On Power and Powerlessness

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A few weeks ago, I overheard one of Fable's classmate's mother talking to the teacher about a girl at school who was being mean to her daughter. I overheard this, not because I was in spy mode, but because the mother was talking very loudly so that everyone could hear her... perhaps to throw caution to the play yard...  but at the time, I assumed she was talking loudly because she wanted me to hear her since I was the only other mother there and why speak so loudly of something unless you want to be heard?

And I heard her.

And I panicked because, could it be Fable? 

To be honest, it had never even occurred to me until that exact moment that Fable could ever be on the other side of any bullying.

Because how could she possibly? My kind rainbow flower of a child? 

And then, I thought, well duh, this is how every parent thinks. This is how every parent feels about his/her child.

Fable would never... 

Archer would never...

Bo and Revi would never...

And yet... Fable has always been stoic and strong. She has always had immeasurable power.  Fearlessness! And power is a scary thing. Especially when you're young and you don't have the tools to harness it. Especially when you're a teenager and you don't understand how you're truly affecting someone.

Bully-ish behavior stems from insecurities, of course, but also from power. "Bullies" are natural leaders. They are charismatic and know how to attract groups to follow and fear them.

And I am putting the word "Bully" in quotes because a bully is a person, too, and labels, I feel, oversimplify a complex issue with complex individuals.

It turned out, Fable was not the "bully" but that didn't mean she couldn't one day become one. Or at the very least, complacent in the bullying of someone else. There isn't a mean bone in her body, and yet, it wouldn't be difficult for her to take advantage of the power she is just starting to experiment with. She is one of the girls her peers try to emulate and she sees that. She tells me about it. And that means something. It has to.

I hadn't thought much of this until that day. Until I came home from dropping Fable off at school and started to think hypothetically about the next eighteen years. About what Hal and I could possibly do to not only to protect our children from "bullies" but to protect other people's children from potential cruel and/or complacent behavior c/o our kids.

Complacency is cruelty's great enabler and as they get older, it becomes more difficult to be noble and graceful, to stand up for others and ourselves.


Most posts about bullying (mine included) talk about what to do when your child is the victim, because it's much easier to write about that time you were pushed than about when your friend pushed someone else and you said nothing.

Meanness is as nuanced as kindness and, yet, it wasn't until yesterday, when I explained to Archer why I was so upset (and angry, whoaaaa anger) the night before that I realized how important it was to talk to him and Fable (and Bo and Revi when they're old enough) about passive aggression and why making up things about other people, no matter how small, how seemingly insignificant can be more damaging to their spirits than calling them a name. Or pulling their hair. Or biting. Because the obvious "mean things" are understood, same as the obvious "bad words. Because even without hitting each other and calling one another names, my kids know how to hurt each other's feelings. Without bad words and thrown punches, they can still take each other down. WE can still take each other down.

(And we do.)

(And they do.)

(Every day.)

(All of us.)

And as they get older they will watch their friends get taken down and they will feel it themselves. Because this is the world and people are complicated and not all people will love you or even like you and that's okay. It's okay if some people don't like you. It is unavoidable and it's totally okay.

I told Archer that people will say things about me forever and that people will say things about him forever and that people will always say things about everyone. And a lot of the things that people will say won't be true and just because people say things that aren't true about us doesn't mean we should say things that aren't true back.  And then I told him I got mad and called a certain magazine "drunk" on twitter and I wished I hadn't done that.

"Why not?"

"Because the magazine was not drunk. Magazines cannot drink things. The magazine wrote a hurtful piece I was mad and wanted them to know I was hurt and mad but it didn't change anything. It didn't change the way I felt, certainly, you know? I still feel hurt and mad, but now I feel EVEN WORSE because I said something completely ridiculous and now I feel powerless and silly."

Which is worse than feeling powerless.

And then Archer laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"Saying magazines can't drink things IS silly."

Which is true.

I sat Fable down before school and had the same conversation with her as well. We talked about what hurts our feelings and what we think hurts other people's feelings and what can we do to mend feelings when they're hurt? How do we use our power for good?

"I can draw pictures!"

And I can learn to be more graceful under pressure. Care less about what people say. Think. Write. Wrong. I can spend more time with my children complimenting others. Giving back. Drawing pictures.

I can build my kids' confidence while also reminding them that "their awesomeness" does not diminish anyone else's. That their "beauty" does not make their friend(s) less beautiful. That their intelligence does not make their peers any less so... That there is room for everyone in this world. In this life. On the playground.

By setting an example.

By being communicative.

By sticking up for myself with grace, instead of frivolity.

By standing up for others.

By standing up for others in front of my children. (My mom used to do this when I was little and I was always mortified because of it. Now it's one of the reasons she's my hero.)

By being generous with compliments to strangers.

By always putting money in tip jars, even if it's just some change.

By listening to my children and being empathetic to their feelings, even when I don't always understand them. Because losing a balloon can be heartbreaking. And sometimes it's hard to share with your sisters. 

There are a billion ways to model kindness and use power for good. One can make provocative points without tearing a single person down. Your comments remind me of this daily and I thank you for that. Huge love.


As always, I would love to hear from you on this. How does one teach a child with power not to overpower his/her peers? How does one instill empathy? How do we protect, not only our children from "bully behavior" but our friends' children when the "bully behavior" is coming from our kids? What are you doing at home and what insight have you gleaned from your experiences? Thank you in advance for your comments. 



Sonja | 12:17 PM

Beautiful and so true. I try to make sure and have talks like these with my children in our everyday lives so that they don't feel lectured, but that is it just how we treat others. My greatest fear is that my daughter will be a mean girl because like Fable she is looked up to by some of her peers.