When you are the parent that everyone blames.

It has been a few weeks since Parent Teacher Conferences and I feel like I can almost write about it now. Almost.

I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be good. It is hard not to know when your child has been involved in four physical altercations by the second month of school. It is hard not to know when every year you hear the same things over and over again at these conferences. It is hard not to know when you live with her every day and see the struggles on a perpetual basis.

But knowing didn’t make it any easier.

In fairness to my child’s teacher, she did a great job of prefacing with all the amazing things about my kid- and there is a lot. She is smart. She is funny. She is so, so sweet at times. Her teacher recognized all these things and it gave me a sense or relief and appreciation. But of course she was also laying the groundwork to tell me the things I already knew we were there to talk about.

As she talked, my tears welled. Frustration, exasperation, and full on exhaustion rising to the surface. I am in no type of denial about my kid’s struggles, but it doesn’t make it any easier to hear. Then there was a pause when the teacher searched for the right word to describe how my child can act when she is at her worst. “A mean girl,” I provided at the exact moment that she said “A bully.”

My tears reached their tipping point. They didn’t stop for several weeks.

It isn’t the first time a teacher has called her a bully. I‘ve written about it before, how we’ve overused the word so much that it is now useless. My friend got a call from her daycare about her 3 year old being a bully. Have these people not met 3 year olds before? But what I’m noticing more and more now is not just how inflated the word has become, but how we react when we hear about any type of bullying.

It is a word that we have built up so high, the very sound of it evokes a visceral response in most people that goes something like this.

“Ugggh. Why can’t people teach their children how to act right?”

Because apparently parenting is just that easy.

Apparently all we need to instill in kids is a sense of right and wrong, and the rest will work itself out. Apparently bullies are kids with bad parents and therefore become bad people too. Apparently if I paid better attention to my kid’s homework, communicated with her father better, talked to her about her behavior more, and didn’t let her sign up for soccer she wouldn’t be such a jerk at school.

Except that is not how life works. I despise the word bully because it restricts people to a single word, an incredibly defining word, that could never relate the complexity of the situation they are going through.

Some kids have learning disabilities. Some kids have cognitive disabilities. Mental illness. Anxiety at school. A death in the family. Nowhere to live. They are hungry. The list of reasons why kids could act up in school is SO expansive and the word bully is so narrow that it is not doing the problem any justice. Should kids be held accountable for how they treat others at school? Absolutely. Can we call them bullies if for any of the above reasons, or others, they struggle with it? I hope we can stop.

Just like I hope we can stop immediately blaming parents when something isn’t working right. Parents must be involved in their child’s life but they can’t just shake their morality wand toward them and fix behavioral issues. If they could, I would have nothing to blog about.

Nobody wants to be this parent. Nobody wants to hear that their child caused another person harm. Nobody is out there intentionally raising bullies, so can we stop with the blame game for a moment?

So to the parent out there of the kid who is teasing others in school, even if it is my own kids, I promise not to say “teach your children right from wrong.” To the parent of the kid who got in another fight today, even if it was with my own,  you will never hear me say “I wonder what is wrong with the parents.” To the parent out there of the child who is disrupting class every day, even if it is my own child’s classroom, you will not hear me say “maybe their parent should try some discipline.”

You won’t hear me say anything at all. Unless you need someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, and a large glass of wine.

When you are the parent that everyone blames, I promise not to do the same.


  • Thank you for pointing out our overuse of that word. I don’t think I’ve considered that until now, but it rings true. Until our children are old enough to have a cognitive understanding about the scope of their choices, I don’t think the word really applies.


  • I have lived your heart break. My son was a fighter all through grade school. He was never a bully, but he most definitely was bullied for being that awkward, different kid with Asperger’s. Finally, through a combination of a maturing brain and being matched with a really great counselor, he worked out a different way of responding to his emotions. The school principal and I talked probably every week about him, I had her personal cell number. We were on a first name basis.

    I have no advice for you. Just wanted to let you know that you aren’t alone, and that someone out there in the universe gets your struggle on a very real level.


  • I so wish I could find the article/blog/whatever it was I was reading last week. It was along the lines of bullying as a term being highly overused, and how that overuse actually does a disservice to our children. Unwanted behavior is so easy to just lump into the broad category of “bullying” instead of taking the time to identify it for what it is. Sexism, homophobia, classism, sizeism, being bossy, aggression issues, or even a kid having a shitty day and not making the best judgement call. It’s so easy to cry bully now, that the meaning of it – to be repeatedly, over a long period of time, physically or emotionally INTENTIONALLY harmed – has been lost.

    And by the way – ANYONE who utters “why can’t they just teach their kids right” has either a) not actually been a parent, or b) been incredibly blessed by docile angels who do everything right the first time and never screw up. I’m sure their kids never have meltdowns in public, say rude and/or overly revealing things in mixed company, always clean their plates, and remember to do all their chores without being asked. Good for them. The rest of us in the parenting trenches know that parenting is fucking messy. And repetetive. Lessons take a long time to learn sometimes, and “good” behavior is harder for some kids to master than it is for others. Not because of the parent, but because every kid is an individual human being with their own intricate complex life going on.


  • I read your post with mixed feelings, while I recognise that the word “bully” can be overused and applied indiscriminately without context, I am also the parent of a child who was maliciously bullied at school by a group of classmates to the point where her only refuge at break times was to lock herself in the rest room. When we finally worked out why our bubbly and vivacious daughter had become so withdrawn we first addressed it with the parents of the children in question – one mother was mortified and acted swiftly to stop the behaviour, in stark contrast another set of parents (who we knew well) refused to accept that their daughter was at fault. Eventually the school had to be involved. It was a torrid time for my daughter, and I’m afraid that what she was subjected to on a daily basis could only be describe as bullying. With the parent who addressed the problem there was no question of blame, and she handled the situation sensitively and responsibly – discussing with her daughter the consequences of her actions for my daughter and invited her to think about it if the situation were reversed – it had the desired effect, apologies were made and things improved. But I DO blame the other parents who abdicated any responsibility for their daughter, to the point that they (bizarrely) reversed the accusation. Not all parents are as balanced as you are, sadly. Thanks for a thought provoking post.


  • Thank you, Megan. Again you speak with amazing courage and truth. Your girls are fantastic humans and are lucky to have you. I relate to the blame you are talking about and, as I often have, feel appreciation for your candor. It helps me feel not alone in this crazy life of parenting and it helps me carry on when I do feel pissed and exhausted.


  • I have been on all sides of this issue. I can tell you from my point of view no matter the side I have been on I still feel like the parent everyone blames. Thank you for sharing and reminding me I am not alone and providing me with inspiration today :).


  • I am an educator and former attorney/criminologist. I have kids 22-2 (seven) and I currently teach high school. We live in a society that is reactionary but not preventative. We try to box children in to a one size fits all mold and when that does not work we blame the teacher or the parent. We have some work to do.


  • Pingback: My Kids Did What???? | Jenn Lost in Chaos

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