I think the hardest thing (so far) about caring for children is accepting that you can’t completely protect them from the world. You can’t shield them from negativity. You can’t inject them with self confidence.
As parents and caregivers we do our best to instill good values and kindness toward others, but once they go out there into the world we can’t control how they react to their environments and others in it.
Something I never thought we would really have to deal with, or at least hoped we wouldn’t, is bullying. Probably naive of me! But Reilly is such a sweet and fun little girl. She gets along well with everyone. We’ve never had anyone come to us about her behavior.
So when she became the target of bullying on the bus, I was stunned. As it is she is brand new to this school and to riding on the bus. And she had been looking forward to both for so long. Yet now her experience was being tainted.
I contacted the school immediately and much to my relief they handled it swiftly. I got a follow up email this morning that all parties have been talked with individually and collectively. They shook hands and said they’d try to be friends. But that part is and isn’t ok with me.
I have instilled in Reilly for years that regardless of how we feel about people we always treat them with respect and kindness. But we don’t have to be friends with everybody. And I was really happy to hear she said as much to the other kid.
We won’t always like every person we meet, and every person we meet may not like us. And that is perfectly normal and ok. It does not mean we treat the other person differently. We just don’t go out of our way to converse or play with them.
I have now had to have the conversation about how other people treating us badly is not a reflection on us. Some kids are mean because they are insecure. It helps them to feel noticed and ‘better than’. It puts them into a position of control. And I have had to explain to her that sometimes we do simply have to ignore these people unless it gets out of hand, becomes physical (which it did), or is hateful (also did, regarding her ethnicity).
We are not tolerant of such behavior and taunting and thankfully neither is the school.
I know what it is like to be extremely sensitive, as Reilly tends to be. I know what it is like to be a little different in the way I express myself outwardly. I don’t ever want her to lose any of that because of negative outside influence. She is who she is, and that is a beautiful thing. I don’t ever want that to change.
This entire situation had me wound up, worried she was miserable in school and anxiously watching the clock so I could race home and make sure she was ok. Which she was thankfully. The day went well and her teacher emailed to tell me she was shocked to hear Reilly was upset that morning because she was nothing short of happy in class. See, I too am really sensitive, especially when it comes to her.
As she gets older I know Reilly will likely face similar situations, hopefully never any worse. She will meet plenty more people she doesn’t like or get along with, people who won’t like her for one reason or another, and will experience situations I can’t face for her. And I know as her caregiver I have to give slack to the rope and allow her to navigate the world on her own, making her own judgments and decisions and do the best I can to instill good morals so she is well equipped to take on whatever life will throw at her.
If there is one characteristic I try to model for this girl it is strength. I want her to be able to stand up for herself. I want her to be able to stand in who she is no matter what other people think. And I also want her to stay soft and curious. I don’t want her to lose her feelings or turn hard. I want her to be able to maintain a healthy balance of emotions while always remaining true to who she is.
How do I teach that? How do I model such behavior? How do I foster her individuality while teaching her the ways of the world?
We all want the children in our lives to grow into better people than we were/are, to have more joy and fulfillment, more experiences, more goodness than maybe we had.
But how do we do that while also allowing them to be exactly who they are, to get hurt, to be disappointed, to experience failure, to know the not-so-great sides of life?
How do we learn to let go a little more with each passing day and trust in their ability to be good people? How do we let go of their little wings and let them fly?