“Would you rather your child be a bully or be bullied?” my friend asked a few years ago, back when our girls were still in diapers.
We grew up asking each other these kinds of questions, but now we’re grown-ups. And this “Would You Rather” had a grown-up weight to it.
She’d rather her daughter be the bully. She couldn’t stomach the thought of someone hurting her baby, which I understand on a deep, primal level. Yet I couldn’t agree with her. I don’t want to think of my baby being hurt, but what would it mean if she were the bully? If she took out her aggression on an innocent child, and purposefully hurt another child? What would that say about her hurt? Her character? Her insecurity? What kind of guilt and issues might she have as an adult? If my daughter was bullied, on the other hand, it has the chance of making her stronger and more compassionate. Right?
I reluctantly settled on an answer. Keep in mind my daughter was brand new, and the prospect of her being out in the big world without me was like imagining an alternate universe. Ask me that question now and I just may stuff my fingers in my ears and walk away. That’s emotional sensory overload.
Still, that simple question jolted something in me. It made me realise how strongly I feel about raising her to never be the bully. More than that, raising her in a way that makes the idea of bullying preposterous, enough that she’ll step in and stop mean-child behaviour on an instinctual level.
Because I refuse to raise a bully.
I was sitting at the kitchen table with my seven-year-old girl, and she was showing me what she coloured in class that day. We’re roughly 100 days into the school year, and I’ve learned that “So how was your day?” leads to squat. Instead, the good stories and insights come out when I least expect them to — like when she’s about to fall asleep, or while I’m prepping dinner.
Now was one of those times.
“Henry just scribbles on his paper,” she told me.
“Oh yeah?” I asked. “Maybe scribbles are his best.”
“The children at the table tell him he’s doing a good job,” she says.
I beam with mama pride.
“They say, ‘Good colouring Henry,’” she draws out those last three words in a real sarcastic tone. Then she holds her hand up to her mouth and loudly whispers, “NO IT’S NOT” with a smile on her face.
And there goes that pride, right down to the pit of my stomach.
“Do you say that too?” I asked. She said no in a way that made me think “yes,” and I scrambled to push away the guilt and “shoulds” to find the teachable moment. Even if she didn’t join in, she at least stayed quiet and smiled along. And that’s not acceptable. I realised that even the most empathetic children can be swayed by a group of giggles and the promise of fitting in.
So there I was with 140 characters to respond before her “LECTURE! LECTURE! ABORT ATTENTION!” alarm would go off, shutting down any meaningful conversation.
I asked if she saw Henry’s face when that happened. “How do you think he felt?”
“How do you think Henry would feel if he sees everyone making fun of him?”
“How would you feel if children at the table were whispering and laughing about your drawing?”
At this point she caught on and the eyes started to roll. The “I KNOW, I KNOW MUM” sighs would follow, I just knew it. So I reached across the table, looked her in the eye and said the only thing that might stick:
“What do you think Superwoman would have done if she were sitting at that table? Do you think she would have stayed quiet, or would she have stood up to the bullies?”
“BULLIES?” her eyes were wide.
I was chopping up some peppers for the children to snack on. Two girls from school were at my house, as they always are, and I knew they’d be hungry.
Suddenly another neighbourhood child’s name was brought into the conversation. I heard the words “idiot” and “dummy.”
“It’s never nice to say that about someone,” my girl piped up. “How would you like it if I said that about you?”
“I don’t care,” her friend scoffed.
“Well maybe you would. You should think about that.” she answered.
And my mama heart smiled.
Keep it nice
Photography by Marta Ulisse
Model Bianca Biso
Stylist Diletta Scuffi
Clothing by Adidas, Kway, Ugg, Dr. Martens, H&M, New Look, Wershell, Carter’s, Benetton and Lewis