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The Society That Cried Bully

Were you bullied as a kid? Before you answer, stop and really think about it and then consider how your kids will answer the same question thirty years from now.

The word is being thrown around a lot lately and in the process its definition is becoming diluted, which personally I think is an insult to those kids who are truly being tortured to the point of suicide. It’s also a danger to our own kids who are being taught to label those around them as bullies when in fact they may be nothing
more than an ignorant kid who simply called your child a poopy head.

I myself was teased as a youngster. I was the short kid in school. At one point I strongly considered legally changing my name to Half-Pint. Kidding aside, it had a profound affect on me. It wasn’t just kids calling me names and labeling me, it was teachers, parents, coaches, friends, family, you name it. They all had their
shutterstock_87771445“affectionate” little names for me and were always quick to point out that I was too little to do things. My self image throughout life was that of being small and scrawny. Even after I’d become an adult and, for the most part, caught up, I still considered myself puny.

Would I consider it bullying? No. Teasing maybe, but not bullying. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I react to it? Certainly. I remember one day getting so angry I actually found myself shoving the tallest kid in the class into the chalkboard and punching him. But that was pretty much the extent of it. It led to a trip to the principle’s office for both of us and a lesson on choosing how we react to people.

Then I discovered Ernie DiGregorio, a point guard for the Buffalo Braves of the NBA. Listed as 6′ 0″, he was closer to 5′ 10″ and seemed dwarfed by the other players on the court. Yet he held his own. He had poise and exuded inner strength. I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet and he was my idol. To a kid like me, he represented that the size of my body didn’t matter as much as the size of my heart. He gave me a positive to grab hold on to and carry with me.

I still hated being short and looking back can see how the names, always being at the head of the line in school, the names, having short sisters who were bigger than me, the names, and frankly just being short, all had a profound affect on my self image; both as a child and as an adult. Still I wouldn’t consider it bullying.
Would it have helped if people would have been a little more sensitive? Sure, but the question is at what point does teasing become bullying or something more criminal? And do we at times put too much of the responsibility on the teaser, and not enough on the teased?

WHAT? Blame the teased? No, I’m not suggesting we blame the teased. But I do believe we are on a path of making everyone out to be a victim, which is dangerous. Yes, it is without question important to teach our children (and adults for that matter) to be sensitive to those around us. To be compassionate, supportive and understanding. To lift each other up rather than knock them down. But we also need to be giving our kids the tools to deal with jerks. To recognize that they exist and how to look past them and keep moving forward. To learn the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who appreciate us and ignore the noise emitted by those who would put us down in an effort to build themselves up. To understand why people are mean and learn how to blow it off.

The reality is, no matter what we do as a society, there are going to be assholes. Hell, as a dear friend and mentor once taught me, on any given day we have the potential to be that asshole. There are going to be jealous, insecure idiots who will do whatever they can to push down the strong willed and those different than images-6them. When they attack we need to know how to handle it and brush it off. To recognize that typically these people need bigger hugs than we do and buying into their ignorance is giving them too much credit.

That takes practice and it takes a support system teaching us that the actions of the mean are irrelavent and nothing more than a cry for help from someone much weaker than ourselves. They are actually a sign that the potential strength they see in us is a threat, one they don’t know how to deal with so they choose to spew hatred. I honestly believe bullying has more to do with fear than it does hatred. We fear those who pose a threat and tend to become defensive. Some take it to extremes with relentless taunts, facebook posts, threats, verbal torture and worse.

My point to this post is simple. I’m concerned that too much focus is on teaching kids not to bully and not enough on giving kids the tools to deal with being bullied. As much as we need to let kids know how important it is to accept each other and respect each other for our differences, we also need to teach our kids the value of having a tough skin. To learn to deal with adversity and defeat. To pick themselves back up when they fail or someone hurts them. This doesn’t mean giving everyone a trophy to build up their self esteem. Quite the contrary. It means recognizing those teaching opportunities. The strikeout, the D-, not making the team, being called fat or skinny; singled out because of race or sexual orientation or for wearing the wrong shirt to school. These are all precursors to the struggles that await them as adults. Their childhood is a pre-season of sorts. And it’s our job to coach them through it to prepare for the big game. From pre-school to middle school to high school, each instance is a chance to learn how to deal with struggles and find the inner strength to over come them. (Please don’t wait until high school to start.)

YES! We need to help kids understand the impact of their teasing, and bullying. But there are always going to be those who bully because they already KNOW the affects of their actions. It’s why they do it! They want to inflict pain. They want to knock you down. That’s their goal. The more you point out to them that their actions hurt, the more you’re going to encourage them because they WANT to hurt.

