dumper.” The little girl’s mother is apparently only thinking “isn’t she adorable.”
This mother is raising her daughter with a sense of entitlement. This little girl could, some day, be one of those girls in high school. And I saw why. OK – I’m exaggerating. A little. But when I wonder who raised the bullies the rest of us had to deal with, I think back to that day at the pool. Bullies are created, not born.
Last night, Mare seemed troubled and said in a tentative voice:
Mare: Mom, sometimes people say mean things and they don’t know they’ve hurt someone’s feelings.
Mom: What happened?
Mare: Someone told the new girl (at ballet) that she talked funny…
Edit to add:
I don’t want to sound all high and mighty here, and I fear that is the way it might come off. I have hurt people in the past. I would like to think it is because of a misunderstanding – but deep down I know I have been guilty of snubbing someone, at some point. I’m human. I have also been embarrassed at times by my kids’ actions towards other kids. But, we are working on it. And that is all this post is about.