Where bullying might come from…….

Yesterday was one of the few days I was able to get to the library before it opened. At these times I am still often surprised by the shear number of people waiting to get into the library – there happened to be a diverse crowd by age and race and sex. Within the crowd were parents with children under 10. The parent/child group is the one I usually find most interesting to observe as the parent child relationship is so very interesting and telling.
Although I observe in silence, I must have a face that lends itself for people to talk to me – and they do. I could be on the subway in NYC, a train in Italy, coffee anywhere and people talk to me. So a gentleman probably in his late 50’s to early 60’s started talking with me as he was apparently making the same observation as myself.
I happened to be observing a mother and probably eight year old boy. At one point I had to back up as the mother and the child were pushing each other and rough housing. I didn’t mind, there was plenty of space for everyone, I just did not feel like being bumped as I had my laptop in my backpack. The mother and child were hip bumping, body thrusting and wacking each other, at first playfully and then the boy began to get more aggressive, including intentionally and quite hard, stepping on the mothers feet. She kept stating in an escalating voice she had a nice shield around her which seemed to be what was making the boy act up, as if to get through the ‘nice’ shield.
Suffice it to say, I was not the only person who backed up. I was not the only person to feel the interaction was somewhat inappropriate and not quite ‘loving’ as one might expect from a parent and child on a trip to the library. I said nothing to the mother.
Eventually the man started talking to me about how his wife would not tolerate that behavior from their children – she was strict. He asked me if I thought it was sad the way the young boy was acting towards his mother. I agreed with him and said it made me uncomfortable as that behavior at home does not transfer well to school and as a teacher I have to be the meany/bad person and ask a child not to act that way with classmates. I explained how I wished parents would think about behavior in other contexts and what example they were setting for their child.
The whole discussion was in a normal tone of voice and everyone around us was talking. I would have told the mother exactly the same thing as her son was abusive (from what I observed and clearly what this other gentleman perceived). I did not speak directly to the mother as it seemed she had her hands full and clearly speaking to her in front of a group of people would not make a good impression. I went back to what I was doing (reading something off my iPhone) and just backed up some more.
When the library opened, the typical crowding at the door occurred so I just waited. The young boy ran and pushed into others. The gentleman who had been talking with me commented – I don’t exactly even remember what he said. I was quite appalled the mother did not stop the son, even verbally. My comment to the man was that it was disappointing when parents lack parenting skills and the rest of us have to tolerate it, or in my case deal with it at school because the self same overall behavior (I observed between mother and son) to a classmate of the child would have been bullying.
Needless to say, the mother felt compelled to talk to me and tell me what a great relationship she had with her son and she did not understand the ‘problem’. I explained the problem was the behavior would not translate well to other situations. She was not pleased by this idea and tried to defend herself by saying I couldn’t understand as I don’t have a child. My final response was, no, I don’t understand as I have to manage 30-35 children at a time, not just one and the behavior is unacceptable. I completely lacked the courage to tell her I felt sorry for her and the fact that her child clearly took advantage of her or that it seemed she needed to set some boundaries. My guess is she has or will hear the message from some teacher at school as no one would tolerate the behavior.
While I only made my own quiet observation to go by, some one else felt the same way and spoke to me about it – I did not start the conversation. I have reason to believe other people were stymied by the unfortunate behavior and did not know what to say themselves.
So, for the record, bullying does not happen in isolation. Bullying does not suddenly come on the scene and is generally not learned at school from others – bullying is a behavior from home and the way a child perceives interactions between themselves and their parents, theirselves and their siblings and most of all, the interplay between mom and dad. It is unfortunate people feel so surprised by bullying when it is right within eyesight and earshot and even as some one who is outspoken, I did not quite have the words for this parent.