Imagine you're bullied as a kid. When you grow up, it turns out you and your bully have kids at the same school. So you teach your kids to ostracize her kids, and turn all the other parents against her. Sounds like a revenge fantasy, but according to one woman, it actually happened.
Here's the letter a repentant ex-bully sent to Slate's Dear Prudence:
Q. Revenge of the Geek?: I enrolled my two boys into an exclusive private school in our new hometown. At a school event I bumped into an attractive woman whom I didn't recognize. She came by and asked if I remember her. It turns out that she was someone I bullied in high school. After that day I noticed other moms slowly avoiding me. I think she must have told them about how I used to bully her. Eventually my boys started coming home, crying and upset that other kids wouldn't play with them. My younger son was not allowed to join a game of hockey during recess because another boy told him, "My mom says your mom is a b***h." They are now openly being ridiculed and ostracized at school by their peers. I asked to meet my former classmate and apologized for bullying her as I was young and stupid, although I don't much remember what I did. She smiled at me in a creepy way and said she went through therapy for what I put her through. I haven't told my husband about this woman because I'm a little ashamed at how I used to treat her. Putting my boys into another school is not a feasible option, but I just don't know what to do.
Prudence counsels her to talk to school administrators, hope things get better, and if necessary, send her kids to a different school. However, not everybody is satisfied with this response. Says another letter-writer,
What this woman is doing to your kids is inexcusable. She should never use her and your children in that way. As a former bully victim, though, I look at your interactions with this mother and I don't see sincerity or a true apology. You still call her a "geek" in your topic line. You rationalize by saying "although I don't much remember what I did." You should approach her sincerely and be actually remorseful. Of course protecting your kids is priority number one, but as it stands between you and your bullied victim, I am not reading real remorse, and it seems that she may not be reading it either. Being sincere and acknowledging the pain you inflicted, instead of dismissing it as being "young and stupid," may go a long way. Of course, if this woman has deep psychological damage (and it seems that way by the way she bullying you now), it may not help, and you may need to look for alternatives for your sons.
The bullying victim who gets revenge is a common trope in movies (think Carrie), but filmic depictions rarely traverse generations — and punishing the sons for the sins of the mother feels pretty disturbing. The victim does seem like she needs more therapy than she's gotten, and an unsatisfying apology on the part of the ex-bully doesn't justify the continued mistreatment of her kids. The letter does raise a question about the parents of bullies, though: do they sometimes enable or defend their kids' bad behavior as a way of dealing with their own demons? The former bully might benefit from looking back at her actions with a more self-critical eye — but she might also ask herself what her parents were doing at the time. Maybe the cycle of bullying is even longer than it seems.
The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl [Slate]