When our children are bullied, it is often basic parental instinct to want to retaliate. But as Delia Garcia-Bratcher, a California mother who tried to bully a bully recently learned, fighting our children’s battles can lead to disaster – and in her case, arrest.
Everybody from Dr. Spock to the famously emotionless Mr. Spock of “Star Trek” fame can tell you that the one thing parents should never do is give in to violent emotions and let them rule the day.
Sadly, according to the Associated Press, Delia Garcia-Bratcher, whose daughter attends Olivet Elementary Charter School in Santa Rosa, Calif. allegedly grabbed a 12-year-old boy by the throat because she thought he was responsible for bullying her daughter.
Apparently, the mom did not get the identification of the bully from her daughter, but her son, and that intel may have been wrong, according to media reports.
The AP, reports that according to Sonoma County sheriff Lt. Steve Brown, “there is no evidence the boy the mom attacked was actually the one who bullied the girl.”
Ms. Garcia-Batcher has since been charged with felony child abuse.
That’s the kind of “oops” that is the stuff of parental nightmares.
I found this a particularly tough case to read about because I have been the mom who seethed long and hard over my children being bullied.
There were many times I felt as if the school system and the other child’s parents had completely failed to correct the situation and my monster mom was howling to get out.
I had that kind of day last month when another parent called me to report, yet again, that one of the same group of boys who has made my son Quin, 10, miserable for two years was seen bullying him yet again.
When I say bullying, I refer to a wide range of ongoing behaviors, ranging from mocking, name-calling, public humiliation, and minor physical acts like knocking him off his bike for a laugh, or taking his belongings for a round of keep-away while onlookers jeer.
What has stopped me from acting out my maternal rage fantasies is the same thing that stopped me the first time any of our sons was bullied 14 years ago – my husband.
To be precise, it was remembering the words my husband said to me all those years ago when we moved off of our peaceful sailboat in Florida to move to New Jersey where our two sons (ages 6 and 7 at that time) were bullied viciously by an older neighbor boy.
I had just watched as the boy stuck a hockey stick into the spokes of my six-year-old’s bike, sending him hurling to the pavement. The bully laughed out loud at his accomplishment as he name-called my son Ian, 6, for getting his first pair of eyeglasses.
“You can’t fight their battles for them, and even if you could, this wouldn’t be the right way,” my husband said as I stood with his arms holding me like vice straps to prevent me from storming across the street to grab the bully. The situation took months to resolve peacefully.
On the up side, I never made national headlines for attempting to throttle a child.
That’s why I totally understand the rage mode this mom was in and pity her for not having someone like my husband there to stay her hand.
Today, we have four sons. To try and help them “fight their own battles” they have all had Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Bullyproof lessons, pep talks, and some of their tormentors have even been shown Shane Koyczan’s “To this day” video on being bullied at their schools – at my request to school administrators. The video is a good tool to help kids understand the impact of bullying actions.
Despite all our talks about defensive use of training, for a while, no matter what I tried, my son Quin suddenly became “Volcano Boy.”
If anyone, of any age, did or said something that Quin perceived as a threat or insult, he would lash out screaming or unexpectedly take a wild swing at the person he perceived as his attacker.
It took a year to switch him from what he dubbed “volcano mode” to a far less emotional “Vulcan mode” like the aforementioned Mr. Spock, who came from a planet of people so overly emotional that in order to save their species they opted out of emotional responses altogether.
My practice is to always tie-in something my sons can relate to, be it from a TV show, book, or film, to give a metaphoric framework to the lesson and make it stick. Also it helps to be able to say something catchy to Quin like, “Are we in Volcano or Vulcan mode today Mr. Suhay?”
Quin came up with the term “volcano mode” when he explained his feelings that resulted from years of being mocked, humiliated, and emotionally toyed with by bullies as being “like a deep pit of hot anger, like lava” that could unexpectedly burst from within to spew on the guilty and innocent alike.
One of the things I thought of during that year was how glad I was that I have never resorted to violence, and that my sons have never seen me hit someone in anger (outside a martial arts dojo).
Had I given in to my own mommy volcano, I would have given up the parental high ground of being a good example. Now, thanks to my spouse, I could say, “You never see mom or Papa hitting people do you? We find other ways to deal with the anger.”
Still, today, none of that stops Quin from silently curling into a ball on the couch when he returns home from a day of being taunted.
While many kids can be girded to overcome the emotional hurt of bullying, for many younger children no amount of logic, lessons, or kind words can take away the sting. However, we must remember that younger kids often lack the ability to process bullying as something that happens to others too, as we learn in Koyczan’s spoken-word piece “To this Day.”
Because Quin went through the “Volcano Boy” times I now see bullies as if they were my own child.
If it were my child who was doing this harm how would I handle it?
I would be angry, but more than that I would be crushed by sadness for his or her pain, because I have come to see that it is emotional pain that makes us lash out.
Somewhere inside every bully there is a deep pit of volcanic pain that they have learned to spew on selected people.
Nobody gets angry at a volcanic event because they consider it a part of nature that has cause and effect – pressure and heat together equals an eruption.
While nobody can prevent a real volcano from erupting, we can help kids cool their tempers and urges, by setting an example.
We can approach the bullies with open arms, open hearts, and open minds so they see in us how tempers can be cooled and resolve to make peace, hardened.
As parents our job is to see the volcano for what it is, not be the volcano.