So I spent anti-bullying week… fighting just that

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. One of my girls has been dealing with the “mean girls” at school for as long as I can remember. There’s the annual visit to complain about the usual suspects. It’s gets dealt with and life goes on.

Last year, she had a really difficult time with one girl and her teacher was brilliant. He jumped on it straight away and with some very clear talking made it apparent to the girl in question that such behaviour would not be tolerated. It apparently had got better and my daughter was happier.

Or so I thought.

On Friday, I found out that she was having some difficulties with her closest friends. She was really struggling.

On the Sunday, I saw things for myself.

I took her to perform in a concert and she was completely blanked by all of the other girls performing from her year.   I asked her at the end who she had hung out with.   Her response was that everything was fine as she had talked to some of the kids in the year below.

I now understand that when she comes home saying that she had a good day, it means that the meanest girls left her alone and that the others “weren’t quite as mean as usual”.

My heart has been breaking.

Naturally we have brought this to the attention of the school.  It is being dealt with and things seem to be turning around. We have revisited our plans for her future at the school and put in place our own strategies for helping her to cope.   We now understand that we need to question her more closely to establish the facts of how she is treated rather than relying solely on her perception – which is obviously skewed by her previous experiences and her now low expectation of friendships.  This will take a while to resolve (if ever) and I am now watching developments like a hawk, ready to pounce on the smallest thing.

What I hadn’t realised was how much it would affect me.

I’ve always known that there are wounds we can’t make better with a kiss, disney plaster and a cuddle.

We can’t protect our children from life – and we shouldn’t want to.   My daughter’s confidence and self-worth will have been badly knocked by this experience, but it has also taught her  extreme resilience that will stand her in good stead when she is older.

I was picked on at school.  Growing up in Essex with a Pakistani father and an Irish mother, I was always going to be different. Naturally, the way my daughter is being treated opens my own old wounds. I was prepared for that.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the guilt.

The “why didn’t I spot this”? The “why didn’t I make more fuss” when she was smaller? If I’d stamped on this when she was 5, she probably wouldn’t be in this situation now.

I’ve never wanted to be one of “those parents” who are in the school every 5 mins complaining about why little Cordelia isn’t getting to be Mary in the Nativity or hasn’t been picked for the A squad (something I’ve noticed the mean girls’ parents often do).

So my own personal fears of seeming too pushy or overbearing held me back.

I was really sensitive when I was little too and had a hard time understanding the meanness of others. I had to harden up.  Did this make me diminish my daughter’s complaints as her being hyper-sensitive when really things were much worse than I had imagined?

Papalona was started because I genuinely believe that parenting is the hardest job in the world and we need all the help we can get.   The minute choices we make on a daily basis can have such an impact on our children.   Do we treat a complaint seriously or see it as them learning about life? What’s the right level of help with her homework? Whose fault is it if they forget their gym bag?

We so easily become wrapped up in the busy-ness of our daily lives that our everyday, ordinary decisions become automatic, driven by our unconscious biases and issues we gained in our own childhood. It takes something large to pull us out of our stupor and look back to see the cumulative effect.

I often say to clients that they are always doing their best in their current circumstances given the knowledge that they have in that moment. I am currently trying to take my own advice – to console myself with the fact that I am not perfect and I did my best – even if with hindsight, I would now have done things very differently.  I am on a journey of self-acceptance.  It’s not straightforward, but I also need to model that behaviour to my girls.

I am currently creating a new suite of products for parents – I’ve just added one dealing with guilt to the list.

For myself as much as for anyone else.