My hope is that we as a society not only teach our youth the power of their words and actions, but that we also strive to raise a generation of emotionally strong, self confident young people who recognize that people who hate are afraid. Afraid of your strength. That sometimes the only way they know how to build themselves up is to take you down a notch. We need to raise a generation of kids who know how amazing they are to the point that even the harshest attacks will leave nothing more than a scratch. When I shoved the kid into the chalk board, we were BOTH sent to the principle’s office. I was told that while the other kid’s actions were unacceptable, how I responded to them was as bad if 314239679x356not worse. That violence isn’t the answer. When I got back to the classroom my teacher told me the same thing and told me that I was “bigger” than that. And she was right.

Your kids are going to be told throughout their lives that they aren’t good enough, that their thoughts are wrong and will feel at times like they don’t belong. They’re not going to gel with everyone they meet. We need to teach them that just because someone thinks they can’t sing doesn’t mean they should stop singing. In fact, we should teach them to sing louder so that more people hear them. Because I promise you, there is someone out there who will think they sing like an angel. Teach them to just walk past the ones who don’t and keep looking for those that do.

So what can we do? For starters let kids know they’re not alone. Show them that they have someone else they can talk to who may be going through the same thing. The Our Place Network is a great example. Young kids talking to young kids, monitored by an adult. There’s even a weekly podcast that goes along with it where kids can call in with questions or stories and get input from other kids their age as well as non-judging adults.

Yes, teach your kids to be sensitive. Yes, coach them to be supportive when someone stumbles. But at the same time educate them to know how to pick themselves back up when they themselves stumble and there isn’t anyone around to help them. Because it will happen. They will be picked on, they will be teased, they may even be bullied and feel like the world is against them. Give them the tools and the inner strength to battle through those moments, brush themselves off and be there to help the next guy.

 

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Aside

So, how’re you holding up? Keeping it all together?

Sometimes I have a difficult time coming up with a topic to write about. Today is one of those days. And yet I feel compelled to write to you and encourage you to keep moving forward; to keep the faith and to fight throughhow_you_doin whatever negativity you might be dealing with. Some days we simply need someone to tell us we’re amazing. That what we’re doing is epic. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear someone say, “I don’t know how you do it.”

Just the fact that you’re there for your kids is something to be both proud of and thankful for. Some dads leave a divorce and put it all behind them, including their kids. I wish there was something I could say to those dads, but chances are those dads probably aren’t reading this blog. I feel bad for those fathers because they’re really missing out on one of the most amazing experiences life has to offer. Keep in mind I’m not talking about dads who want to be there, but have limited access to the kids due to the courts. I’m talking about the dads who just don’t care. Because they would if they knew what they were missing.

But it’s not easy and it doesn’t come without an effort as you well know. It doesn’t come without battles, compromises and standing up for yourself AND your kids. There is a reason why you get up every morning, idadjpg-85702c75c414f9a9make school lunches, stay up late washing a special pair of jeans your daughter wants to wear to school in the morning, coach a soccer team or teach your kid how to make the perfect pancake. There’s a reason you stop what you’re doing when you tuck your kids in at night to spend 30 minutes talking to them about their day. It’s because once you see your kids smile due to your efforts it becomes infectious. When you sense the impact you’re having on your kids you become astutely aware of your true purpose.

It doesn’t happen right off the bat necessarily. And I think that’s where some dads struggle. You can’t just wake up one day and expect your twelve year old kid to be your best pal. It takes time for both you and your kids to find your groove and to respect each other. It takes time to accept certain aspects of being a dad and get comfortable with others. And even when you do, there are going to be days when you struggle to keep the focus where it needs to be. Because along with your kids, there are a thousand other people pulling at you, needing you, expecting things from you. You get lost in a project, or invariably everything lands on the same day between 10 am and noon. That’s when the school calls to let you know your daughter has a temperature. Or your ex texts you to see if there’s any chance you can best_job_ive_ever_had_being_a_dad_mousepad-p144662381049604604eng3t_400meet the kids at the bus stop today because of an emergency.

It’s a balance that takes time to master and even then it’s not always easy when you’re getting it from all sides. So I’m here to tell you you’re doing great. You’re a great dad and your kids need you, typically when they seem to need you the least. But they need you because of the amazing things you bring to their lives. They need you because you’re the only dad they have and over time they’ve learned to appreciate everything you do, even when they tell you you’re the worst dad ever because you made them turn off an inappropriate program or made them clean their room or turn off the computer. They need the boundaries you set, the hugs you offer, the reassurances you give them that they’re awesome and not a freak like so many of their school mates make them feel like sometimes.

They need you dad and they need you because you’ve set the bar. And now that you’ve set it to not maintain it would be letting them down. And the fact that you’ve set the bar is the strongest indication that you’re doing a great job.

How YOU Doin’?

