A few days ago, I arrived home from work to find that my son had been bitten by another child. And no, that child was not a toddler from his daycare going through a somewhat common, but frustrating, biting stage. My son is seven. The biter is eight or nine. This happened on the bus as he was coming home from school.
My first reaction was obviously concern for my son, and whether the finger on which this bite occurred was badly injured. When he showed it to me, all I could see was a scratch and no broken skin, although the finger did look a bit swollen.
My second instinct was anger. Once identifying that my child was safe, the Momma Bear in me came out, and I saw red. How dare some punk kid harm my child! Lemme at 'em!
Along with that anger, there were also feelings of confusion and incredulity. How does a child of that age think it is OK to bite another child? Especially my son, who was nowhere near him on the bus. The biter summoned my kid over to his seat, apparently for the sole purpose of biting him. How is this possible? What were his parents teaching him?
My husband, who was working from home that day, had apparently already waded into this mess prior to my arrival home and assured me that he initially had the same angry reaction. He explained, however, that he had already called the parents to talk to them, assuming he was going to have to yell and demand retribution and generally express his extreme displeasure in this situation and in their son. But what he found on the other side of that phone line was unexpected.
He told me that the mom seemed horrified and deeply concerned about what her son had done. He said that her reaction completely threw him off of his game. He was initially prepared to rail against her son's actions, but she pretty much beat him to the punch. She said that she would discuss this with her son and come up with a course of action to address it. She would call him back later that evening to share what they planned to do.
My husband left that conversation both surprised and relieved. At first, like me, he had also seen red, as his Daddy Bear instincts emerged. But the mom's extreme reasonableness and understanding of the gravity of her son's actions, along with her willingness to take action, completely disarmed and assuaged his anger.
They were willing to bring their son to our home so that he could personally apologize to my son that evening. However, the dad did advise that they were planning to take the boy to his therapist first for an emergency session, and that a spoken apology might be difficult at that moment since their son was having trouble even breathing. Speaking might be a problem. But he still offered to bring the boy over later that evening if we wanted a personal apology. Obviously, we opted for the written apology, feeling that would suffice.
The dad then continued to explain that, unfortunately, this was not the first incident that had occurred with their son, as apparently he has been going through "some things at home." He didn't get into the details, and obviously we didn't ask, but we are thinking possibly a divorce or some other traumatic event that is affecting this child's behavior.
So now, instead of anger and suspicion as to the lack of parenting skills involved here, all I feel for this boy and his family is sadness. Whatever is happening in his home is something that has caused him to act out in such a way that seems completely adverse to the parents' guidance and instruction.
Although I only had brief contact with them, they seem like they care about their son, that they discipline when necessary, and that this is something that truly concerned them. All of those traits are the sign of good and decent parents in my book. Nobody is perfect, and nobody has perfect children, but if you care enough about your son to get him help when he needs it and are concerned enough about his actions to instill punishment -- to show that there are consequences for bad actions -- you are doing the best you can for your child.
How quick I was to think that since their child was "bad" then they were obviously lacking in their parenting skills. What a judgmental asshole I was. And how easy it was to blame the parents for a child's isolated incident of misbehaving.
The boy ultimately did write my son an apology letter. It was well written and was obviously done with the assistance of the parents.
And now I feel like maybe I owe those parents an apology. For jumping to conclusions. For my immediate blame and distrust of them as "bad" parents. For not thinking of what might be the underlying cause of the action taken by their son.
Next time I see or hear of a child doing something wrong, whether he injures my child or someone else's, I will stop for a moment. Before the rage kicks in, I will think. Think about the parents on the other side of the situation. Think about how I would feel if my child was going through something difficult and started acting out. Because the truth is, no matter how hard we try to be the best parents we can, none of us are immune to our children acting out. Or just making mistakes. Or doing something stupid and hurtful. And I would like to think that I would get the same amount of understanding from another parent should one of my kids make a mistake or do something hurtful to their child.
Parenting is one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my entire life. And I took an extremely difficult bar exam, which I thought was one of the hardest things ever. But that was cake compared to the landmines that parents have to walk around every single day in order to try to shape and form good, decent people. We're all trying to watch our step so that we don't get blown to bits.
It's something that we all have to realize as we go through this often confusing, infuriating and hurtful life. Let's all try to make it just a little bit easier on each other by being kind and forgiving, and maybe just a little less judgmental of other parents.
I was absolutely guilty of making a snap decision, and for that I am sorry. In the future, I will definitely try to think about what might be happening on the other side before instantly jumping to anger and retribution. At least, I'm going to try my best. And I hope that others will do the same.
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(photo: Sam72 / Shutterstock)