Dealing With
The PTA Bully

How should you handle a bully mom in your child's school or community? My kids' schools like to declare that they have "zero tolerance" for bullying. It is something that we, as a community applaud and support. While bullying in the classroom and on the playground has not been eliminated, it does seem to be in appropriate check, and issues are addressed promptly and consistently. I find it interesting, however, that there is just as much bullying among the moms as there ever was on the playground.

Fighting Moms

From snide asides to their friends and outright ridicule to undermining authority and adherence to a subjective social order, the moms can be cutthroat. All in the name of their children, of course. But don't let the "mother bear" label fool anyone. They are bullies, plain and simple. As our country has become more aware of the effects of bullying on our kids, we are also becoming more aware of bullying in the workplace and among neighbors. I don't think, however, that bullying among moms on the volunteer parent groups is on many people's radar just yet. It should be.

What makes a mom a bully?

There seems to be an assumption that since moms are often the ones working with the kids to combat childhood bullying, they must be immune from the problem. Not at all. We may call it adult cliques, or even put it off to the social structure of the town, but what makes a bully is the same in every place and every age. One website lists bullying as "persistent unwelcome behavior, mostly using unwarranted or invalid criticism, nit-picking, fault-finding, also exclusion, isolation, being singled out and treated differently, being shouted at, humiliated, excessive monitoring, having verbal and written warnings imposed, and much more." How often has that happened in your community. Heck, in your playgroup?

Think about just any recent issue of any significant discussion in your community. Did any of the following occur?

  • A mom tried to make another feel uncomfortable about their position on the issue, or called names, or spread a rumor, and did it more than once?
  • A mom was so determined for the outcome to be as they wanted it that they were willing to do just about anything to anyone to get it?
  • A mom seemed to derive satisfaction or power from these behaviors.
  • A mom tried to rally others to this behavior.

All that is bullying behavior. In a social/community organization situation, it not only is unhealthy for the persons directly involved, but it impedes the goals of and participation in the organization. Who would want to be a part of the parent group if that is going on?

What are some of the results of such bullying?

One very big result of this kind of behavior that I see in my community is lack of participation. People just don't want to get involved when that is going on - then they get called apathetic because of it. (Great cycle!) We are really losing out on some great ideas and great minds by tolerating bullying behaviors from a select few. Our whole community loses. That, however, is just the simple results.

Other results of bullying are just as they are for kids. Those being bullied can experience loss of self-esteem, non-acceptance, fear, anxiety, even depression. We may not see it as readily as we do with kids (moms I know are much more adept at hiding issues than when we were kids), but it's still there.

As parents, it's our job to model appropriate behaviors. If we don't recognize and stand up to bullying, how can we expect our kids to do the same? Accepting bullying of this or any kind reinforces the status quo - and the negative cycle.

What can you do?

First of all, look at yourself in the mirror and ask the honest question, "Do I engage in any of these behaviors?" If the answer is yes, or even maybe, resolve to stop and take whatever steps you need to display respect for those around you. If you need to apologize, do so. I admit that I've made some mistakes in this area, and it's a hard realization.

Then you need to make the decision about whether you want to be the one to speak up. Whether you do or do not is wholly up to you. Some moms feel empowered to affect change in these situations, some don't. If you do:

  • Call it what it is:
    You won't be popular, but bullying issues need to be addressed at all levels, for the health of the whole community.
  • Be prepared for backlash:
    The bullying behaviors you are trying to squelch may become more intense at first in response. No one likes having their less than stellar behaviors called out; they can get defensive.
  • Don't stoop to their level:
    Engaging in some of the same negative behaviors can feel like the easy thing to do, especially when the bullying behaviors are directed at you. It's not, however, the right thing to do.
  • Look for and accept support where you can:
    I bet that if you bring it up, someone will quietly contact you in support. Maybe more than one, and maybe that small group can be the genesis of change going forward.
  • Work for a solution:
    Try, if at all possible, to focus on the end result, the desired positive outcome. Ask for more discourse on the topic, again and again if you have to. Ask for the training materials that are used with the kids to be used in your group.

No matter your best efforts, you may not be able to solve the problem. This is disappointing, and everyone needs to decide for themselves how much they can give to a particular effort. I think, though, that it's most important to raise the issue. Your community will benefit in the long run.

Tell us: How have you dealt with bully moms? Comment below!

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Comments on "Mom bullies: How to deal"

Shara October 05, 2011 | 2:07 AM

Wow, what a nightmare that must have been for you and your daughter. I know your comment is from May 12 of 2009 but I hope that the issue with the "off the wall" parent has been resolved. This woman only hurt herself by calling the other moms and getting them involved. The other moms probably think that you are a nice person but are just too afraid to stand up to "off the wall" mom because they are afraid to disagree with her out of fear of getting the same fate that you received. Any of the moms who may have chimed in with their two cents regarding the situation with your daughter probably did so just to be on good terms with the bully in this situation. The followers of bullies are weak-minded people who are too afraid to stick up for victims and are only concerned about being liked by everyone. Wanting to be liked is a basic human emotion for most, but when it gets to the point where we can't stick up for people out of fear of being disliked then wanting to be liked can be a smug and superficial response in my opinion. The fact that your child got bullied by this monster mom and her legion of spineless followers really sickens me. I hope you and your daughter are in a safe school environment now. Please give us all an update if you happen to visit this site again after two years. I know that many other people besides just me are curious about the outcome of your situation.

ekellu September 26, 2011 | 1:03 PM

This is a very sad situation. I find it more and more common where parents decide to "fight" all of their children's battles for them, instead of allowing their children the chance to work things out for themselves (it's all apart of teaching/showing our children how to rely on themselves and gain confidence). I see that their ages are 11, perfectly reasonable age for these girls to work out the kinks in their friendship. It is most likely that the one girl went to her mother for comfort, and instead of just comforting her child, she decided to "take matters into her own hands" in the attempt to "protect her child". However, the key element in life is the orthodox rule: You can only control/change yourself, not others. If the other Mothers themselves are doing the actual bullying to your daughter, then your daughter is no longer allowed to go over to their homes. If your daughter wants to continue to have a relationship with this particular girl, and any other girls in her group of friends, any and all get-togethers will be at your home until it appears that things have calmed down. The good thing with people who get like this is that there is always something to stir them up and go "off the wall" onto someone or something else. Give it enough time, they will move on to something else.

M May 12, 2009 | 1:16 PM

Recently, my daughter and another girl (both 11) got into a small disagreement. The other girls mother went "off the wall". She started calling other parents - spreading rumors and causing trouble for my daughter. She then called the principal even though her child was just as much at fault. The other girl later admitted to my daughter that all the mess was her Mom. Her mom just went off - listing all the things she was going to do including calling and involving other moms. What should I do? This mom is bullying my child and getting other moms to do the same.

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