​Am I My Child’s Bully?

Rome, Italy. July 2014.

Il Coliseo. The Pantheon. The Forum. Circus Maximus. A dream vacation and thousands of years of history in every direction.

And there’s my son on the floor of our hotel room crying that he can no longer walk because his feet hurt.

After trying to calm him, my frustration hit a breaking point.

“You need to man up!” I yelled at him.

As if it came from someone else’s mouth, my son and I both heard the words at the same time. And as if my own realization of what I had just said wasn’t heartbreaking enough…

“I hear it all the time, Mom!” he sobbed, “I just never expected to hear it from YOU!”

My heart froze.

“Man up.” A phrase that suddenly felt as cruel and antiquated as digs like “throwing like a girl” or “running like a girl.”

To think that I, his own mother, hurt him with words that made him feel like any less of a person than whatever “standards” he is supposed to be living up to – it still makes my eyes well up.

Though my words were poorly chosen that day, my message was simply meant to say that sometimes you just need to push through.

I like to believe that the only expectations I have of my kids are that they grow up to be thoughtful enough to stand up for others, confident enough to stand up for themselves and self-sufficient enough to make good decisions and do the right thing.

Guiding them down that path often means that I am the first one to shine a spotlight on their mistakes or poor judgement and tell them how to correct them – very often while yelling.

Is that good parenting though? Or am I toeing some line of becoming the bully that today’s society so vehemently despises?

This question has been plaguing me since last week when my son crumbled to tears because I yelled at him for taking so long to get ready for school. When the yelling stopped, I stormed up the stairs to get clothes – any clothes – for him to wear despite his begging to let him pick them out himself.

Admittedly, anger was a rough reaction to a simple issue – if this had been the first time it had happened. But this was an issue that we have had 100 or 500 times over.

I had just had it. No more Mrs. Nice-Mom.

When Single Working Mom fans were asked whether they ever feel like “No more Mrs. Nice-Mom (or Mr. Nice-Dad) crosses a line, one father said, “…If I feel like I’m just crossing the line into being a bully that means I’ve got it dialed in for parenting. Their friends are their friends. I don’t have to be the nice guy.”

Google’s definition of “a bully” is “A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.”

It further defines “to bully” as “using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”

As one of my friends pointed out, MOST parents wouldn’t fall into the definition of “a bully,” although they COULD fall into the definition of the verb. Normally though, the actions of a parent are intended to guide our kids to make good or better choices and decisions than we did.

As parents we call it “disciplining” – which, by the way, bears a strikingly similar definition as “to bully,” but without the intent to harm.

So am I my son’s bully? No.

But I AM his disciplinarian.

Sometimes along the way that may hurt, but it is never meant to harm.

That is parenting.

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