When Your Kid is the Bully

I watched with horror from a distance as my 5 year old son stalked two children much younger than he was and poured water on them—and their mother. For thirty seconds, I actually pretended he wasn’t my son. The museum was crowded and I had my other child with me. Maybe the mom would never know that little boy was my son. But when he started throwing wet straw on them, I knew I needed to intervene.

Another day, I looked across the park to find my son throwing mulch at two boys probably three years older than him. The boys had sticks taller than they were, and the boys were creeping closer to my son.

“WHAT was that all about?” I demanded, marching him away from the park.

“I told them I wanted to fight,” he said.

Shaking my head, I inwardly vowed to never go to the park again.

A few months ago, my two year old daughter pushed another girl off of the play structure that was higher than I am tall. I happened to not be on my phone, cooing at my baby or gabbing away with another mom and I caught the girl by her dress—just one foot off the ground.

What’s worse than having your child get bullied at the playground? When your child IS the bully.

The best advice I have received as a parent happened one day as my kid was losing it at the grocery store. I don’t remember which child, though it could have been any one of the three. A woman pulled her cart up to mine, looked me in the eye and said this,

“Just remember, it’s their age, not their personality.”

Thank God, because at this rate my children will be horrible, selfish, out-of-control human beings. OR they are acting exactly their age.

Growing up, we must have watched the movie Overboard a hundred times. In it, Goldie Hawn’s children are especially terrible. But when the teacher at school begins to complain about them, her character, Annie, jumps to their defense. “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE,” she says.

A bad week of feeling like a failure as a mother demands that I spin this story towards the spiritual. Because for my sanity, I sometimes just need to dig around in the mud for meaning in mundane life. Here’s what I got:

As unruly, loud, obnoxious, disobedient, frustrating and obstinate as my children can (often) be, God has just as much a right to label me as “rotten” to my core. And yet just as I cannot really walk away from my children (though I’m tempted to pretend they aren’t mine), God doesn’t disown us just because of bad behavior. Again, thank God.

God loves bullies just as much as he loves the bullied. The Bible says it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. To all who condemn God’s children, he responds, “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE!”

Perhaps my children acting out is forcing me to wrestle my own perfectionism to the ground. Because sometimes I care more about other people thinking I’m a good mother than I do about actually being a good mother. And God won’t let me get away with that attitude.

So while I am tempted to confine my children at home for the remainder of their days as children, staying in our safe playground in our private backyard, I will continue to risk badness at our neighborhood park. My children leave me open to attack by other bystanders who have their phones out, ready to mom shame. Or, more likely, out of the ashes of my smoldering pride, a new friendship may be born out of the many “me, too” moments shared only by parents who have been there.

So, yes, my child just hit your child. I am sorry and I am doing the best that I can to teach them to be decent human beings. But before we label them, let’s wait and see what the next twenty years will do for their impulse control. God knows I’m still a work in progress, so I’m trusting my children are, too.

When Your Kid is the Bully

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