Sunday, 29 July 2007

Who needs enemies?

This won't be one of my ordinary posts. I apologise to readers if this seems boring, trivial or lacking in any humour but I need to get it out. Apologies also if the writing style has gone to pot. (anyone new to this blog - advise you skip it!)

I haven't been able to sleep for the past couple of days. Each morning I wake up, my head spinning, working and fretting endlessly, over the best way to resolve a problem which has haunted me most of this year. I know I'm stressed because my chest has gone tight and my breathing a bit laboured; I know I'm obsessed, because I can't stop mulling it over wherever I am and whoever I'm with. I just can't focus.

So I'm using the therapeutic power of my blog, to put the problem out there and maybe get some insight or idea as to what to do.

So here's the problem - deeeeep breath:

On and off all year, my daughter has been having difficulties at school with one particular child.
From my perspective, this child - call her Janet - has taken against mine (call her Chloe). Chloe and Janet used to be friends because I am friends with the other mother, but they never went to the same school. Last year they were starting seniors together and wanted to be in the same class. Within a month, Janet had started being a bit mean to Chloe, saying she was annoying, telling her to 'go away', criticising her.

Janet is popular and nice to most of the other girls in the class, but snide, critical and undermining to Chloe. She comments on her hair, the faces she pulls, tells her to 'be herself' and stop trying too hard, stop being overconfident, says Chloe cries too much, is too competitive. It goes on.

Chloe is a sensitive child, very self conscious but fun loving. Though she is naturally sociable and has made wonderful friends very easily in the past, she has found settling back into school friendships back in the UK difficult and she feels like an outsider. Chloe is very kind and compassionate, but is also emotional and on occasions can really 'lose control'. During that time she can say horrible things which she regrets later. However, she is a truthful child, she admits when she has done wrong and usually feels quite mortified about it.

It got to the stage when I thought I ought to have a word with the mother as she was a friend of mine. She came to my house with a pad and pencil and took notes on what I was saying. Intimidating to say the least. She suggested I start and I stated the case above.

Then it was her turn. Apparently, Chloe made a personal remark to Janet on several occasions about her appearance and that's why she didn't like her. 'My friend' then went on to list all the ways in which my child was irritating (i.e. tries too hard etc.). I thought this unnecessary. Over the years I have known them I have always thought that Janet is a strong personality, very good at manipulating people and deflecting blame, she is also very prone to playing the victim and I have caught her lying several times. I said none of this to my friend out of respect for her.

We agreed to tell the girls to stop backbiting.

When I got her from school, I tackled Chloe on the personal comment. She told me that Janet had actually said it to her first and when she retaliated with a kind of pot kettle black - you are too kind of thing, Janet took offence (people in glass houses). I have later found this to be a pattern with Janet, she will dish out an insult in a 'jokey' way, but if it's given back to her, she can't take it.

Still smarting at my friend's attack on my child I thought I would at least put Chloe's point of view across. So I sent an email. My mistake. 'Are you calling my child a liar? ' - type thing. I got a tirade of abusive stuff about my child back in the email - most of it completely distorted and manipulated. I withstood the urge to respond like for like again. Apologised for anything my child had done but said that some of the comments had not been fair. I never got an apology back and I felt Chloe had been completely convicted without a trial.

My friend went away for a week and things settled down for a bit. Under strict instructions from me, my daughter ignored most of the snipes from Janet, but then it all blew up again a couple of weeks ago. Chloe made two big mistakes. First, she put slightly sarky and catty (but not personal) comments on Janet's Bebo and second, she was in a bad mood and got wound up in PE; she made a gesture which looked like a kick to Janet. For days afterwards Janet put highly unkind and personal comments on Chloe's Bebo saying she was ugly, she smelled bad, she's weird etc. She tried to cover herself by writing LOL, smiley face or Love you! after them. When asked to stop by Chloe, she said she was paying Chloe back - but anyway - they were a joke. Yup, right.

To complicate matters Chloe's 'best friend' is very very close to Janet and also backbites about Chloe behind her back. Today, the best friend was taking Janet's side arguing that what Chloe wrote was worse than Janet because Janet put LOL on her comments. Chloe lost it with her friend, said she 'hated her and has now done more damage. So her friend comes back and says nobody likes Chloe because she's so mean.

Trying to push my natural bias aside, this is how I see it. Chloe has been the subject of low level bullying from Janet on a consistent basis. Janet has a lot of sway with the others in the class not only because she is extremely persuasive but also nice to them. The only time Chloe has felt really comfortable and able to relax, have fun and be herself at school is when Janet isn't there. Chloe gets on fine and has no problems with any of the other girls.

On the other hand, Chloe is by no means blameless at all. She has undoubtedly been mean on occasion, said tactless and unkind things, however, it is no worse than all of them do and certainly no worse than Janet. Usually with girls, there is a spat, mean things are said and then life goes on, but Janet is bearing a big grudge and she's making Chloe pay. From where I'm sitting, it's one rule for Janet - who seems to be allowed to say almost anything to Chloe - and another for Chloe who get's jumped on for any slip, gesture or word out of turn. It's an impossible situation for her I feel, because even when she's trying her hardest to do nothing wrong, Janet will misinterpret a comment or gesture and condemn her further, when other people are doing far worse. Janet is creating a bad reputation for Chloe by always pointing out what she does wrong.