 

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One Year Anniversary!

One year ago today I posted my first blog entry for Life as a Divorced Dad. Not exactly sure what it was that caused me to take that first step. Honestly, I think deep down inside I knew I couldn’t make it through my
divorce on my own. When my wife and I went our separate ways I knew I had to change some things, the most important of which was my tendency to keep the world out. And so I started to take steps to invite people in. Life as a Divorced Dad was just one way of doing that. In doing so I began to learn more about myself and became less intimidated by the world and the divorce that had shattered so many truths about my world that I’d grown to trust. It’s been such an amazing experience, one that’s introduced me to so many amazing people and it feels like I’m just getting started.

Regardless of what got the ball rolling, the fact that it’s still going and growing is, to me, the most remarkable thing. It was through this blog that I learned perhaps the most important thing about going through a divorce. That you shouldn’t even consider going through it alone. The most important thing is to allow your friends, family and others going through the same thing to take the journey with you and be there to support you. Divorce will cause you to question everything about your being. It will shake even the strongest foundations. But sometimes all it takes is reading about someone else who is going through the same struggles to know that you can make it. To know there’s someone else who understands your state of mind and can reassure you that even the darkest days will pass, is crucial to your mental well being and moving on with your life.

As LAADD enters its second year, my personal goal is to expand readership and continue to promote the positives. Divorce is full of negatives no doubt. But maintaining a focus on your kids, yourself and putting all of the pain, hurt and negativity behind you will help you grow as an individual and find new levels of contentment and happiness. It will strengthen your relationship with your kids, your friends, your family and yes, even your ex. Recognizing that the world you left behind was one that was draining you of your self worth and well being is in and of itself a positive step forward. Learning to get past it, learn from it and move forward is a journey. We’re not alone and together we can help each other grow and find new unimagined levels of happiness.

Thank you for following and I hope if you’ve found value in LAADD that you’ll pass it on and invite others to come along with us. It may not always feel like it, but peace is right around the corner.

 

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Oh CRAP!

Life is like house training a dog. Just when you start to get comfortable with the situation and are convinced your hard work has paid off, you find an undetected new pile of crap you have to deal with. The trick is learning how to deal with that revelation as it means you’re not quite as far along as you thought and still have some work to do.

I had reached a point where I was getting pretty good at accepting those little set backs. Then a few weeks ago I noticed myself slipping back into my old habits of letting the little piles irritate, well, the crap out of me. I was getting edgy again and found myself feeling overwhelmed and having a difficult time getting out of my funk. I was getting mad over stupid things like my football team losing, not finding my keys, and yes, our new dog taking a dump in my office. I was also getting irritated with my ex over things that really weren’t relevant or that important.

Early on, when I first started this blog, I wrote about being aware and how that’s the first step toward reaching new levels of peace and personal growth. I still believe that and put myself in time out one evening to think about what was going on and why I was so irritable. So I sat back and tried to assess the changes that had taken place and recognized that although I’d made tremendous strides the past several months regaining control of my life; I had ignored some fundamental truths about myself that needed to be readdressed. Biggest one on the list?; I had stopped running and getting exercise. I’ve written multiple times about the importance of giving yourself that hour and the difference sweating and physically pushing yourself can have on your mental state. Yet, somehow I’d managed to ignore my own advice and had allowed a busy schedule to get in the way of maintaining that balance I’d come to rely on.

The other thing I’d manage to do is forget to being ok with saying “no” once in a while. I was putting pressure on myself to make everyone happy and it was taking its toll. Especially since professionally I was increasingly busy, which was a good thing. The problem was, I was also trying to be the perfect dad, friend, neighbor, blogger, brother, son, dog owner etc. And in doing so, I not only ignored my own needs, but I also overextended myself which inevitably led to far too many situations where I felt like I was constantly catching up. And as you well know, when you spend an entire week or even month continually five to ten minutes behind, ultimately you’re going to get warn out both physically and mentally. It honestly felt like there was no time to sit, no time to breathe and no time to recharge and though I consider myself an extrovert, my inner introvert was failing fast. I was ignoring a fundamental truth; we ALL need a chance to recharge.

The problem with all of this is that by trying to be all things to all people, no one gets what they need. And that only leads to more rushing and anxiety as you feel even more overwhelmed and guilt ridden. And of course, being a guy, the last thing I was going to do was ask for help.

So I stopped. I knew I wasn’t being myself and the person I’d worked so hard to grow into. Life kind of helped as baseball / softball season ended which freed up no fewer than 4-5 nights a week. I also asked my ex for some help with the kids so I could focus on some extra projects that had come in. I made a point of forcing myself to go to bed at a decent hour. And I started running again. Even if it was only two miles on the treadmill, I was giving myself a chance to clear my head again. Within 48 hours I noticed a difference. I became more focused in whatever I was doing. I regained my composure and felt less panicked. I started finding myself on time, on target and on task.

