When your phone dings at 10:58 p.m., you should never look. It won’t be good.
“I hate doing this in e-mail, but I can’t find the courage to call,” a mom wrote to me and three other women. “My daughter came home crying yesterday about something that happened at school. I spoke to Mrs. Smith about it, and apparently she saw it play out. I just felt the need to reach out.”
And that’s when my heart started to beat a little faster. She was telling me my kid had been an A-hole to her kid.
As I continued to read, this mom, whom I know casually, described some serious mean girl behavior—exclusion, name-calling, borderline bullying. And my kid was in the mix of it. Apparently she was not the ring leader, but she didn’t stop it either, which is just as bad.
“I know my daughter is sensitive and can be a lot to handle, but the kids have to go to school together for the next several years. I am hoping we can work to make their relationships better. I’ve told her to apologize for some of the poor things she said, and I want to follow up to ensure she did.”
I had to hand it to this mom. She was all class. She did not point fingers or engage in any name-calling. She didn’t judge and took some accountability. She stuck to the facts, and I genuinely believe she wanted what was best for all the kids involved.
As I lay awake in bed that night, I, however, was an emotional roller coaster. You say you want to know when your kid does something wrong, but when you find out, especially from another parent, well…it turned out I was a lot happier before I read that message.
In the hours that followed, I experienced the five stages of finding out my kid was kind of an A-hole. This is how it went down:
Denial: There is no way my sweet child would do that. This mom must be wrong. Maybe she confused my daughter with the other girl in the class who has the same name.
Anger: Oh, I’m going to kill her. I’m seriously going to kill her. How dare she pick on another kid. I brought her into this world, and I can take her out.
Bargaining: Maybe it was a misunderstanding, or the girl lied, or the teacher lied.
Depression: Why? Why did my kid have to be the jerk? Where did I go wrong? It must be all that Minecraft!
Acceptance: OK, what am I going to do with this kid? Time to dole out the punishment and hit her where it hurts.
The next morning at breakfast, I talked to my daughter about the “incident.” I’d barely uttered 15 words before she burst into tears.
“Mom, I didn’t know what to do, and I feel so bad. It started off as a joke, but then she said something to Sara, and then Jenny said something, and then there was this big yelling match, and I didn’t know what to do.”
I was skeptical, but as she told me the rest of her story, it seemed to match up with the other mom’s version. I was relieved that she didn’t participate in the bad behavior, but disappointed she didn’t stop it either.
“Well, where do you think we go from here?” I asked.
“Mrs. Smith made us write apology letters as homework. Here’s mine,” she meekly replied as she slipped a paper out of her tattered orange folder.
“Do you think that’s enough?” I asked using my sternest mom voice.
“Not really. I already told her I was sorry after school, but maybe I could do something nice for her too,” she responded with her eyes cast downward.
“Good call. Maybe we could both do something nice, like treat her to Starbucks with the money you’ll earn from doing chores this weekend?” I mentally high-fived myself for getting her to put away the laundry and garner myself a Mocha Frappuccino in the process.
“OK, Mom. I get it. And I’m really sorry,” she said.
And I believe her. I was even a little proud of her for owning up to it on the first try.
We all say we want to know if our kids are behaving badly, but it kind of sucks when you find out. This incident was minor, but it is a good stepping stone for when my kid messes up next. Because she’s going to. And maybe next time I’ll zip from anger to acceptance a little faster.
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