would you like to come over and kick me in the head?

A confession:

Sometimes, I really am the world’s worst mother. It’s not just something that my kids say to hurt my feelings.

On Thursday morning, I got really fed up with the fact that the Bee was dawdling about getting ready for school (like–it was 8:15, she needs to be at school by 8:30, she was still in her pajamas). This is a dawdling that’s been going on for a week, and I was/am so tired of having to nag my kid out of the house every day.

We got into a huge fight about it–at one point, she, landisdad and I were all screaming–and finally I yelled, “what’s wrong with you?” at her, and she broke down in tears and told me that one of her friends has been making fun of her clothes every day. Because they ‘don’t match.’ And because she wears the same sneakers every day. And that two days ago, this other girl pointed out to her several times that she was wearing a purple shirt and brown socks. And that the Bee, for the past week, has been freezing up every time she opens her dresser before she gets ready in the morning, because she is afraid that she will pick the wrong thing to wear.

Gulp.

Was. Not. Prepared.

I honestly believed that we had a few years before this “I’m telling you this hard truth because I’m your friend and I want you to be a better person/popular/cuter” kind of bullshit started.

And I honestly believed that, when it happened, I would actually help my daughter through it in a calm and supportive way, instead of screaming at her.

We’ve had a bunch of conversations about this topic since then, and come up with some strategies for her to call out the other girl for bullying her, and enlisting some of her other friends as a support network. I told her a story about how I ran away from school when I was in the fourth grade, because I was getting teased for an outfit that I was wearing. I’ve asked her repeatedly why she didn’t tell me and landisdad what was going on earlier. You know what she said? “It’s embarrassing, mom.”

So we talked some more about that, and about how there are other adults that she can talk to, if she doesn’t want to talk to me and landisdad about things like this, and about how we live in a country where people will judge you on your appearance, and you have to learn to be happy with the way that you look, or else there will always be someone making you feel bad about it because you’re too fat, or your skin is too dark, or your nose is too big, or you wear too many stripy clothes, or you have feet that are too large, or eleventy-million other things that are not “the norm.”

And I feel like she’s going to be okay about this, in the long run, and she will learn to stand up for herself against bullies, and she’s a tough kid.

But I also feel like I fucked up, and that at a time when my kid really needed me to pay attention to her, and notice things about her, what I chose to do was make her feel worse about herself, because she was making me late for work.

The thing about parenting is, you can’t wallow in your own feelings of fucked-up-ed-ness. I’d like to spend a bunch of time lying in my bed, curled in the fetal position, but that’s not going to make the thing I fucked up better. I’d like to invite you, oh people of the internets, to come over and kick me in the head, but that’s not going to make it better either.

So instead, I post this cautionary tale:

Sometimes, your kid is not dawdling just to get on your last nerve. Sometimes, your kid has a rich and fascinating (and even scary) interior life that has nothing to do with you. Pay attention.

May 17, 2008. Tags: . growing up, thoughtful parenting.

21 Comments

  1. elise replied:

    You need a big hug not a kick in the head! You are a great mom (unless you make up all these stories:))! So what if you yell and screw up some times! I know, I know, we all get down on ourselves for it but we end up surviving and so don’t our kids!

    Me and my breakfast club were talking about bullying just the other day and we were wondering how to make a kid bully proof and why some kids end up being a big target. It doesn’t sound like your daughter is a big target, just having a little trouble. My son seems to have the best strategy there is for dealing with bullies. Believe it or not it is to say NOTHING! No matter what someone says, if he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t respond at all. Even if they ask a question. He says that they usually just stop saying anything. I think the kids get a bit flustered because they are expecting him to defend himself and get angry or maybe upset. When they get absolutely no response I think it really throws them off. It probably helps that he doesn’t show any emotion on his face either. Its a good thing that inside he’s not feeling bad about himself, he’s thinking that he can’t wait for the jerk to just go away. He’s 15 now and I don’t think he really has any problems with anyone anymore but now and then he would have someone picking on him when he was younger. Calling him small fry or telling him he was gay because his friends were girls (that time he came to me and said “I don’t think they know what gay means”).

    Good luck!

  2. MetroDad replied:

    I think the challenge of any parent is getting their kids to keep the lines of communication open with them. And ultimately, the Bee did share her inner fears with you. Why? Because she trusts you. And that confirms, once again, that all kids should be so lucky as to have a great mom like you, LM.

