being a teacher, being me

What We Could Have Done, Perhaps

I am not sure why I am writing this.  Perhaps it is simply to get it out of my brain, if even for a few minutes, perhaps it is to not feel so alone.  Perhaps it is because someone, somewhere, out there will have some sort of magical answer that will somehow make all of this better.

The very harsh reality that we now face as a family is that our oldest daughter started this school year as a fairly well-adjusted eight-year-old who liked school, was nervous about making friends as the new kid, but was known as being kind, helpful and as a hard worker despite the obstacles she faced.

And then the school year happened.  And the bullying happened.  And life seemingly turned upside down from what we knew or at the very least thought we knew.

We now end the year with a kid who is angry a lot, sad a lot, who hates school, begs us not to send her, and worries that she will never be liked by her peers. Who snaps for little reason, has insomnia, and has continued to face learning obstacles that we have not been able to address because her mental health comes first before we think about reading intervention.

We now end the year with a kid that can go from being happy one moment to completely devasted the next.  Who yells so much, I sometimes forget what it sounds like to have a normal conversation with her.  Who asks for our protection and we know there is only so much we can do.  And yes, we have her seeing someone both in and out of school, but it does not seem to be enough.  Nothing seems to be enough.

While the rational part of me knows that there is not much more we could have done to protect her, I cannot help but feel like we did this somehow. Like we somehow failed to equip her with the tools she needed to survive this school year.  That perhaps if we had raised our voices sooner.  If we had yelled louder.  If we had seen the signs.  If we had taught her how to change her personality.  If we had not moved to our new house.  If we had not switched schools.  If only…

If only…

As parents, we pick up the pieces of our children every day.  We marvel at times over the miracles they are, over how they grow.  Over how they seemingly become this incredible person we always knew they would be.

But sometimes the pieces seem to no longer fit.  We wonder where this child came from and how we need to parent now.  We love, even when they yell.  We hug, even when they say they don’t need it.  And we keep telling them that they are beautiful.  That they are smart.  That they have worth.  Even when they don’t believe us because the words of other children now speak louder than whatever we could say.

This year, we count down the days until school’s out in this house, something we have never done. (17 days tomorrow).   We tell her just one more day, tell your teacher if you need to, look for a friend, hold your head up high.  And we hold our breath for the bus to bring her home, waiting to see what will be unleashed as she walks through our door.

I can’t help but think of how I somehow failed as a parent.  Failed to protect.  Failed to guard.  Failed to fix.  But perhaps it was never that simple?



24 thoughts on “What We Could Have Done, Perhaps”

  1. I am so sorry that you are all hurting. That the magic has not returned to your household. I sincerely hope that summer gives you all time to breathe and heal. Let their be friendship and kindness surrounding you all.

  2. I ache for you and her. I am trying to write a poem I must share aloud in front of an audience of writers and artists tomorrow and I am stuck. I am writing about a child who is lost in the world due to war. Somehow your daughter’s story is the same. A parent trying to protect. I am sure you must already do this but can you spend time reading to and with her in the summer? Gather the best books from the hive brain of your many great friends for her age. Silly books, meaningful books, books of struggle and courage, of difficulties and of happiness. I have a list in my mind. What I read to my third graders each year. I do think books heal And maybe some from my years of gr. 5. Books I know made a difference not really the newest, but still worth not forgetting. Kind of like saying, “look you are not alone”….it is tough out there but you can do it.Here’s my quick list: The Hundred Dresses, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, the M.J. Auch series starting with I was a Third Grade Science Experiment. and two more, The Lion in the Box by Margureite D’Angeli, Magical Melons and its prequel, all short stories of life on the prairie. I have more but have to find my old bibliography hiding somewhere in old files. Maybe she could handle Cynthia Voight’s Homecoming followed by Dicey’s Song and all the rest of the Tillerman Saga. Strong kids against terrible odds. Don’t’ quit, don’t give up, figure out how to make it and get the help you deserve. Maybe a summer with no mention of school. Do you know a nice retired teacher/friend? Someone who would homeschool her next year if that because a huge need? I wish I had the magic answer for your child. It breaks my heart for her. I taught gr. 3 for 13 years and never encountered this. I hope she outgrows it once away from whatever is triggering this. Maybe a new teacher and classroom will help. I have to believe the teachers know and understand and want to help. Could she help the teacher set up the classroom? Help plan new kid visits to the school? What would have helped her? Prayers for all of you, I know it is not easy. I hope you will let us know if things ease up and summer can be a time of healing. (There are more titles. I will find a couple of other favorites for you. I like to share the ones I know kids related to.)

  3. This makes me so sad for many reasons. But specifically, it brings back my daughter’s bout with bullying and how it affected her for many seasons. It also makes me sad that ANY school would allow this to continue or even start in a classroom.

