Our children watch and hear everything we as parents do and say. This is not a new concept. Experts have been citing this advice for decades.
Currently, I have been caught in quite the parenting conundrum. I am fighting a battle within myself. Inside of me I want to behave and react in one manner but I know how important it is for me to show my daughter the opposite.
People gossip. Well, after having 3 boys and then one girl - I can tell you that my experience is that men and boys gossip FAR FAR less than women. Sorry to be sexist about it, but that has been my experience thus far.
Don't get me wrong we have seen our fair share of bizarre behavior dealing with the boys and their sports teams - but none of those experiences match the level to which a female populated arena can stoop.
I grew up in a very rural area. So rural in fact that they closed schools when I was in 7th grade and organized a parade because the first McDonald's was built and opened. (No, I am not kidding about that.) We moved there when I was 6 1/2 years old. I learned as a young girl how quickly gossip spreads and how easily people believe the worst of someone they don't know and how much people like to jump on a bandwagon to bring another individual down. Someone they do not even know.
You see this happened to me when I was in elementary school. We had neighbors that moved in next door. We each lived on one acre lots. Essentially our homes were an acre or more apart.
Our family rescued a young dog - somewhere around a year. He was a small sheltie. Very sweet. Very playful and puppy like. The neighbor children next door would come over and play at my house with our dog on numerous occasions. They were not afraid or intimidated in the least. But apparently the parents did not like dogs as we would later learn.
One day our dog ran over into their yard when he saw the girls outside playing on their swing set. As he ran over, the mother came running out of the house - shouting at our dog. I watched her as she yelled "Get out of here!" "Go home!" She then tried to kick my dog. I stood there calling him to come home to me. I was so afraid. As he turned to look at me, she took off her shoe and threw it with great force at my dog. I remember when it hit him, how he yelped.
Now the entire time that this was going on, I was trying to call my dog to come back home but he was playful and frisky and not interested in being obedient. My mother hearing the struggle had come to help. But before she could help with the situation, she saw the neighbor's anger and reaction to our dog.
I remember my mother's shock that someone would react in such a angry way. My mother tried to reason with her. Assuring her that her reaction was unnecessary, my mother tried to diffuse the situation. She spoke calmly. She told her that our dog wouldn't hurt anyone. That her children played with him on numerous occasions at our house. She even apologized for the dog running out of our yard and into hers.
The woman began screaming at my mother while all of the children stood around. She called our dog ferocious and vicious. She threatened to call animal control. I remember she even said she'd poison him if he came over into her yard again. I watched horrified. As she continued to berate her, my mother grabbing our dog by the collar, turned to bring the dog to the house then uttered the words "Go to hell." We immediately retreated into the house. I had never heard my mother talk like that ever. I remember how upset she was. I remember how hard she had tried to reason with her. How nice she had tried to be. I remember her tears when we got inside.
It was evident that we would no longer have friendly relations with our neighbors. We worried about keeping the dog inside and keeping him confined to the yard. It would be a difficult task. My parents talked about getting rid of my dog. Fencing in an acre could be very costly.
A few short days later a fencing company arrived at the neighbor's home. They put up one strip of fencing on the property line between our homes. They did not fence in their entire yard. Just one strip between our homes...I remember as a kid thinking, "Skippy can just run around that..." But in the coming days we would learn that the strip of fence was not to keep our dog out - it was to make a statement that we were no longer friendly neighbors. The line had literally been drawn.
It did not take long before I was ostracized on the school bus. The story spread quickly up and down the street although my mother hadn't discussed it with anyone. The story that circulated was that my dog was vicious, attacked their children and then my mother cussed out her mother.
The story spread to the local Catholic church that our neighbors attended and shortly after it was in my elementary school. I was treated differently. The kids were mean. They chose sides. Then the parents actually started being nasty to me. I wasn't allowed to play with their kids. The small minds had completely clung to a false story and banded together against my family and did not care who they hurt.
People love gossip. They love to talk about someone else. And once they have chosen to believe something they will continue to do so - no matter what. Those people had never met my mother. They did not know anything more than the gossip they had heard. Yet how willing they were to believe. Furthermore, how cruel they would then be to a child. Adults punished me for a lie they chose to believe.
Now because I grew up having experienced that - I am more than aware of the damage that gossip does. I know what it is like to be the victim of it in a detrimental way. I am very sensitive to the issue.
