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'I've been bullied my whole life. It's the reason I don't have kids.'

I am not a mother. 

Throughout my twenties I had no remote desire to have kids. I silently shifted away from friends planning to start trying for a baby.

I moved away from parents in shops, restaurants and on trains who had children in tow. 

I didn’t look at the babies in prams like my friends did and never did I remark “oh how cuuuute”.

I worked feverishly to be successful. Babies weren’t cute. Cash and experience was. I broke into the real estate market when I was 20 and it’s never been responsibility that I shy away from.

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I turned 30 and one day noticed this mother shopping alongside me at Savers. 

She had great style and an unbelievable ease about her. Her kid was following behind while she spoke to them in the way you’d speak to another adult. No baby talk. There was no carry on. 

Seeing that mother and child changed my mind. I started thinking, “I can be a mum. Like, maybe I want to be a mum!?”

Nowadays I have a board in Pinterest which I have called Eclectic Nurseries, full of inspirational images and decorating tips for colourful, retro nurseries. Cast iron bedheads that have been painted bright yellow and shelves full of vintage books and toys.

I have a note saved in my iPhone with over 50 baby names. I know I want to be a mother and yet I haven’t started trying. I know what the fear is.

I am afraid my children will endure bullying.

I want so much to raise capable, intelligent and happy people. The challenge of that in an unjust world weighs heavy. 

I am filled with dread when I think about sending my kids off for their first day of school. Because, although it seems we move forward as a society, embracing people for who they inherently are, considering our fellow humans, schoolyards are still battlegrounds. Hell, workplaces too.

I’m very interested in learning about alternative education methods, specifically Montessori.

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Montessori is a type of education focused on allowing a child to develop their individual natural talents and interests. 

This happens under the supervision of a teacher who observes the class and presents new lessons to each child when they are ready, rather than the whole class following a rigid curriculum, with no special consideration of each child’s unique and individual learning patterns. 

The Montessori approach to handling the issue of bullying is alternative too.

The website of a school in San Diego, California called Lifetime Montessori, claim that their approach to bullying is to catch the behaviour early and to address the behaviour with the students and parents.

There is a focus on validation of feelings and motives in the process. With a goal to work through it together and move forward.

As a child, I attended two public primary schools in Victoria’s Western Suburbs. 

I had some great teachers, but I do think back and ponder their questionable tactics when it came to dealing with bullying.

Never did I see a teacher do more than shout at a bully from across the yard and tell a victim to ignore the bully. Which is impossible. 

How is a child meant to come to school every day, learn and ignore a significant source of distress? Seems like a lot of pressure for a kid. Is it not more effective to sit the kids down and have a conversation, to ask the bully “how would that make you feel?” and ask the victim “are you alright? Tell me what happened?”

One of my first memories of grade prep is of my first school bully's face coming towards me, just before he placed an open palm over my face, sticking his fingers into my eyes.

I learned to shut my eyes tightly, so it didn’t hurt. I never told anyone. 

I internalised and hid in alcoves at recess hoping he wouldn’t find me. I do wonder where he is now and whether he has children of his own. How does he speak to them? Are they bullies? Do they get bullied?

There was also a kid at my school who chased girls around the schoolyard with pursed lips and outstretched arms shouting, “I am going to kiss you!”

It wasn’t once I had to abandon my liverwurst and rye sandwich so I could run as fast as my little legs could to carry me away from this kid torpedoing toward me, threatening to kiss me.

The teachers on yard duty never really stopped him. They looked on, every now and then they might have yelled “stop that!” but he wouldn’t listen and that was the end of it.

That went on for years and what happened? We dealt with it ourselves and that kid was despised, ignored and eventually targeted in retaliation. What an absolute shemozzle.

Would it not have benefitted the children being harassed, the bully and the parents if the behaviour was addressed and rectified. Nipped in the bud. If a process was put in place to manage the situation, there would have to have been some benefit.

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Maybe this kid had a bad time at home. Maybe he was spoilt. Who knows? The truth is schoolyard bullying is rampant regardless.

