QUESTION: We just moved into the foothills from another area of California. In an effort to be neighborly, I invited a few neighbors who have children to come for a play day for the kids and a coffee klatch for the moms. Then the fun began. The six children, including mine, range in ages from 2 to 5. A couple of the older ones were bullying the younger ones and the parents of the bullies wouldn’t do anything. Their spin on it was “Leave them alone long enough, and they’ll learn to get along.” Well, that didn’t happen, and one little boy was struck on the face with a shovel from a sand bucket. That’s when I stepped in and said, “I think we’ve played enough for one day.” The parents of the bullies left in a huff.
Is there a way to mend a rift like this? I want to get along with my neighbors and so do the other parents whose children were playing nicely, but I can’t stand by and watch children mistreat each other.
~ Neighborly Mom
Dear Neighborly Mom,
First of all, I commend you for being the one that is attempting to reach out to others in your neighborhood. We live in a culture where front porches have disappeared from our homes and have been replaced by fenced-in back yards. So often we go about living our busy lives and don¹t take the time to get to know others, even our next-door neighbors.
Unfortunately, we also live in a culture that is characterized by a prevailing, “It’s all about me” attitude. This self-centered attitude is not only prevalent among adolescents and adults, but is often displayed among young children. When parents don’t take the time to give their children direction and correction when it comes to relating to other children, this attitude is proliferated. And so often we see evidence that children left to themselves seem to naturally display selfish behavior. The scriptures are replete with admonitions to parents to teach and train their children to respect and care for others. Dr. James Dobson, author, psychologist and founder of Focus on the Family, addresses this parenting issue: “Loving discipline encourages a child to respect other people and live as a responsible, constructive citizen.”
There is no doubt that bullying is a problem in our country. Bullies are everywhere, from the playground to schools, from workplaces to elder care facilities. The statistics related to bullying are both shocking and disheartening. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying is defined as “intentionally aggressive, usually repeated verbal, social, or physical behavior aimed at a specific person or group of people.”
I applaud you for coming to the defense of the children who were being bullied. As the adult and parent in the situation, you were justified in stepping in before any other child got hurt. I’m not sure you can mend the rift, but you can focus on nurturing relationships with the parents and children who were getting along. And you certainly have a right to avoid exposing your children to those who would bully them. In doing so, you are teaching your children the importance of being careful in developing relationships. And of course keep in mind the teaching of Jesus that has been passed on from generation to generation for thousands of years: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you…” (Matthew 7:12).
Dear Neighborly Mother,
I have been in situations like this. After one episode of the parents doing nothing, I usually step in, kneel down and talk to the children in a gentle, but firm voice, with age appropriate directives. When the child was struck with a shovel, I would have gone in, taken the shovel away, and knelt and discussed with the children about playing nice, not hurting one another, pointed out that “Johnny” is crying because you hurt him, “Billy,” and then had them apologize, and state what they learned. This is of course advice for future play dates.
Now to your question.
Moms can be emotional creatures. So the fact that they left in a huff shows they were hurt, maybe do not have the emotional insight or maturity to handle conflict, and perhaps the inability to handle correction. So the first thing you need to know before trying to mend ways is this: You are likely not dealing with someone who sees things the way you do nor can handle conflict. You need to be gentle, non-blaming, non-shaming, and go for the “repair” of the relationship in a way they can receive and accept.
In cases like these, I try to do something like the following in person: “I am so sorry the play date ended abruptly and poorly. I hope I did not overreact. I would love to get together again as being your neighbor is important to me. Maybe we can set rules for our children ahead of time so if something happens again we can correct them and give them the opportunity to apologize. Because as all of us moms know, ‘kids will be kids’ and they need our direction.”
When repairing rifts, I always own my side, talk in a way the person I am repairing with can “hear,” and go for humility, but firmness of principle.
QUESTION: I just found out that my 75-year-old grandmother who raised me has cancer. I think I’m more upset about this than she is. I’m doing my best to not react to this diagnosis, but she means everything to me. Of course I knew at some point in my life that she would no longer be with me, but this seems so premature. She has been strong and healthy through thick and thin. Because of her, I finished college and completed my doctorate. Because of her, I found a faith that has sustained me during my college years and life’s ups and downs.
She knows I love her, but I’d like some advice on what I can do to really support her through the treatments that will involve chemotherapy and radiation.
~ Sad Grandson
Dear Sad Grandson,
I feel your sadness at the idea of the loss and illness of your grandmother and your deep appreciation for all that she has been to you, as well as your desire to be there for her in a positive and supportive way as she navigates this period of her life. There is nothing easy about what you are experiencing; loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult things we must come to terms with in this life. Yet it is part of the natural cycle and it’s good to remember this.
You are a part of her that stays behind in this world to carry on the love that she shared. I invite you to focus on that love as you support her through her treatment. Most importantly remember to take it a day at a time and, if you can, a moment at a time. Everything can seem overwhelming and breaking it down to just this one moment can make it so much more manageable.
Ask yourself, “What can I do in this moment?” Sometimes the most you can do is take a deep breath. This is a sacred journey that you both take together. The intimacy of your relationship is a profound opportunity to return to her the love she gave and to find together the peace that can be found in just allowing things to be as they are.
The more we fight against our circumstances the more suffering we create for ourselves. You and your grandmother are bonded on a soul level and that bond can never be broken. We are each the spirit that will one day leave the body behind. Seeing things from the soul perspective you can remind yourself that all is well with your soul always, as it is with your grandmother’s soul. We can hold to nothing in this physical world, not even the next breath, we must let it go and be carried on by the next moment to a greater experience of the infinite possibilities life brings.
The faith you speak of sustains you now as it did in the past. Gather support around you. If you don’t feel you have close friends maybe it’s time to begin confiding in a chosen trusted few. Spiritual counseling also would be invaluable for you. Remember that there is only ever one moment to deal with, therein is your power to choose how you will act, think, be. Keep love as your focus and be gentle with yourself. This is an opportunity to grow in ways you cannot imagine now; let it transform you and open you. Trust the process.
Dear Sad Grandson,
In the Christian faith, we can find strength in understanding that any death is only a temporary separation. I would encourage you to read I Thessalonians 4:13-18 often to remind yourself of all the reasons we do not have to “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (vs. 13). I also suggest you focus on finding out how you can support her during this time.
Here are a few suggestions that I think can help you and her: What can you do that she would find most encouraging and helpful? Ask her to tell you honestly because sometimes we are sincerely trying to help but we are really not. Of course, you want to prioritize spending time with her but you need to find out when and where she will appreciate it the most. When someone is experiencing a lot of physical pain they may or may not want company at that time.
I Thessalonians 5: 11 says we should “encourage one another and build each other up.” Tell her (and write down for her) all the things you appreciate about her and be as specific as possible. When you talk share great life memories you have about her. Ask her questions and give her a chance to reflect on her life so you will be able to keep her story and those life lessons with you even after she passes.