    As parents, I don’t think we can expect to be perfect all the time. We just have to keep learning as we go along. No kicks in the head for you, LM. I’ve always loved the perspective that you bring to parenting and I hope to use you as a role model when my own daughter reaches the Bee’s age!

  3. Clover replied:

    I think you are doing a great job. Sure, you got a little aggrevated when you thought it was just normal morning sluggishness, but you did wonderfully once you figured out the real issue. I think its so hard to tease out when our children are just being ornery and when there is really something going on. But you gave her some great tips for handling the teasing, etc. as well as encouraging her to talk to other trusted adults.

  4. Jeff replied:

    You certainly don’t need a kick in the head…the shin, maybe. I too just posted about my time in the parental penalty box for being a big screw-up. You’re story is rather interesting because it is amazing how these things impact almost every kid, regardless of how independent-minded and carefree they are. Mean kids suck and make our jobs much harder. I will most certainly have the exact conversation some day. The Bear loves to be mismatched and be the living embodiement of a rainbow whenever possible. The one thing that makes me happy is that she lets grandmom’s slightly negative comments about her outfit choices slide and doesn’t doubt herself so maybe she is stronger-willed than I give her credit for. In fact, I’m certain she is. Strong, proud, smart and silly daughters are the best.

  5. Kate replied:

    oh how craptastic it can be to be a girl. Alice is only 5 and I see this shit happening already as well in her social network. It’s the stuff that keeps me awake at nights – the stuff that made me cringe when I first found out she was a girl. I keep telling Alice that the girl drama should be ignored, but I know she also falls into it. Sometimes I wish I could just fast forward to her at 18 years old, and escape this part.

  6. Anjali replied:

    I’m so glad you posted about this. There are days when I swear something is going on behind Mira’s actions or attitude, and she won’t tell me what. But I suspect it has to do with treatment by her friends.

    It’s such a hard lesson to learn, for both the kids and the parents. I really can’t believe such bullshit starts so young, either.

  7. jackieregales replied:

    I have several horrible memories like this from childhood– some of them, my mom knew about, some she didn’t. My girls’ elementary school is all uniforms, but I feel so angry and sick to my stomach at the same time when I think about some kid daring to tease my kids like that! How do you keep yourself from wanting to attack that other kid?!

  8. Katy replied:

    I was shocked too..my daughter is almost 7 and has been dealing with this stuff since kindergarten. I didn’t think it would start so soon. But thanks for the tip. I recently noticed that she’s been dawdling alot more than usual and I’ve been harassing her to no end. I should ask if something is up, so I really apprecaite this post. It’s a good reminder.

  9. TEOM replied:

    Not sometimes. Always.

  10. Narya replied:

    I don’t really get the part about how you’re a bad mom–you are NOT required to be psychic! And, as others above pointed out, Bee DID tell you what’s going on, and you were able to listen, and hear, and help. And she learned that she can talk to you about these things, and doesn’t have to employ passive-aggressive dawdling. So, once again, I’m not seeing where the “bad” part is there.

  11. anon replied:

    I do pay attention to my kids — that’s why I telecommute FT for my university teaching job as well as homeschool my kids. And, not to make you feel bad, but there are parents who do no yell at their kids for any reason (unless the house is on fire). I think it’s a fundamental difference in terms of making a solid commitment to your children, before their born, that they will be more important than the house you’re living in, the vacations you take and the jobs you have.
    ~Anon

  12. landismom replied:

    Anon, I contemplated not posting your comment, as I think it’s fairly cowardly to post a comment that says, “well not to make you feel bad…” and then is posted anonymously. If you really didn’t want to make me feel bad, you could have not posted at all.

    And yet, I did invite people to kick me in the head in this post, so I can hardly complain when they do.

    The reality is, I did make a vow of this nature when I had kids–I made a vow that I would never hit them. And that’s a pretty fundamental difference between the family that I grew up in, and the one I’ve tried to create for my children–one that, I might add, I’ve kept. Vowing that I would never yell at them would have required a leap in evolution that I have not–and probably will never–achieved. It’s for the next generation of my family to go there.

