We all know that we want to be there for our kids – whether it’s turning up to their plays and sports matches, helping with homework (if we can!) or wiping away those tears when things get too much. The reality however is that life doesn’t always make things obvious. We’re not there when our kids are having a hard time at school; they may downplay problems telling you that they’re “fine” or we may simply think that the things they are struggling with are “just life” and we need to help them “toughen up for the real world”.
The latter is even harder when their school is telling us the same message, perhaps that they’re not noticing any bullying, or that our child is equally to blame or “naughty”, when in our hearts that just doesn’t feel right or accord with the tears, sullenness or anxiety they’re exhibiting at home.
I have nothing but respect for teachers. Most of the time, once an issue has arisen, I’ll leave them to sort it out, making it clear that I am available to discuss and support as they see fit. Mostly it’s out of respect, but if I’m honest, part of my response is motivated by the fact that I don’t want to be the parent who’s constantly complaining at school, suggesting that my child is perfect, if only the teacher/rest of the world could just see it.
But I now know that there are occasions when I have to override my “they know best” attitude. I’ve written before about how one of our girls was bullied when she was little. I handed it over and was told it was being dealt with. It wasn’t. It got worse. A lot worse. Eventually I took it to the Head and made a phenomenal fuss. Having been quiet for so long, I finally found my voice and shouted louder than the alpha mums whose daughters were causing these issues. Things got addressed but by then, a lot of damage had already been done.
Recently I helped a friend whose son was experiencing similar issues – although this time the bullies were the teachers and the Head. Her son has additional needs, but despite being aware of them, the staff did nothing to support him. Instead they constantly branded his behaviour as “disruptive” and excluded him on a regular basis. It was heartbreaking and shocking to listen as she recounted the treatment he regularly received and the discussions that she had with the Head that were going nowhere. I watched as she tied herself in knots trying to rationalise what she was told by the staff against what she knew of her own sweet boy and tried to figure out how she could best support him in the face of overwhelming prejudice.
As we talked, I validated her views – that the position that the school was taking was fundamentally unreasonable and unsupportive. She had already started to escalate it but was struggling with the words to back it up. We re-wrote her letter together, and she sent it to the school governors, and to the local council. When I saw her a week later, everything had changed – including the school’s attitude to her boy.
It remains to be seen how matters will pan out for her and her son – whether the actions that have been promised will materialise, and even if they do, whether the trust can be rebuilt. But witnessing her tying herself in knots, reminded me how we all need someone to validate our feelings and to speak up for us when we can’t speak up for ourselves. This is particularly true when it’s our kids who are struggling at the hands of a bully – whatever they’re wearing.
So, whilst I listen to all sides of a story and take advice from experts – if the situation isn’t changing, I will now always remember that first and foremost I am my children’s protector and advocate. Maybe I’ll make mistakes and undoubtedly, I will feel awkward and embarrassed from time to time. Ultimately however, that’s a very small price to pay for my kids to really know that when things are tough, I have their back.