    Keep doing what you are doing. Love, listen, care, and encourage her. I think with those ingredients and prayer she will make it.

    Interceding for your family.

  4. I am so sorry. This sounds like a horrible situation. I am sure that you have done everything in your power to help your daughter. Sadly, bullying seems to now be the norm. I will pray that your daughter has strength and resilience to go through this difficult journey. I will also pray for you so that as a family you can guide her in the best possible way. Together your family WILL get through this!

  5. No, you are correct. It is never that simple. My husband and I are also both teachers and we too have a daughter who experienced bullying in her high school that we were not aware of for far too long.

    As parents of a child who also struggles with mental health issues all I can say is that we have found it incredibly helpful to also seek help outside of school for my us to learn to cope with our new reality. Our daughter also has outside help, but with the severity of her case, her doctor thought it was also important for us to feel supported. To help us to cope with the child we love so much who is so changed from the girl we thought we knew. It has been incredibly helpful to have a professional, a therapist, help us to not feel so alone and also to give us some amazing insights and tips to help our daughter recognize and cope with her triggers. And believe in herself again. DBT therapy has also helped our daughter learn to cope with her intense emotions and learn to “bear pain skillfully” (increase her distress tolerance). It has helped us to validate her fears and feelings without trying to “fix” anything. It has also helped to give her skills to better relate to people in her new reality.

    It is a difficult journey, we try to embrace the times that are calm and peaceful and we hold on tight to one another during the minutes, days, weeks, months that have been a struggle. Two years in, and I can tell you that we now have more peaceful days than not. That wasn’t the case for a long, long time. We have learned that we also have to look after ourselves so we can be helpful and strong for our daughter. We try to stay in the moment and really enjoy the times that are joyful. Those moments seem to make the more difficult times easier to bear.

    We also surround ourselves with people who can support us in small ways so that we don’t feel alone. People that validate our feelings and listen without trying to “fix” things.

    Reaching out through your blog is another way of feeling less alone. Talking about what you’re going through is important for healing and coping. Feel free to reach out any time.

    Prayers to you and your family.

  6. So sorry for the pain & doubt that you and your family are feeling. As a teacher, I’ve work hard to meet the needs of all my students, and at times, completely missed the needs of my own children. You sound like you are doing a much better job – you are aware and giving her skills to work through her challenges with your love and strength. We want to take all their pain away, but they learn and grow through that pain. You are her safe place to cry & scream as she is finding her way. It may not make it any easier, but she will remember and be grateful for your unending support. Prayers for rest & joy this summer!

  7. Pernille, you are doing all you can for your daughter. So much more than so many other parents would know to do. I’m not suggesting that you back off of your concern or your actions, but I do want you to know that, as someone who was friendless and picked on long ago, often we come out on the other side stronger, more sure of ourselves and more willing to stand up for others. As a 7th grader, many years ago, I was that child. Last chosen for any team, walking through the halls with notes stuck to my back, the source of peer sniggers and derision. Before that year, I was happy and confident surrounded by my friends. During that year, I looked around and saw friends who were afraid to associate with me, and I lost my confidence and my smile. But I never told my parents 1/4 of it. I didn’t want to embarrass or hurt them. I went away to summer camp that year and found other friends. Within a year or two I began to cease to be “that kid” at school, and by high school, while never homecoming or prom queen, I certainly had friends and my tormentors had moved on to other pastures. To quote other survivors of other issues, “It gets better.” Please give your daughter as many days without ugliness as you can, but reassure her that she is strong and capable of getting through this, and that one day she will look back and be able to say that these hard times made her a better person. Best wishes for you and love and grace to your precious daughter. I’m sending you all a virtual hug.

  8. Today I saw it on the teacher side. Our class president is a nice girl. She was defeated in the election for next year’s officers. She walked into my class crying to say she had lost. I hugged her and kept my mouth shut for the anger I felt toward the other girls. The aura of her family name and a bit of a helicopter mom makes the other kids resent her despite her being smart and sweet and funny and kind. Her mom’s mad and the other kids and teachers are snickering at this kid. Wow! They showed her by defeating her in more ways than one. I don’t know what to do to help. I gave her a pep talk and told her all the things she can do instead. I don’t know why people do these thIngs to kids. I’m just sad.

  9. Tears are streaming down my face as I read your post. I am so sorry your daughter is dealing with all of this. Please know I am thinking of you and sending kindness and strength your way.

  10. As a mother of adult children, I want you to know she will survive and she will be stronger for it. You cannot see the future right now, but if you could, you would see a wonderful adult who practices empathy and kindness. She will find her way with your support. Keep the faith. Keep fighting. Keep loving.

  11. No words–just prayers for you and your beautiful family. We educators do all we can to prevent this and stop it when we see it happen, but reality is that most of this happens without the teachers even aware of what is going on. I feel heartsick for you because parenting is even harder than teaching. Love her through this is the only answer I have.

