When “Parent” was just a Noun

You remember those days. When we were young, and our parents’ idea of “parenting” was to shove us out the door in the morning and make sure we didn’t return until dark. When we were deathly ill, and they told us we’d feel better after we ate something and went to school. Or when we finally told them about our troubles with the school bully, and their response was a fake punch in the shoulder and a “Their loss, buddy. Keep your chin up.”

In the spirit of these Norman Rockwell moments, I came up with the top five adages I received from my parents when I mustered the courage to tell them I was getting bullied at school, starting in fourth grade and lasting through high school. Hum along with these oldies but goodies.

  1. “What goes around comes around.” Quite the enlightened perspective for a pair of small-town, blue-collar evangelical Christian parents. Did my mom realize she was taking a line out of the Hindu Vedas or the Buddhists’ Pali Canon when she quoted the law of karma? “One day,” she’d say, “they’ll get theirs.” My problem with karma? I’m still waiting to see it bite those girls in the ass.
  2. “When they’re talking about you, they’re giving someone else a rest.” I didn’t understand this gem until long after I became an adult. It is a profound truth, and had I known then what I know now, perhaps I could have embraced the role of martyr and sacrificed myself to save others from the bullies’ wrath. Too bad my ten-year-old brain hadn’t evolved enough to grasp what the hell my mom was talking about.
  3. “Don’t let it get to you. If they see you’re upset, they’ll just do it more.” Yes, another pithy truth from the noun parent. And again, we’re applying adult concepts to a child’s mentality. I tried to pretend they didn’t get to me when they teased and ostracized and spread rumors and laughed and pointed—which tripped the next pithy adage, “If they’re pointing at you, there are three fingers pointing back at them.” Another one from the hits list. I bet you also tried not to let it get to you. But we all know kids, like dogs, can smell weakness a mile away.

Check out this article in Psychology Today by Dr. Mary Lamia to learn more about how bullies know exactly how to hurt.

Do Bullies Lack Empathy?

4. “They’re just jealous.” This was my mom’s favorite consolation, and the only one on this list that wasn’t true. We moved to a tiny town in southwestern Kansas, population 350 people, when I was eight and going into fourth grade. My class totaled eight students, including me. My fashion style consisted of my brother’s hand-me-down Tuffskins jeans, t-shirts and a bowl haircut. Yeah, I was a real prize for the jealous types.

5. “Kill ‘em with kindness.” Another strategy that works fine when the child already has a high level of self-esteem and sense of belonging, and his purview is through an adult’s wizened eyes and experience. For me, this counterintuitive strategy never worked. And in The New York Times, Dr. Michael Inzlichtand Dr. Sukhvinder Obhi, in their Sunday Review article, “Powerful and Coldhearted,” explain the science behind why this strategy doesn’t work.

Powerful and Coldhearted

Despite millions of dollars spent at the state and national levels on anti-bullying efforts and awareness campaigns, bullying remains a “rite of passage” for too many of our children. But our generation of noun-and-verb parents have two things going for us: 1) knowledge and 2) our own experiences. We know depression is a direct consequence of being bullied, and depression leads to suicidal thoughts and actions if not treated. We know that bullying is an epidemic; we know why; and we know how it feels to be both the child victim and the adult who chooses to rewrite his story to end this way: “I am my child’s protector and her biggest advocate. I trust her feelings. I believe her story, and she can’t do this alone.”

How are you rewriting your story?

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