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Teaching My Daughter to Be Bad

My youngest daughter is seven. She's in first grade and very gentle-spirited. She likes to follow the rules and make other people happy; she is kind and caring. Ruby wants to be a doctor when she grows up and she wants to have 12 children. She plays with her dolls all evening and every day when she leaves for school, they are all either tucked in bed or sitting up with a book or her iPad in front of them. She is incredibly thoughtful all the time.

More than anyone else in the family, Ruby is also very emotionally mature. She has incredible empathy and not a lot of that has had to be taught to her. She's aware, always checking in and asking questions. She sticks up for other people and she communicates when she is uncomfortable. Even in pre-school her teachers would comment that they had never seen another child, her age, so empathetic. When Ruby would see a friend get hit by another classmate she would remind her friend to speak up for herself and tell the other child that she doesn't like that.

She's the child the universe gives you at the age of 40, that makes it real clear that as much as we want to think we're the wise ones handing down profound knowledge and life skills; this time, this child was sent to you, because you have a life lesson to learn. Ruby has taught me that love can be gentle and safe.

Ruby often comes home from school with stories about her friendships. It's often better than daytime television. I am always so eager to hear about each of her friends and how she managed different scenarios. She plays with the kid who is all alone on the playground; she notices. She reminds her friends to include others. When she is left out or someone tells her they don't want to be her friend, she is very heart-broken but she doesn't take it personal. Rather, she sees this as her mission to change, so that everyone is kind to each other and everyone feels loved. We talk about how she is still an amazing friend, even when she is rejected, and sometimes understanding their perspective can help you see that it may not have been about her, but rather their response might have been something related to their own circumstances. She can talk through these challenges like a seasoned crone.

More recently Ruby has come home telling us she was slapped in the face. Almost always by the same girl, a girl she talks about playing with joyfully most days. Her twin brother is one of Ruby's most favorite people. They are a bit rowdy, but also super funny and they make Ruby laugh. The hitting has become more frequent and there has been some hair pulling. Her being my sixth child, I am very cognizant about there often being more to the story so I reached out to her teacher in hopes of better understanding these friend dynamics. Ruby has some strong leadership skills so I wondered if maybe she was a bit much for some of her friends who didn't communicate as well in enforcing their own boundaries, so hitting was their current strategy. The teacher shared that all reports of bullying needed to go directly to the principal and we got no other helpful information.

First graders aren't really bullies, so again, I went to Ruby to better understand these scenarios and to help her add emotional resources to her own tool belt for navigating these situations. We discussed friends don't hit. We talked about even funny and really enjoyable classmates may hit, but that this negates all the good times because safe friends don't harm you. She struggled with this boundary wanting to give them another try, and she was adamant that she wanted to warn them if she got hit again that they would no longer be friends. This really is the best scenario for her to work this out, right? I supported her in testing this boundary, but Ruby did get hit again and now there are two girls who hit her fairly regularly, and they started taking her lunch from her, and now they are pulling her hair.

Again, but more stern this time, I explained to Ruby that she's communicated the boundary and they've crossed it. This is not kind. It is not safe. And even on the best days, this is not a friendship. Now Momma Bear is making clear, "Ruby, do not sit next to them at any point, and do not play games with them. If they come near you, move." Ruby was a bit sad about this because she really does like these little girls, but even these attempts fell short. Still, the hitting continues.

Ruby says they don't sit by each other at lunch, and they have assigned seats, but the other gal gets up, breaks the rules, and sits by her anyway. Then she hits her. Why doesn't she tell the teacher? Most often there wasn't time, she says, or her friend begged her not to tell so she bargained with them. One time Ruby got in trouble for leaving her seat in the lunch room and she isn't allowed to be loud.

Last evening after school, Ruby was playing and she kept saying her arm hurt when she stretched it out. When I asked her what happened, she explained that the same gal had grabbed her arm and pulled her down to the floor to sit by her. Ruby's efforts are being over-powered. She says she moves, and tells her no, and doesn't talk to her, but she can't really escape her so again, I reached out to her teacher.

The teacher says that she has separated the girls, but she struggles because they end up playing with each other again. She admits the other girls are quite rough, especially compared to Ruby. And keep in mind, Ruby is the youngest of six and four of her older siblings are boys. Her teacher asked if I had any suggestions. It might be super easy for me to respond to the teacher that initially Ruby was continuing to engage in this friendship, but this is no longer mutual and of course, my husband is teaching her how to land the perfect throat punch, but I recognize within this behavior is so much of me, and my mother and grandmother, even my daughter and my best friend. We have all married abusers. We have huge hearts and we want to help other people. We have felt deep pain ourselves, and it is this pain and hurt that we connect with in other people, a sort of intimacy, and we want to heal that. We think telling them, explaining, and drawing new boundaries will make it better; we will grow and heal together, right? What we don't do is make it awkward. We don't want to shame them or make them feel bad, because we don't want to add to their pain or make them feel alone or left out in the cafeteria or on the play ground.

It's Time to Break the Rules, Ruby

Today I informed the teacher I was going to be much more stern with Ruby. This isn't about victim blaming or shaming; this is about breaking generational patterns of abuse. Ruby was told at absolutely no point in school was she allowed to be near these two girls. They are not her friends. We talked about how hard it was to see something really great in someone, but know that on occasion they really hurt you. There is a boundary though we do not negotiate. If these girls come near her, she is to move, even if that means getting out of her assigned seat. If they touch her in anyway, she is suppose to yell, "Don't touch me," so that even if her teacher is across the room, she can hear her.

I shared with her teacher our new strategy, and that it is my expectation that Ruby not be reprimanded for this, that she is supported, her concerns are not dismissed, and her efforts to protect herself are not belittled. Ruby and I literally practiced how she should respond if someone tugged her hair or pulled her arm, and at first she was super meek. It was hard for her to yell out, to stand up for herself. She worries about getting in trouble and breaking the rules. This isn't her nature. She is gentle. She's a sweetheart. She wants to love and heal others, not cause drama and chaos.

Today I shared with my daughter, that before I was married to my husband, I was with a man I really, really adored but he hit me. I made excuses. I shared that my mother was with abusive men and so was my grandmother. I shared with her that my daughter, her big sister, married a man who beat her. And I shared with her that my best friend, someone Ruby loves more than most anyone else, was nearly killed by the man she loved most. Maybe this was too soon, but I made the decision to go big here just like I need her to go big for herself next time these girls are near her. We don't need to dilute the truth. I am not teaching my daughter to be calm here, to be quiet and not make a scene, to not make it awkward. I am telling her to move even if it breaks the rules and to be loud even if it makes it awkward. Now I wait and see if her teachers show up for her.

Needless to say, Ruby and I sang I am Unstoppable by Sia on the way to school today. I told her to sing these lyrics to herself when she needed to remind herself of how strong she is, no armour, and that she is confident. The only way to make friendships grow is to show your feelings, Ruby. We won't be afraid. You're unstoppable, Ruby! You're invincible! You will win every single day! You're so powerful. You're so confident. Be unstoppable today! When she grows up, I hope the rest of this song fails to resonate because we ceased this golden opportunity to teach her she doesn't have to be meek and that she can show up for herself. Make noise, Ruby, a lot of noise and make it uncomfortable. We aren't putting on our armour, our fake smile, and crying inside anymore, Babe. Let your feelings show. Cultivate health relationships and walk away from those that aren't. Now is the time to learn it's okay to protect yourself, even if that means breaking a few rules, social or otherwise. I did Something Bad... yes, Ruby, loves Ms. Taylor.

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