At the present time, I find myself as the parent of a daughter and we are being gossiped about. For some time I have been aware that it could be happening. I have felt the vibe. Seen the looks. Watched the whispers. I know the signs well. My daughter has reported many things to me as well. Other adults who have witnessed the looks and whispers have come to warn me that my daughter was a target of this.
I have remained steadfast to ignore it for months. I have told my daughter to ignore it. I have openly acknowledged to her that these things are indeed happening but have counseled her to ignore them and turn the other cheek as I have been showing her through my own example.
But very recently many people have felt it was necessary to alert us to all of the gossip that they have heard about my daughter and myself. They have chosen to warn me of the people I should be wary of. People who I thought had been my friends. People who I already had an inkling about. People who I was disappointed to learn of.
I struggle with the concept of this - because the informers are essentially gossiping as well. I struggle with how to reply. I struggle with my inability to ignore it. I struggle with the fact that I am angry. I am hurt. I am furious. I remember how that felt. I have witnessed some of these unkindnesses with my own eyes when they were unaware of my presence. Yet, I have said nothing.
I find that at this particular stage in my life - I am not interested in "hashing it out". I am not interested in hearing the "truth", their "reasons" or their "side". I don't want to hear anymore words. I could care less about confrontations or discussions. I could care less about getting to the bottom of anything. I watched my mom try to come to some sort of positive understanding with our neighbor that day. But it wasn't going to happen.
Things have a way of escalating. My mother has always been disappointed that she spoke those final words and had let her emotions get the best of her. Sometimes the hurt is just too overwhelming to stuff down deep inside.
Children like to believe that their parents have power and control over worldly situations. Those timeless words, "I'm going to tell my Mom on you" will ring out time again. Why? Because children see parents as the justice in their lives.
Children look for their parents to be like superhero's that can right the wrongs of the world. And as parents we want to. We want to rush in and save our child from all of the hurtful things that might swirl about them.
As a child, I always wondered why my mother didn't try to set the record straight. Why she chose to live her life quietly and not engage in the banter. She minded her own business and took care of her family and avoided engaging with those people. She never came out to defend herself or fight the battle. I really wanted her to come out swinging - tell her story - set them all straight. Let them know the truth. Show them all how ashamed they should be of themselves. I wanted justice.
But now as a mother I understand exactly what she was doing all of those years and I understand why she did it.
You reach a point that you know you aren't going to change anybody's mind. People are going to think of you what they want to think of you. There was nothing that she could say or do that would change anything.
There are many things that happen that parents cannot change. No matter how badly we want to or how passionately we feel about it.
Gossip is one of those things in life. People are going to talk about other people. I cannot control that. I cannot demand that they stop. But I can control how I react to it.
I began looking for some encouraging ways to personally deal with the hurt of gossip. I knew I needed to heal my past wounds to be able to deal with today's.
I came across numerous stories and quotes.
Some reminded me that gossip has been around since the beginning of time and it will continue until the end of time.
"Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down." ~Bible
"A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." ~Bible
"A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much." ~ Bible
"With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous escape... A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." ~Bible
"The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts." ~Bible
The reminder that gossip has been around since the beginning of time has been a comfort in some ways.
Once I could put the past to rest, I knew what I needed to address. I needed to address how I would behave and react. My daughter is watching and it will possibly dictate how she responds to it in the future herself.
I've decided I won't engage in the battle. I don't need to defend myself or her. I don't need to explain anything to anyone. I don't need to confront or question.
Because I simply cannot change their opinions or stories. And I'm not interested in giving that behavior any more of my energy.
When my daughter and I first learned that people were behaving this way I was beyond hurt. My daughter, knowing me well, asked "You are really sad aren't you, Mom?"
I told her I was more upset for her than for me. Upset that adults could be so unkind to a child and because I remembered how it felt to be that child.
But she said, "Mom, I really don't care what people say about me. So neither should you."
That is when I realized I needed to be more objective and less emotional in my parenting.
That is when I also remembered that part of parenting is learning from your child. They aren't always like us - thank goodness.
I continued to read. Looking for some wise words that I could cling to while coping with this. Because that is what I do. I search for words. Words that I can keep close to my heart. Whisper under my breath. Recite in my head. Until the emotions have been calmed.
I thought about words with a little levity.
Then it came to me.
My mother's father, my grandfather.
He had a saying...
Sometimes in jest.
But always true.
"You can't argue with ignorance." ~ My Granddaddy