It’s National Bullying Prevention month, so it struck me as a bit ironic that the headmaster at my son’s school called a couple of weeks ago to let me know that my son was bullying a classmate.
One time friends, their relationship had become a struggle in recent years. But when I heard my son was bullying the boy, I lost my breath. My sweet boy, a bully? How could this be? And how could he be bullying his one-time best friend — a cute, self assured boy several inches taller than him?
As the headmaster explained what had been happening, my heart began to ache. It wasn’t pretty. How could a child of mine have been so cruel? I felt deeply ashamed. Ashamed in my son and ashamed with myself. What kind of mother raises a bully? What had I done wrong? I pushed those thoughts aside, however, and started thinking about what I could do to fix the mess. How could I help my son, his friend and the situation?
I started by connecting with the boy’s mother — who also happens to be a friend of mine. We had a long talk over a bottle of wine. We talked about what had been happening. We theorized on why it was happening. We discussed what the best thing to do might be. She couldn’t have been more gracious.
In the end, we decided to let the school handle it — to have the headmaster talk to the boys. My son’s one-time friend mustered the courage to express his feelings about what had been happening, and my son admitted to what he had done. In the end, my son apologized and his apology was accepted. Now they are treading on shaky ground. And I’m holding my breath.
Since then, both my husband and I have had long talks with our son. We’ve talked about the problem with bullying. We’ve talked about the damage it can cause to the child who is bullied and what it means about his own character. We’ve talked about friends and the importance of relationships. We’ve asked him why he was so mean, but I’m not really sure he knows why. We’ve considered therapy but decided against it. Can a therapist make a child nicer?
A friend of mine told me that we should spend more time with him. He’s the youngest of four and our lives are busy. Perhaps we’ve been neglecting him. He’s independent and self sufficient — but maybe he needs us more. Another friend told me that bullies have often been bullied. That made me think about how he’s treated in the family, especially by his older brother. There’s lots of ribbing. Maybe too much tearing down and not enough building up. So I had a talk with his brother and suggested he try to be more of an encourager.
This experience has been humbling for us. We’ve been told how beautiful our family is, how well behaved our children are, what a wonderful job we are doing as parents. But then this. Our older son struggles with ADHD and has had difficult times. That’s been hard, but somehow this is harder. As parents, we are doing our best, but we make mistakes. We aren’t perfect and neither are our kids.
My hope is that my son has learned from this, and that we are all growing. We are trying to teach him and guide him. We are loving him and praying for him. Beyond that, I’m not sure what else we can do.
FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Magazine editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 17, Lilly, 16, Adam, 16, and Jonah, 12.