Josh Misner was loathed to see his daughter being bullied. They talked. They strategized. Then something amazing happened.
“Daddy, I don’t feel good,” my eleven-year-old daughter whined at me the other morning, using the classic vocal fry us adults use when trying to act extra convincing when calling in sick to work.
“Tough!” I responded, “You’re going to school today.”
Oh no, here come the waterworks. Tears are my soft underbelly. I’m a sucker for puppy-dog eyes and a trembling chin. What I wasn’t prepared for was the real reason my daughter didn’t want to go to school.
She started middle school only a few short months ago, and I knew my daughter would soon be knee-deep in tween drama, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when she started telling me her story.
When my daughter started her new school, she made gobs of new friends, a valuable skill she possesses, that, frankly, I’m insanely jealous of. One of these friends, though, started acting odd. One day, she would be my daughter’s bestie during dance class, but the next, she would go to extreme lengths to pretend she wasn’t there.
My daughter shared these incidents initially on the drive home each day, and I listened intently, trying to discern any sort of pattern, but it all seemed nonsensical. As we talked it out, we concluded that the best option would be a combination of riding it out to see how her friend continued to act and direct confrontation, by asking her if something was wrong.
Unfortunately, my advice fell short of success. Perhaps it was because I tried to apply logic to a parade of preteen hormones. At any rate, this brings my story back to the morning before school, as my daughter’s eyes welled up in front of me, right before she started slowly sobbing.
Pulling her in for a hug, that was when she unloaded on me, explaining that this girl, whom we had been trying to figure out, was now resorting to physical means. Apparently, this girl did not like that my daughter had a wide range of friends and instead, she wanted my daughter to be hers, exclusively. To get my daughter’s attention, she started running into her from behind, playfully at first, but quickly turned to more violent shoving, tackling, and the last straw was when she started slapping my little girl in the face.
Slapping?!? In the face?!? A large part of me fought the urge to react with, “Aw, hell no!” I was ready to pull together my own A-Team of counselors, teachers, vice principals, the principal, and even the superintendent, if necessary. My daughter, however, snapped me out of my imaginary tirade by pleading to stay home that day, because she simply couldn’t face her bully one more day. By the way, this came out of the mouth of a little girl who has always loved school, to an almost unhealthy extent!
In recognizing my daughter’s growing need for independence, I restrained myself from unleashing Hades and asked what she thought we should do about it. I gave her options (including the A-Team—I love it when a plan comes together!) and explained the implications of each one, but then she decided on a remarkably responsible course of action, which was to drum up her courage, go to school, and discreetly talk to a trusted teacher.
Cautiously optimistic, I showed up early to my daughter’s school that day and parked outside the main doors, as close as possible. I watched intently for her to come outside, but when I saw her walk out the door, I then saw her bully run up behind her. Instinctively, I tensed up, wanting to protect my daughter, but what happened next blew me away.
The bully grabbed my daughter by the shoulder, her face obviously beginning to distort with overwhelming emotion. I could make out “I’m sorry,” as her face then flooded with tears. My daughter’s face softened and smiled gently. Stepping forward, my daughter shifted her backpack to the side and extended her arms, inviting the “bully” into an embrace. As the “bully” stepped forward to accept being held, I lost it. I can only describe how I felt as a basking in a blinding sense of pure pride.
As my daughter climbed into my truck, I asked her what happened. “I listened, Daddy,” was all she had to say.
It turned out that the “bully” was going through a rough time and merely needed someone to listen. My pride swelled even further as I realized my daughter noticed this girl’s need to be heard, because in a moment of awareness, my daughter transformed a young woman who could have just as easily become a bitter enemy into a potentially devoted friend.
I have no doubt that, as the years pass and the hormone parade marches on, my daughter will have many more conflicts, and I realize not all of them will end this well.
As for this situation, I will never forget the day my daughter used the art of listening to make a friend where a bully once stood. In a world that all too often chooses outrage and violence over patient understanding and kindness, I can sleep soundly, knowing that, when given the choice, my children choose love.
Photo: Flickr/ kikir4802
Read More Josh on http://www.MindfulDad.org