  12. Oh my, Pernille and Victoria, I have been there, too. I didn’t expect to begin this Thursday morning at my desk with tears, but here I am. My heart is with both of you, my family has been there/sometimes still is there, too. We are now seven years past the bullying discovery. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we still feel the effects. Our son, now nearing the end of college, is guarded but stronger; however the anxiety still appears from time to time. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Sadly there are many in our club.

    Pernille, thank you for this blog. I started teaching over 30 years ago, stopped to raise a family, subbed for ten years and now have my own permanent classroom again. It is an new world. Your blog is insightful and seems to hold just the messages I need to hear when I need to hear them. Thank you.

  13. Pernille, your story has awakened so many feelings this morning. There’s nothing more difficult than watching your child in pain and not being able to fix it. I’ve been there. But I was also your daughter. I was the bullied child. Because of the harassment, I experienced intense shame. So I hid the bullying, kept it a secret. It strikes me that your daughter’s anger (albeit hard to handle at times) is a far healthier response.

    Summer camp saved me. Summer friendships gave me a shield — a new-found confidence that eventually changed the school dynamics.

    Like many of us, I grew up with a desire to protect kids. I became a teacher, a camp counselor and a writer of children’s books about outsiders — books that build empathy and deal with issues of social justice. I wouldn’t want to revisit those bullying days, but I know that some of my best tools for life came from them.

    Thank you for all you do — for your courage, your honesty, your sharing. Hugs to you and your daughter.

  14. I’m so sorry this has happened to your daughter at such a young age. My daughter went through the same thing in 2nd grade and it is tough. A book that really helped me to help her was Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman. I hope that your summer is healing and rejuvenating for you both.

  15. As a parent, I’ve watched one of my children go through a very hard time this year as well. The situation is different, but the pain and desperation to make things better are the same. I feel for you! It’s so hard to watch our children suffer.

    I really have no place giving you advice but I will throw my two cents worth in for what it’s worth. Have you considered homeschooling your daughter? This would not have to be forever, but until she felt stronger and safer… Her mental health is most important. I get that you don’t want her to run away from her problems, but I don’t see this as running. I see it as protecting her, giving her what she needs to regain her sense of security and happiness, before then easing back into social settings and even school in time. There is nothing wrong with that – especially after what she’s been through. She needs time to rebuild her trust in humanity.

    This could help with her counseling as well. I know from personal experience, progress in counseling is hard to make when the patient is not in the right frame of mind. For example, with my child who is 18, I think that the counseling really started helping once his antidepressant started working. (Not implying your daughter needs an antidepressant.)

    It’s all so hard. I would just put Thea’s mental health as the top priority above all else at this point. Good luck!

  16. So sad for you and your family; being a parent is SO difficult and growing up is SO difficult. I hope the summer will bring healing, positive change, and clarity for the road ahead.

  17. Pernille, As I am reading your letter your pain became my pain again because I was bullied and my children went through it also.Even through living in a state with tough anti-bulling laws, the students still find times to say and do bullying whether they are in the halls, buses, playgrounds etc. Now it is much worse with cyber bullying. Is there something she is passionate about that she enjoys doing? Maybe a camp or weekend away with you might help. I would also find out who was the leader and make sure your daughter is not in any of classes with her again. If behavior has not changed after weeks of vacation, I would suggest getting help.

  18. You are a beautiful mother. Your daughter will let you know that. Every year, my hope is to help my students be kind and compassionate. Every year, kids are not always kind or compassionate. We continue to build a community, talk about it, work on it. It is my #1 hope and goal: to help my students see others for whom they are. Because of you, the books I read help us do that. I know you won’t give up and I know teachers will not give up continuing the tough work of encouraging acceptance of one another. I am confident your daughter will be ok, because of the mother you are. I hope her love of school will return. My thoughts are with you because I know the pain is so real.

  19. I read your post- the tears flowed and nothing could stop them because I’ve been where you are right now and I know your pain. I feel your pain and I’m so sorry to hear that you, and your entire family are going through such a horrible experience.

    There isn’t anything I can say that will make things better, and for that I’m truly sorry. You might not find comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone (or maybe you will) – you are NOT alone. Take care of yourself through this difficult time because your family needs you. Find things to be grateful for even when you think there aren’t any; your sanity depends on it. If therapy isn’t helping you might want to find a new therapist. We found, that while cognitive behavioral therapy didn’t fix all of our problems, it helped more than any other therapy we tried. You might have to try several different therapists or types of therapy before finding the right one for your daughter. I know it’s hard, but it’s worth it in the end.

    Just know this…… you are not alone.

  20. Meg
    So sorry for you and your family. I am certain that you are doing all that you can. Perhaps she can be put in a classroom next year that is safe from bullies. Summer is a good time for healing. Wishing you a calm, peaceful summer.

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