For me it's a question of fairness. It just doesn't seem fair to me that Janet can be consistently unkind to Chloe and no-one says a word, but Chloe does the mildest thing and she's made to pay for it in spades. I think that someone needs to stick up for Chloe and her point of view, but how do I do this? and am I really being objective here? To be honest, I can't take another five years of this and neither can Chloe.

Do I:

Get together with the mother again - this time holding nothing back and state Chloe's case more persuasively so that she can actually look at what her daughter is doing?

Write the mother a letter?

Avoid the mother and go to the school and talk to them about it?

Back out of the whole thing and let Chloe deal with it? (dangerous with her record!)

Get Chloe moved to a different class, hoping that she will be happier and the same thing won't happen again?

Ask for Janet to be moved?

Get Chloe - or me to confront Janet one on one (don't really want to)?

Move Chloe to another school altogether?.

Find some way of helping Chloe to manage her anger and emotions (if so - what?)

What do any of you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill here? Am I getting all stewed up over nothing? If not what do you think I should do? Opinions gratefully received and all suggestions welcomed.


knicksgrl0917 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Around My Kitchen Table said...

I personally think it would be better if the parents stayed out of it. Could 'Chloe' ask 'Janet' out to a meal (wherever youngsters go in your area!) and, without getting cross, suggest they try to sort out their differences. Persuade Chloe to really listen to what Janet has to say, acknowledge her feelings (even if she doesn't agree with them) and then say sorry, not for anything said or done, but sorry that they haven't been friendly towards each other. This conciliatory attitude would hopefully make Janet more conciliatory and more willing to listen to what Chloe has to say. Even if they just agree to differ and agree to keep their distance and not wind each other up in future, it would be something.
If this doesn't work, maybe you should start being a bit more underhand. Get Chloe to invite girls, in ones or twos, over to your house and make sure they have a really good time. In this way she can start to rebuild her relationships and make some true friends. If Chloe is invited back, write a nice note of thanks to their mums - this way you'll get the other mothers on your side. Don't every knock Janet in public as this will get back to her. I personally don't think it helpful for you and Janet's mum to get involved with letters, phone calls, emails etc as it will only polarise the situation and the two girls will be further entrenched as they will feel they have to support their mothers' point of view.
I really hope it gets resolved soon as it must be horrible for Chloe. Good luck.

Mid-lifer said...

Thanks kitchen table. The voice of reason!

I know I should stay out of it, but the mother tigress takes over when it comes to your own child.

I'm helping Chloe to sort it out with her friend in the middle. As for Janet, I'm not sure either are up to a discussion (J has previously said she would only get angry and smash C in the face, when this was suggested before). We shall see!

Flowerpot said...

A really difficult one, mid-lifer. I don't have children but it seems to me that trying to sort things out with the mum hasn't worked. I agree with Table's suggestions, but if Janet isn't agreeable that isnt going to work either. Taking table's other commments - about inviting other children round and establishing a good relationship with them and getting C's confidence up sounds a good idea and something you could build on. What does their teacher(s) think about all this? Has he/she been involved? I really feel for you - it sounds a horrible situation. NO wonder youcan't sleep. Best of luck and keep us posted with progress.

Omega Mum said...

1. From experience, what works, if you can bear it is a lot of schmoozing. Yes, it's unfair; yes, Janet is an out and out bitch and probably always will be but tackling her won't help and she'll have a coterie of sycophants who'll back her up. Invite her round. Invite her mother round. Keep on going. It will happen again but what you want to do is avoid the bit where they're all going round in a gang together and all excluding one person - which you don't want to be Chloe. There will always be a victim. Just make sure it doesn't happen to be your child.

Option 2. Start Option 1 but also work out who neutral people in class are. Invite them round a lot. Schmooze their parents.

Option 3. Move schools, start again and get Chloe to practise biting back those front of mind comments.

Sound cynical? Yes, it is. Yes, it's iniquitous. It goes on in every school in every town in every county/country.

Omega Mum said...

PS. Bet you're glad you changed that photograph! Oh, and make sure your daughter doesn't start a blog, link to yours and then give out her blog address to someone in her school. Just a thought.

Mid-lifer said...

Yes, thanks Omega mum!

Don't think I'm quite ready to schmooze with said family - still feeling outraged by mother's complete dismissal of my point of view and lack of apology even after I had done so.

However - we are entertaining the other option already. Have asked C who the most stable person in the class is and whom she feels most comfortable with. Because of feelings of complete insecurity about anyone, she is reluctant to invite them round but I'm working on her, as I know it will make a difference. Have also thought of changing classes which would resolve a couple of problems (her rel with Janet and my rel with mother) but fear that her 'reputation' will still hover over her in the school, plus she'll be even more insecure starting again.

New school option would present a pain in the bum, because this one is so close, and right round corner from juniors where my son is.

Thanks too flowerpot - and cheers for the empathy. It's made such a difference.

