Saturday, February 19, 2011

It’s All His Fault: My Son and a Bully

It’s happening again. I see my eight year old son walking toward me on the side walk with heaviness and resignation that, if I were in the privacy of my own room, could have me weep.
I am present, however, and a Mom, and I am very aware of the brief window of time I have to listen to my son talk about his day before playing, homework and brotherly bickering begin to dilute the reality of his occurrence. Later in the day, what happened at school becomes more and more of a fabrication, a story to tell to entertain, dramatize or garnish pity or attention. Nothing wrong with that…I just want to get to the source of his disempowerment sooner rather than later.

So I kiss his cheek with verocity, rub my hand through his shiny, deep walnut colored hair and let him settle into the car. Then I ask him how his day was. He sighs.
“Not that much good, Mom”
“Oh? What happened?”
“Well John choked me again. And did karate moves on me.”
Oh Wow." My Mother Tiger neck hairs are stirring, and yet I am careful not to get worked up. He’s here, his neck is not marked, I am listening.
“Yeah, and I know what you are going to say, What did you do? Did you tell him to stop??? But I did Mom and he didn’t stop no matter what I said, he grabbed me around the neck and didn’t stop!!!” His frustration is bubbling over now, is face getting the rush of red anger, his lip beginning to quiver.
The sorrow in my heart drops into my stomach like a rusty anchor from an old ship. Clunk.

I have heard about him getting picked on many times before. We have coached him, written emails to the teacher, showed him the block move. For a moment I make up in my head that this is just the way it is going to be, my son is just going to get picked on, and it’s all the darn bullies’ parents and the bullie's fault…and ok maybe my fault too. Then I remember that as a parent it is my job not to control the circumstances or other people, it’s not my job to protect him from being hurt ever, it is to teach him to be powerful in any situation. I remember that things happen to all of us, people behave in ways that we don’t like…we can’t control that. It’s who we are being that makes the difference and empowers us in our life. In order to empower him, it’s not about me telling him what to do, it’s about getting into his world, his occurrence of it all, that will make a difference for him.
So I ask him, “What else do you want to say about it?”
And he settles down, pours it all out, and I listen to the woe and anguish of being Ben in second grade with John bullying him everyday at recess. When he’s ready I ask him questions, here and there, like “ What happened then? Or What did that feel like for you?”
Eventually we got to a place where he was done talking about it, had gotten it all out, and then I asked him” Well is there anything you would like to do about this?” Usually I would have assumed he was going to do something about it and just said “ So what are you going to do about this?” But my instinct told me he may have resisted that assumption. It’s all about choice in life.
He thought about it.
“ Well maybe…remember when Dad showed me the block move? Are there other moves you could teach me?”
We went home, I used my experience as a little sister to teach Ben some moves to get out of a choke hold and being grabbed from behind. It was fun and he was empowered.

The next day he came home even more disempowered. "The moves didn’t work." he said dejectedly. John just knocked him down. He wasn’t fast enough…he couldn’t figure it out. It was written all over his face. He had a bad day and it was all John's fault. What we resist persists, said the coach in my head. Just be with it.

This time I was determined to listen more and just not try to fix it. He talked about it and I didn’t ask him what he wants to do about it. I just got his was like I dropped everything and sat down with him in this yucky mud puddle of sad feelings and just sat there with him. We wallowed together. Eventually, he was done with that and we got up and went about our day with no mentioning of fixing anything.

Today, he walked toward me with a perky stride in his step. Before he is even settled into the car he begins to share, “Mom it was a really, really, really good day. I found out that I was saying bad words to John about his karate moves that he doesn’t like so we made a deal. I won’t say those words and he won’t do karate on me.” He is talking so fast that he stumbles over his words, so excited in his triumph that the words really don’t do the joy justice.
His face is bright and shiny, soft and happy, confident and proud.
My heart is free and surprised and delighted.
Wow Ben! High five!” We smack hands happily. “What did you do to make that deal?”
“ Oh, I just talked to him.” It was simple.
“ You did! You listened too. You got his point of view.”
“Yeah, he has his point of view, too.”
“You also took responsibility for your actions too, Ben. That’s awesome. That’s where you got your power to have things go the way you want. Are you proud of yourself?”
“Yeah, I am.”

He may not have ever wanted to be friends with John, and he may never be. But there is so much more possible now for his life, the confidence, power and ability to alter his life, now that he has listened and taken responsibility. There is that old saying that when you point a finger at someone else there are actually three fingers pointing back at yourself. Ben got that. And not because I told him what to do, not because he “should” be friends, but because he was vulnerable and shared his life with me and I gave him the space to just share how it really is for him, without planning it, without judging, assessing or fixing and then he took on his life for himself.

I am glad I am writing this down, because something tells me I might need to remember this now and then, especially in the teen age years.
Thank you Ben for being courageous and creating your life responsibly. And for being generous and sharing your life with me. I learn from you and I love you endlessly.

Zen Honeycutt


  1. @Zen, thanks for this as an example of how to be a great proactive parent but still let your kids work it out themselves without going all Soccer Mom on the school.

  2. simply brilliant! I acknowledge you Zen for your patience and willingness to talk it through and allow Ben to go through the experience himself and to coach him inside of what he was dealing with.

  3. Zen, what you have written is profound. I am really moved. You need to write a book :)