I got a text the other day from the mom of an autistic boy who goes to school with one of my older sons. The text read thusly: I just love your son. The one in Devon's (name changed) PE class. Devon said that he and another boy are always the last one picked for teams except for when your son is the team captain. Devon said your son always chooses them first.
Wow! What a wonderful text to get for any momma! I promptly thanked Devon's mom for taking the time to share this news, and then excitedly gave my son kudos for comfortably being himself.
My son has always been this way. On the one hand. But he has also always been a bully. I noticed it when we would go to play lands for poisonous kids meals and it's-okay-cause-mom-needs-her-fix coffee. I have four boys and they would love to invent games and play together for hours. As I played with them or watched their games, I couldn't help but notice that anytime a girl would try to play anywhere near my kindhearted son, he would give a sly look around for witnesses, and push her. It didn't matter if she was trying to play with him or not. If she was a girl, he would push her. We are a large and close knit family of boys, girls, autism, mental retardation, black, brown, Canadian, American etc. I have my suspicions that Gonzo is a long lost sibling. My son is the first to take care of his baby girl cousins, bend over backwards to accept his autistic uncle's oddities and share with others the importance of doing the same. But he is also the one who yells and hits his own slightly autistic brother, pushes random girls on play lands, and bullied a boy in fifth grade who's mom came to me saying, "I know John (name changed) attracts bullies, but I wanted to let you know that he is afraid to walk home from school because he may run into your son." According to John, my son would name call and follow him amongst a group of friends until they reached the end of the schoolyard.
I have always spoken openly with my boys. This was an issue I have discussed with my son over the years and he would explain that he didn't know why he did it. There were just some kids (like John, and one of his brothers) that brought this out of him. He would hate himself after every bullying episode hiding away in his room surrounded by music to drown out his thoughts. He hated himself because he knew he should be able to control it, because he knew it didn't make sense and he was hurting the other kid, and because he didn't know why he couldn't stop himself.
There is an awful lot of information out there on what to do about bullying. And bullies are portrayed in a variety of ways. Often as people who are being bullied elsewhere, or who feel they need to be in control, or have a small self-esteem that they are trying to inflate by belittling others. But rarely is a bully portrayed as someone who is human and wants help. Even when bullies are seen in this light, there never seems to be any answers or literature for them, or their loved ones.
Bullying is a big issue. But it's not one sided. I truly don't think it's just bullies we tend to ignore either. It's the "bad guy' in general, which is so unfortunate. Not only because it forgets to see everyone as human-- and that would be enough-- but there is so much more to it. I'm about to get brutally honest so if you have a sensitive nature you may want to skip to the end. Or go watch the movie Benchwarmers for more on bullying. When I was twelve I was molested by my step-dad. A few weeks later I turned around and molested my little brother. My dad molested me twice, I molested my brother once. After I did what I did, I soon told my mom what had been happening to me and she left her husband and took all six of us kids (me, my sister and my four adopted autistic brothers) to a safe home for battered women. We learned about the cycle of abuse, how not to be victims etc. But it wasn't until many years later that I got the courage to admit to what I had done to my brother. It was unbelievably hard to find the words to disclose what had been done to me, but even harder to admit out loud what I had then turned around and done. The world is pretty vocal regarding the importance of telling someone when you are a victim, but much quieter about what to do when you are the bad guy.
Do you remember how you felt when you read those two sentences? I was molested and then I was a molester? The difference is huge. It's scary.
Let's go back to my sons bullying problem. When I would ask for literature or suggestions from educators and counselors on what to do if you think your kid is the bully, they either went on with their usual bully rhetoric, or looked at me like I was crazy. Most people that know me, and even people that don't, see how much love there is in my family. The smiles, the snuggles and respect we have for each other is obvious to an almost distracting degree. They couldn't believe that a child of mine would be a bully. But he was.
Back when I had been the "bad guy', I was able, eventually, to tell my mom what I had done and not hate myself for my behavior because in our home we have always been very open-minded. We are passionate learners on all things regarding behavior and emotions. My son was able to come to me and honestly speak about his bullying habit because he knew that I would understand it as a human problem. Not something to hide under the bed like an imagined monster, but a human issue worth inviting into the light and putting on the table for comfortable and important dialogue.
In no way am I suggesting that we aren't responsible for our actions and that we should pat a bully on the head cooing "poor baby'. Quite the opposite. I am suggesting that we are all responsible for our actions, and to remember that they have an effect. When we talk about the "bad guys' in the world with horror, we're telling our kids and anyone else trying to figure themselves out, that some things are so horrible they can't ever be forgiven.
We are always inventing ourselves, especially as children, and often need to be forgiven.
I would like to suggest that we remember to see EVERYONE as human. That we see everyone as perfectly flawed, and worthy of open communication.
I know there are an awful lot of bullies out there who are afraid to ask for help and instead justify, hide or hate the person they find themselves being. I know because my son was one of them. I was one of them. There are people who will wait so long to find help that they become who they hate being. We were not one of them. I know there are an awful lot of parents out there who would like to reach for help and not get judged or offered medication for their kid. Parents that don't understand why their bully child is seen as somehow less, is offered little in the way of literature, acceptance and suggestions. I know that parent well. She would never expect to receive a text thanking her for having a son with an open heart and willingness to show it proudly before a sweaty PE class full of his peers. I know that parent well, because I was her.