If you look at bullying statistics, you may be surprised. 

Between 2017 and 2018 the Make Bullying History Foundation conducted a student survey and found that 80 per cent of students felt bullying was a serious problem at their school. Three in five students experienced bullying. That’s huge right?

The sad truth is that by not addressing the behaviour early, the issue perpetuates and grows. Often, children who are initially targeted start bullying other kids.

Though verbal bullying is the most common schoolyard tactic, cyberbullying over social media occurs 13 per cent of the time and 20 per cent of the time bullying is physical.

What do we do to raise good humans? How can we work towards respect and freedom?

I was bullied from prep until the end of high school. No wonder I find it hard to make friends. I am socially awkward. My ex partners and current partner have wondered why I shy away from their friends. It takes a while for me to warm up to people. I watch and I wait.

I can’t stand those who assert dominance through nastiness and more adults do it than you’d even notice. Be the observer at the next social event you’re at.

Before we went into lockdown six in Victoria, I was in a social situation with a person who I had met twice before. I have said I am awkward, but I am bloody polite. I know how to have an adult conversation with respect and interest. 

This person challenged me on every contribution I made to the discussion. It was absurd, even my choice of beverage was criticised. 

I excused myself from the table more times than I really needed to just to get a breath. A social outing is supposed to be relaxing.

In your thirties, you just want to enjoy Sunday afternoon drinks with some polite adult conversation over a charcuterie board and not have some nasty pasty pissing on your parade. Right? It’s exhausting.

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Unfortunately, often there is no reprieve at work either. 

Workplaces are rampant with toxic behaviour.

I hear horror stories from friends and I have witnessed some atrocious behaviour. I have left jobs and put my livelihood on the line because poor behaviour hasn’t been dealt with and bullying and harassment has perpetuated.

In my early 20s I worked in an office, where one of the managers made frequent passes at me.

He would lean on my desk and it was obvious he paid special attention to me. It left me feeling humiliated, and I started arriving to work with a tight chest, chewing the inside of my lip, racked with anxiety.

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One day I mentioned to a co-worker that my favourite lollies were Allen’s Bananas. He heard this and went out and brought me a huge bag of Allen’s Bananas from an office supply store and presented it to me in front of a stunned and silent office.

I turned down his advances and sexual harassment.

I told him I had a partner and my partner at the time had flowers sent to the office.

My manager stared across at me with disdain when I placed the flowers down on my desk. Then he made it difficult for me to do my job, giving me cryptic responses to straightforward, work related questions.

He told his manager I was a bad worker, and I wasn’t pulling my weight. Underhanded bullying tactics when I didn’t accept his advances. Disgusting but common.

Like I said, I agree with Montessori and nipping bullying in the bud so it doesn’t have time to cause more damage. Otherwise bullying can’t end in the schoolyard, it bleeds into workplaces, social settings and homes.

There are now seminars available for kids and adults to attend to unlearn the toxic behaviour, which is certainly more than what was offered when I was at school.

I have heard parents say that bullying is all part of school life and the pecking order and I disagree. There is no need for humans to be nasty to one another and bad behaviour can be unlearned.

I understand my own fear in having children. How will I handle a child coming home from school in tears because they have been teased or shoved? How will I deal with my kid if they’re the one terrorising other kids? I don’t have the answers and I desperately want them.

I have brought books written by child behavioural specialists on how to raise children. How to raise good people. I read the books, somewhat satisfied by the insight, then I pop the books back on my shelf and hold off having kids another few months, another a few years.

I want to be a mum. I know I would be a good mother, but I don’t want my children to have to deal with bullying from grade prep until they’re 30 and beyond.

Not only is bullying incredibly damaging, it’s embarrassing that humans, who possess a high level of intelligence, are still consciously hurtful and horrible to one another. I know, that’s life right? Well, it doesn’t have to be.

For now, I will stick to treating my cats like babies. I don’t mind the crazy cat lady tag.

Maybe one day I will read a self-help book that will dissolve my fear and I will plunge into parenthood fearlessly.

Feature Image: Supplied.