Mothers are keen to help their children combat bullying, but we mustn’t forget that bullies aren’t always packaged in school kids’ bodies. Adults bully, too.
As we saw with Jennifer Livingston, men shame women and women can cut men down to size. Since this is anti-bullying month, it’s only right to pay attention to the bullies that we mothers might encounter. Sadly, I see women regularly in my office who are being bullied and I can tell you that this is having a life-changing impact on them and their kids. Let’s take a look at a few I saw recently.
Carol is 45, has 12-year-old twin boys and is married to a prominent lawyer. She is a stay-at-home mom, and her husband just filed for divorce. Several years ago, he complained that she wasn’t doing the household accounting well enough so he took it over. Since then, he has racked up tens of thousands of dollars of debt and maxed out their credit cards. He insisted that she have her name taken off the credit cards (which is a good thing for her now) as well as their checking account. Shortly after he filed, he appeared at a school function for their boys and introduced Carol to his girlfriend. He wants her to tell the boys that they need to be nice to the new girlfriend.
Then there’s Alicia. She is a single mother and works as a restaurant manager. She has three small children, and her husband left her and the kids four years ago. She has been dating another man for three years but is hesitant to marry him because he has a “temper.” When I asked what she meant, she told me that he only occasionally screams at her but when he does, he calls her names—often an “f..ing b*% ch.” He didn’t mean it, of course, she said, and tries to only yell when her kids aren’t around. He never yells at the kids and has only pushed her a few times. She said that she was lonely, having a hard time paying the bills, and he wanted her to move in with him. She is strongly considering it.
Leana’s dad lives with her and her two kids. She is a military wife, so her husband isn’t home much, and she says that it’s nice to have an extra pair of hands to help with the kids. Her mother died ten years ago, and she feels responsible for caring for her father. He is lonely. The problem is, she admits, he treats her like she’s still a child. He tells her that she needs to lose weight, that she’s a bad example to her kids, and that her mother would be disappointed. He also reminds her that her mother would not approve of her permissive style of parenting and that she never treated Leana that way. He frequently compares her parenting to her friends’ parenting and “encourages her” to be more like them. Besides, he points out, her friends have it harder than Leana; they work outside the home and contribute to the family income. Leana asked why she might be having anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
Each of these women is smart, well-educated, and knows better. The problem with being bullied is that bullies know exactly how to play to our weaknesses. Once they find them, they use manipulation to get us right where they want us. Each of these women knows that the men aren’t behaving well, but they fail to see the manipulation and justify the men’s behavior.
Worse, each woman believes that she can control it in some way—by changing, being nicer, or obliging. Funny how we justify the bad behavior of others when we don’t want to confront them. Carol told me that she feels sorry for her husband because he was a workaholic and never knew how to have a decent relationship. Alicia says that she does get under her boyfriend’s skin, and Leana says that she owes her dad for putting her through private schools and college.
We mothers need to stop making excuses for manipulative and bad behavior. Bullies do bad things to us because we allow it and just like with children, bullies always prey on those whom they identify as weak. Once they see us as strong, they stop having temper tantrums.
So if you are a mom being bullied by someone, confront the problem. If the bully is dangerous, consult a professional before you confront him because you could be in danger. But no matter what, stop the cycle. You deserve a better life and besides, young eyes are watching; they will grow up to either bully or be bullied. Be strong—first for yourself and then for your kids.
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