The funny thing is, I actually have more on my plate now than I did even two weeks ago. And yet, I don’t feel nearly as far behind on things. Sometimes it’s just our perspective. I honestly believe that rest and exercise can really be under appreciated. Working out helped clear my head and helped me sleep better and sleeping better had a profound affect on my mood and ability handle the heavy load. Just stopping periodically gave me a sense of control. Especially when I realized the sky wasn’t going to fall, the sun was still going to rise and people would find a way to continue without me from time to time.

The reality is, you’re constantly going to find surprise loads of crap from time to time. It’s jut how it is. The world is constantly going to drop little turds when you least expect it and what matters is how you decide to handle life’s little presents. You can either allow them to irritate the bejesus out of you or you can scoop em’ up, toss em, light a candle (or incense) and move on with your life. It’s really up to you. The point is to be aware when those little things are causing you to sweat and give yourself a chance to regroup.

Oh, the dog is doing much better by the way. Like me, she’s adjusting and learning. She’s also a great running partner.

 

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I’m HANGRY!

We’ve all had moments when for some reason our kid(s) just seem possessed and unreachable. It can happen at some of the most inopportune times and leave us scratching our heads for an answer. And of course at times it can push US off the deep end as well.

Now, for some of you this may seem like a no brainer. But for others who may have been thrust into single parenthood, especially dads who up until know relied on “mom” to handle meals, this may be a helpful piece of knowledge to keep in your back pocket.

When my ex-wife and I were still together, we noticed a definitive pattern with our kids when it came to their demeanor. It would happen just about every day around 4 p.m. and would become known within our family as the witching hour. An edginess would creep into the household and little tempers would flare. The kids would get antsy, edgy and at times unmanageable.

Over time we recognized a pattern. A hungry child equalled a kid who quickly lost control of all faculties. You could bank on it. It wasn’t just a minor edginess either, it would be a complete lack of ability to control emotions and actions. With three of them it could cause a complete train wreck. And then of course it hit me. These were the offspring of a man who gets incredibly ornery if he doesn’t eat; a phrase a friend of mine recently referred to as “hangry.”

As an example, twice this past week I noticed one of my kids becoming inconsolable and incredulously uncooperative. One of these moments occurred on a day when dinner was missed due to an early softball game. My youngest started to lose the ability to reason and was growing increasingly whiney and loud. No words, timeouts, or threats of consequences were having any affect. I then noticed myself growing increasingly annoyed and frustrated as well, which was what typically happened before this cause and affect was recognized. But now, recognizing that it was 6:00 and that the kid had missed snack time after school, I stopped dead in my tracks and made a run to Sonic. Within five minutes (literally) of getting food on the kid’s stomach he became a completely different kid. I’m not kidding. It was that immediate and was like watching Jekyll and Hyde. You could literally see the transformation before your eyes.

The beauty of this knowledge is that it accomplishes two things. One, it immediately allows you to put down your own defenses because you’re able to recognize there’s a direct cause of the activity. The second is, you can quickly fix the issue and even prepare ahead of time.

At the same time, pointing out to them the difference and teaching them to recognize that they may need sustenance empowers them to help manage their own mood swings. How liberating it will be once they can recognize how they’re acting and realize they may need to eat something.

So now, pockets and glove compartments have cereal bars and snacks in them. Cucumbers, cheese and crackers await the kids when they get off the school bus. And of course, whenever possible, ensuring meals take place when they should is an essential; even when we’re in a rush in the morning. That’s kind of a “duh” I know, but we all know how easy it is to skip dinner when there’s a 5:00 baseball game or we need to be in four places at the same time on a Saturday.

Now obviously, hunger isn’t always the answer. It could be an earache, something that happened at school that day, or they could just be in a mode. Or maybe, for some reason, today they’re simply struggling with something; perhaps even the divorce. The point to all of this is to consider the source of their actions and not necessarily throw your arms up in the air and assume they’re being brats just for the sake of being a brat. Typically there’s an underlying reason for their actions and our jobs as parents is to find the strength to control our own reactions while we attempt to get to the root of our child’s.

It’s funny isn’t it? How often we take for granted the things we’ve learned about ourselves over the years and yet expect our kids to know and understand their own emotions from day one. Sometimes in the heat of the tantrum it just helps to stop for a moment and recognize your kid is obviously hurting on some level, either emotionally or physically, and needs some guidance more than a stern voice. Easier said than done, but as hard as it can be, sometimes the best thing we can do is stop, listen and be the reasoning voice for both of parties; especially when you’re both a little “hangry.”

 

 

 

 

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