Once again, Brain, Child had a compelling issue, which I read cover to cover. I was enthralled by this debate: “Should you talk to other parents about your tweens and teens sniping at each other?”
“Jamie Roberts” — she used a pseudonym — said no.
While I’m sure that it can’t feel very good to be insulted by your former best friend in a public forum, Derrick seems to be handling it. Just like he can now handle tying his own shoes or fixing a simple snack for himself, Derrick is capable of negotiating these choppy social waters. (For example, he points out that he’s in an advanced math class, and asks why Tobias bothers commenting if he truly doesn’t care.) My job as a mother isn’t to shield him from the painful or irritating or wearying parts of life; it’s to teach him how to get through them. You teach a boy to fish, and he’ll form his own good comebacks for the rest of his life.
Because I’m on Team Derrick. Forever. Even when he’s wrong — and he has been wrong before, you’ll be shocked to learn — my natural inclination is to understand Derrick’s perspective. Forget fairness and neutrality. Even as I sometimes pretend to be otherwise, I’m all about family solidarity. The problem with getting other parents involved relates directly to this family solidarity. Any parent worth her salt is on her kids’ team, and if you’d like to experience an exercise in frustration, please do call that other parent. You’ll get an earful of why Special Snowflake is acting the way he does. You might find yourself trying to get the other parent to understand your little darling’s point of view. It all makes for plenty of compassion, genuine or otherwise, between the parents, but the kids don’t really care why a given situation is happening. They just know that the parents got involved and now they — or just the one on the offensive — must be sneakier.
I see Roberts’s point, especially on the importance of teaching children how to problem-solve, but also not coming out and accusing a parent of Precious’s behavior. This is a lesson I learned — not in middle school though — when my kindergartner was complaining about a girl in his class. I was concerned about him being bullied, and almost brought it up to the mother.
The girl’s mother actually approached me, in the way of a playdate. We went out for ice cream, and the tension between the two kids melted. It was a much better way of dealing with the situation, than my initial, knee-jerk reaction, which was to lay out all the things her daughter had said to Ari. The mother turned it on me and pointed out all the things Ari had done to upset her daughter. Then she proposed the playdate, which was our principal’s suggestion. (Good one!)
But as Brett Stanwick, the mom who argued the “yes” side of this debate, pointed out, there are probably circumstances in which parents’ involvement is crucial. Think of the case of Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetts girl who committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied.
Of course, a lot of how this conversation goes depends on things like how well you already know the other parent. Calling up someone you’ve never shared more than a parking lot greeting with is a whole lot harder than sitting down over a cozy cup of tea with a friend, especially if what you’re saying is likely to make them uncomfortable or defensive. But there are ways, honestly. Most of them are related to making sure the other person knows that you’re sharing information, not calling them out on what a crappy parent they are, that your kid has done his or her share of similarly dubious things, and that the goal is to figure out how to get everyone back on track….
It might seem like tattling, but when you talk to another parent, you’re modeling for our own child. Lessons the kids can take away: how to report stuff to authorities (the other parent being their nemesis’s authority), when to recognize that there are problems that you can’t solve alone, how to defuse a tense situation, as well as maybe how to nip in the bud another Phoebe Prince case. You’re also setting the example that this is what mature adults — what the kids aspire to be — do. If two people are having a problem, no one has to suffer in silence. As a parent, you engage as much as you can in coming to a solution, and if you can’t find a solution (because, say, the other parent is an asshole), only then should you feel okay walking away. Just because the kids are fighting doesn’t mean parents should stop thinking of each other as allies.
What do you think? Have you ever contacted other families about bullying?