Feel drained now, must get glass of wine to soothe.

Dee said...

I basically agree with Table, suggest they sort it out in an as friendly manner as possible, clean start, fresh page sort of thing. I'm not sure how old they are but I'm guessing early teens ?
Moving school/class is not an option in my opinion, simply because life doesn't work that way. You have all sorts of uncomfortable situations thrown at you and you can't just move jobs/town/county and you can't always just ignore the people that come your way in your life. It's tough learning these things at such a young age, childhood should not contain 'adult issues' if you ask me, but if there is a conflict like this one, I think it's best to deal with it hands on. A conciliatory attitude is a good approach, to either get it sorted, clear the air and off the table, or at least manage to agree to disagree and then leave each other in peace.

Then again, this may be all a load of crap, as I don't have kids and hence cannot possibly give anyone advice about theirs.

Best of luck!

belle said...

You've had some excellent advice, mid-lifer, and as a newbie to your blog I don't think I can suggest any better. I had a very similiar situation with my daughter recently. I did all the reasoned talking and trying to mediate stuff. It culminated in total meltdown and we now have no contact. Fortunately it's been possible for my daughter to completely avoid her old friend. Deeply unpleasant though and you have my sympathy.

The only other thing I could suggest is that you nuke the whole family! The satisfaction factor would more than make up for the fallout ;o)

belle said...

Sorry to leave another comment, mid-lifer. Just had to say, having read more of your blog, I am so with you in your crisis!!!!!! Change a few details and it reads like mine, right down to the need to blog to negotiate my own midlife meltdown! Hope it's ok, but I've added you to my blogroll.

Mid-lifer said...

Thanks Belle. I've found myself in a terrible rage about it all today - imagining what I might say to the mother (but feeling powerless because I know I can't) - my best fantasy is sending an email saying something like: your daughter is a manipulative lying +++ so and so and adding:(LOL!) at the end.

Glad to hear I'm not the only meltdowner. Will skip over to your blog when I have time.

Thanks Dee as well. It all helps to give me a bit of perspective. Have calmed down a bit now, have read all sorts of treatises on dealing with anger and assertiveness for kids, now we're at the stage when we're all joking about it. THANK GOD we have the summer holidays to get ourselves sorted.

Flowerpot said...

on a completely different topic, Mid-lifer, which journalism course did you do? I'm doing one at the moment which is excellent. How I ever got published without it is a mystery! Hope you are a bit less stressed now.

Mid-lifer said...

Flowerpot, it was London School of Journalism. To be honest, I gained more from a journalist's forum than I did from the course, but it did give me practice in writing and gave me a general idea.

For anyone interested, my daughter apologised for her ill-advised comments and asked for an apology back from Janet. Janet gave a sort of conditional apology, which will have to do. The best friend has come running back to Chloe and I'm very proud of her, because she has ultimately dealt with it very well.

To hand, I have a plan to go over possible comments/trigger situations and brainstorm responses with Chloe before school starts again - but maybe that's a little bit touchy-feely for me.

Flowerpot said...

glad there's been progress on the Chloe front - perhaps you can both enjoy the holidays now!

Motheratlarge said...

God, how awful. That would stress me out immensely. I'd love to say that turning the other cheek and schmoozing would sort this. But when I was picked on in P6 by a snooty girl called Arabella (says it all, no?) the only thing that persuaded her to leave me alone was me and some friends waiting until she was on her own then thumping her very hard.

Sorry. Not a viable course of action for your daughter, of course. I vote Lib Dem. I like to think of myself as peaceable. But none of us had any more trouble out of Arabella after that.

Years later I discovered her father, a lawyer, was in trouble at the time for embezzling clients' money. It's true what people say about bullies being victims too.

But given that I would hesitate to encourage anyone to use violence, I'd speak to the school. Have you read Wife in the North on bullying? She has several good posts on how she tackled it when her son was bullied.

Motheratlarge said...

Sorry, just read your latest comment. I'm so glad things have calmed down and you must have stopped dreading school for Chloe. Think that's a good and mature response. I remember being bullied like that at school.... it's horrrible.

Mid-lifer said...

Latest development is that Chloe has had an apology of sorts, Janet has told Chloe she is furious because best friend and another girl are angry with her over this. For the moment, the calm standing up for self tactic has paid off, as well as turning other cheek.

I'm sure it will all swing the other way again, girls are so fickle, but I'm glad C has come out of this OK for now. Thanks everyone for all of your advice.

debio said...

Oh mid-lifer, sorry to arrive late but have no advice to offer on this which would be helpful.

My daughter, too, has been bullied; we tried involving the teachers, telling her to stand up for herself. We never reasoned with the parents.

In the end my daughter told the bullies to f*** off which got her in to deep water with the school but did the trick with the bullies!

Some girls can be so horrible to one another - frightening thing is, they all grow up and then we have to deal with them in the big, wide world!

Mid-lifer said...

Janet is still at it!

Chloe has an assortment of strategies up her sleeve to take back to school and doesn't seem to mind about the loss of her best friend to all of this. However, when she gets back, I think I will be mentioning to the new tutor that there is a 'situation' between the two.