I know what it's like to be the mother of a 'bully'

Posted July 26

I was watching my youngest two boys play at the Carrot Patch toddler land in Kidopolis at Thanksgiving Point’s Museum of Natural Curiosity, when suddenly the man sitting next to me bolted off the parent observation bench.

“Whoa, hey!” he yelled. I looked up to see a little girl and boy, who looked to me to be brother and sister, fighting rather aggressively over some stuffed beets.

“That is not OK,” he said firmly, grabbing his daughter and pulling her close to him protectively. The little boy stared up at the man and took a quick, shallow breath before bursting into tears.

“Honey,” I heard another, softer voice coming from behind. A woman, perhaps this man’s wife, gave him a look and gently reprimanded him for his sharp approach.

“I know. I overreacted,” the man said, lowering his tone. “I shouldn’t have been so harsh. But Protective Dad Mode switched on, and I couldn’t stop myself.”

Suddenly it became clear that the little girl was not related to the boy who was clawing at her. Somewhat sheepishly, the man walked over to another woman who appeared on the bench with a worried look on her face, reaching out for her young boy, who was still hysterical.

“I’m sorry I got upset with your son,” the man said, explaining what had happened. After several unsuccessful attempts at calming the boy down, the woman pried him from her arms and guided him, plus a baby in the stroller, away from the Carrot Patch of contention.

"Wow," I thought. "That was nice of that man to apologize, even though he was probably justified in his reaction. After all, that kid was attacking his daughter!"

The man resumed his position beside me on the bench. Two minutes later, he saw his daughter attempt to steal a wheelbarrow from another kid.

“No, no!” the dad yelled again. “Don’t be a bully! Remember, just like that boy was being a bully to you, we don’t want to do the same thing and be a bully to other people.”

My heart dropped. My thoughts instantly went to that mom — that sweet, worried mom who left with her scared little boy, who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old — and suddenly I wanted to run and go find her. I wanted to throw my arms around her and tell her that her tiny child was not a bully. He doesn’t even have that ability or understanding yet. Even though he was frustrated and upset because he wanted the same toy that little girl had, and even though he took his anger out the wrong way, he was not a bully.

I know what it’s like to be that mom. The one who is always worried about her kid — not because of what someone else could do, but because of what my kid could do. I know what it feels like to have people raise their voices at my children and to feel terrible for not being the kind of mother they, or I, think I should be.

“Just so you know,” I hear occasionally, usually accompanied by a grimace and scrunched-nosed smile, “your son said/did this.”

And I so badly want to say, “Just so you know, my husband and I have spent hours on our knees praying for this boy. Just so you know, we have had countless talks, family home evening lessons, time-out discussions and one-on-one time to try to teach him the power of love and kindness. I have read almost every parenting book I can get my hands on. I’ve tried every parenting technique. I have been attached. I have been loving and logical. I have been authoritative. I have tried to work magic with 1-2-3 and star charts. I have tried silence. I have tried spanking. I have exhausted all my options, and I’m not giving up, but just so you know, I am trying.”

I have had other women, women who I want to be more like, who have chased me down, followed me out to my car and told me, “Listen. Just so you know, you are doing a great job.”

Those heartfelt comments have made a huge impact on my life and left imprints of love on my heart. Those are the comments that give me strength to keep going, keep loving and keep trying.

I am not saying it’s not important to address serious issues with our children and to correct inappropriate behavior. It’s crucial. But please, from someone who has had her heart broken because of the judgment that has sometimes been placed on her boys, who are everything to her, please, let’s all try to be a little more loving and a little more forgiving.

And just so you know, I have seen significant changes in my sons over the past few months by doing just that.

Try. Love. Forgive. Repeat.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News. Her email is


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all