I’m grateful that bullying is a hot topic in the media and that parents have been calling on school administrators and teachers — not to mention social media — to do a better job protecting our kids from cruelty by their peers.
As a mom of two, I understand our cultural outrage about this subject and, like so many others, I sometimes point fingers at the parents of bullies, particularly those who set bad examples by being bullies themselves. Yes, parents can be bullies too.
They insult: “What were you thinking?” or “That was a ridiculous thing to do!”
They name-call: “What an airhead!” or “Why are you always such an a*#hole?”
They act superior: “If you’d just listened to me in the first place…”
They issue commands: “Don’t you dare say another word!” or “Why don’t you say something? You should stand up to your boss!”
They belittle: “How could you not know how to do that?”
They threaten: “You say that one more time and I’m out of here.”
They manipulate: “If you just did what I asked, I wouldn’t have to nag you about it.”
They withhold: “If you were kinder to me, maybe we’d have sex more.” or “I’m not giving you another dime until you get your spending under control.”
They judge and gossip: “My husband’s so insensitive. You know how men are.”
“Them”, “those parents”, the ones over there, across the playing field, the ones who live across town, or next door, in another country, or school district … they’re the parents whose kids become bullies.
Not buying it? Thinking to yourself: “Sure I might be bossy sometimes, but I’m no bully!”? Fine. Insert “bossiness” through the rest of this post whenever “bullying” appears.
Seriously: My advice is just as applicable to those of us who are bossy as to bullies.
One brave and fabulously honest mom, Rachel Macy Stafford, posted a piece on Huffington Post about bullying her daughter. How did she bully her? She had very high expectations and punished her — usually with harsh words or an angry tone of voice — when she didn’t fulfill those expectations, or made mistakes, or did things that interfered with her schedule and responsibilities.
As Stafford courageously and compassionately admits:
“I bully myself. And when I bully myself, it makes me unhappy and then I treat others badly.”
Stafford’s words ring true for so many of us, whether or not we have kids. Our relationship with ourselves — specifically, our bad relationship habits, like self-criticism and judgment, or our issues with self-trust — not only impact, but often define our relationships with others.
To break it down: If we bully ourselves, chances are we also bully those we love, like our spouses and kids.
Given that we sometimes model bullying for our children (however accidentally), how can we readjust our attitudes and prevent them doing it to others, or from staying silent if they get bullied?