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

Day 18: What I Want for My Children {31 Days of #WOKE}


I want my children to be the stranger sometimes, too.

I want their ears flooded with the music of other tongues.

I want them to be speechless as they smash into unfamiliar sights, smells, tastes and sounds.

I want them to experience being the minority.

I want their friendships saturated with color.

I want them to sit in a foreign living room drinking milk tea and wonder if they’re doing it right.

I want them to always err on the side of generosity.

I want them to know their country is not the center or the best, but one equal square in the world’s quilt.

I want them to make room at the table.

I want them to speak up for the voiceless, the invisible and the excluded.

I want them to absorb the pain of others.

I want them to splash in the thrill of creating like the Creator.

I want them to feel funny, smart, beautiful, creative and respected without needing to be.

I want them to be brave, bold, confident and strong.

I want them to surrender to the discipline of discomfort, allowing it to uproot pride and demolish their assumptions.

I want them to die to themselves.

I want them to love the sacred song of stillness.

I want them to understand how history impacts them and their neighbor.

I want them to speak light into another person’s darkness.

I want them to be undone by the suffering of others, but empowered by their own suffering.

I want them to serve quietly, but persistently.

I want them to know the Jesus who died for the ungodly, served the undeserving and shattered fear, hopelessness, anxiety through defeating death.

I want them to be free—unhindered, unshackled and unfettered.

I want them to be understood, known and satisfied.

I want them to love extravagantly, for they are extravagantly loved.


New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

I want my children to be the stranger sometimes, too. I want their ears flooded with the music of other tongues. I want them to be speechless as they smash into unfamiliar sights, smells, tastes and sounds. I want them to experience being the minority.