  13. alala replied:

    You know, I started to respond to this, but I had too many distractions and wanted to choose my words carefully, so I decided to come back and comment later. I’m with the crowd that belives you are a great mom, but also a human one – I do see a need to protect children from raw emotional fallout (since my husband’s been commuting to London, my acting skills are being sorely tested), but I don’t think it’s always a bad thing for kids to see that grown-ups also have feelings, and that their own actions can affect those feelings. Then too, it was only when you shouted that she actually told you what was going on.

    I am not advocating shouting as a policy choice, I understand that it’s traumatic for everyone and shouldn’t be “used” at all, but I think we can all recognize that it happens occasionally, and I don’t think the Bee will be permanently scarred by it.

  14. bj replied:

    Thanks Landismom for posting this. I’m going to remember this story, and maybe it won’t stop me from yelling at my kid, but it will remind me to think again. You’re parenting my kid (and you’re me) a few years later. My bad mama moment (recently — I have lots of them) was when I was yelling at my daughter for gouging out soap from soap bars with her fingernails. When I took the time to listen, I realized that she *did not understand* how to use a bar of soap, so used is she to liquid soap that comes from a dispenser. She thought she was supposed to carve out a piece of soap to use on her hands. Knowing that meant I could show her how to use the bar of soap, and realizing that she was not merely destroying bars of soap to *annoy* me (and reminded me to buy more liquid soap).

    Friendship issues are much tougher, though. I find the other thing that intervenes is that the “Bees” of the world know how much we care, and are fearful of raising the issue with us, both because we will try to “help” too much, and out of hurting us. So, sometimes it helps when we tell how things affected us, too, but not always, because they see how the wound (of being teased, left out. criticized) is still raw for us, and don’t want to hurt us. It’s a minefield, and we need to cut ourselves a lot of slack, parenting our intense and inciteful girls.

    But, as the others have said, we are not to kick ourselves in the head about these events. Yes, some moms seem to understand more naturally how not to yell, how to listen, and they deserve to be commended for it. It’s a talent I admire. But, we can all try to do our best with what talents we have.

    As you’ve recognized, I think having a non-mom adult to talk to is a huge benefit in all of this — I strive to provide this for my daughter but am not always altogether successful.

  15. Tammy replied:

    “Sometimes, your kid is not dawdling just to get on your last nerve. Sometimes, your kid has a rich and fascinating (and even scary) interior life that has nothing to do with you. Pay attention.”

    Thanks for this reminder. This fact has been slowly creeping up on me lately. It’s scary, so I’ve kind of been in denial.

    And I think you’re an awesome mom dealing with a shitty situation. A bad mom would have tried to rationalize her behaviour, and she definitely wouldn’t have shared her story with the world. At the end of the day, you were able to talk honestly with your child and give good advice, and that’s wonderful.

  16. an update from the tantrum front « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] 4, 2008 at 8:59 pm (thoughtful parenting) So after my bad parenting moment of a few weeks ago, I’ve been working overtime to keep from losing my patience with the Bee. […]

  17. magpie replied:

    Oh wow. My kid is too young for this – she’s 4 1/2 – but I do wonder about what will happen in the next few years. She’s a total free spirit, and I hope that elementary school and peer pressure don’t squash all of her spirit.

    You did good by yours. And you gave me something to think about.

  18. MommyWithAttitude replied:

    Oh that’s a good reminder.

    Only recently has it started to occur here that I think we’re having some benign conversation (ahem, argument) and my almost-seven year old will burst into tears and I’m totally caught off guard because had I known it was of PARAMOUNT importance to him (and different topics, but same thing with “kids at school”) I would not have been addressing it in such a dismissive let’s-get-on-with-it manner.

    And the self-righteous anonymous commentor can go fuck herself.

  19. MommyWithAttitude replied:

    Oh, and I don’t know WHY a smiley appeared in my comment — not smiling here!

  20. Kimberly replied:

    Wow. Just….Wow.

    “Sometimes, your kid is not dawdling just to get on your last nerve. Sometimes, your kid has a rich and fascinating (and even scary) interior life that has nothing to do with you. Pay attention.”

    That’s going on a plaque somewhere in my house.

  21. girls will be boys « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] also not had a recurrence of the your-socks-don’t-match-your-outfit moment from last year. I’m happy to report that that girl moved away over the summer. The Bee […]

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