Thursday, December 17, 2015

I Got Bullied in My Homeschool Group

NOTE: This essay is the very definition of tl;dr. If you do not have, like, half an hour to muddle through the ridiculous drama that I, the person who loathes drama more than any other person ever, have been dealing with, then I suggest that you read the first three paragraphs below, then scroll down to the completely made of drama picture waaaaaay down the page.

You might remember that a few months ago, I wrote that I had left my old homeschool group, and become more active in a different one. You might have noticed (or not! Totally okay either way!) that I wrote about how much happier I was with the change, how comfortable and welcomed I felt.

What I was leaving out of that was the reality that in my old homeschool group, I had been bullied for years.

I mean, why would I talk about that? How embarrassing, right? As a grown woman, why would I let myself be bullied, and simply put up with it for years? How can I be a good role model for my own children if I can't even model for them how to not be a victim in my own, self-chosen social situations?

For most of my time in that group, I thought that I was doing it for my children. Most of their friends were members of that homeschool group, and they played with them at weekly Park Days and parties. We participated in academic fairs through that homeschool group, and went on field trips with them. I felt that my kids would be missing out if I left the group simply because *I* was being excluded, and made to feel uncomfortable, and being gossiped about.

Also, I did have friends in that group. I did enjoy the academic fairs, and I enjoyed sharing resources and organizing field trips. I told myself that I was really only being bullied by one parent in the group, and even if she was able to get others to exclude me, or spread rumors about me that caused other parents to dislike me, or sometimes publicly embarrassed me, then that was still just one clique, and I had other friends who made being a member of the group worthwhile.

Matt didn't really buy my reasoning, but of course he's willing to support me in whatever crazy mess that I get myself into. He decided that change comes from within, and if we wanted our homeschool group to be truly welcoming, then we needed to be more active and more vocal in making it so. He became an active participant in the group's regular parents' planning meetings. He wasn't super successful, as the parent who was bullying me was the person in charge at those meetings, with her friends in most of the other volunteer positions, but keeping the conversation going is important. Showing that we care about the group as a whole is important. And speaking out at the meetings to say things like he doesn't think it's fair for one parent to offer the group's volunteer positions to her friends rather than open up the position to volunteers from the group? Well, that's important, too. That's the kind of hard conversation that a group needs to have in order to be better.

Except... things didn't really get better. By this time, I was used to sitting alone at Park Days and parties. Matt was used to my bully opposing everything that he said at parents' planning meetings. People often sit alone, and struggle to work in a committee even when they're not being bullied. Such is life. My policy was to pretend that I wasn't being bullied, to continue to share resources with the group as a whole, to continue to attend group events, even if I often sat alone, and to continue to organize interesting events and activities for the group's homeschooled children. Sometimes people from the group would tell me that they were sorry that I was being mistreated, and sometimes people would stick up for me, and often people would share with me stories of others who had been bullied by the same parent, but nothing ever happened that changed my situation, or gave my bully less power to mistreat me.

And then things got worse. For a few weeks, I had been active on the homeschool group's Yahoo forum, planning to provide some new academic fair options for the group. We'd been doing the same three academic fairs ever since I'd joined, and I thought that perhaps some members would like some additional options. So I posted a poll that families participated in, selecting academic fairs that they would be interested in. One of the top selections was a History Fair, something that I was already interested in doing this year, and so I volunteered to organize it. And then one of my bully's friends posted a message to the entire homeschool group, stating that I wasn't allowed to organize an academic fair. It was, apparently, a rule of the group.

It's pretty definitely not a rule of the group, at least not one that's ever been mentioned in the 5+ years that my family had been a member of the group, nor ever at any of the parents' planning meetings that either of us had ever attended, nor was it written down anywhere. In fact, other families had organized other academic fairs since we've been members, most notably a Creative Arts Fair that one family had organized for the group less than a year ago. Nobody mentioned any rule against this when she was doing so. Nevertheless, I apologized to the group, embarrassed at being publicly chastised.

Fortunately, there was actually a parents' planning meeting scheduled in the near future, so Matt decided that he would just figure out what was going on then. He attended the meeting, and so did my bully, her husband, and her friends. He debated with her, because he's brave, but she wouldn't change her mind, and nobody else there challenged her made-up rule. I'm sure the entire dialogue was extremely confusing to the newcomers to the meeting.

The next day, I posted a link to a homeschooling resource to the group board, only to discover that I was no longer allowed to post to the group unless a moderator, my bully, approved it. I posted to ask why I was being blocked but it never went through, and nobody ever responded. Matt tried to post a comment to the parents' planning meeting notes that had been posted, and discovered with that, his first ever post on the group board, that he, too, was being blocked. Nobody ever answered his emails about it, either.

At that point, I resigned from the group--and that post, conveniently, was sent through--because after that rude post to me about the History Fair, my friends stepped in for me and encouraged me to instead transfer my energy. A bunch of us have a casual weekly playgroup, and we decided that it wouldn't take much more work to transition it to a more active homeschooling group, one that would welcome everyone and encourage everyone's participation. I was thrilled to be able to leave my toxic situation for this. Matt, however, still didn't think that it was right to leave an entire group just because of the behavior of a few. He sent in our membership check, anyway--because yes, all of these years I'd been paying for this treatment--and tried to open a dialogue about what had been going on and why it had been happening.

But do you know who's uninterested in dialogue? My bully. Look what we were sent by certified mail, under the name of our homeschooling group:
This group's Park Days take place in a public park. They're banning me from a public park, y'all!

I have no idea what unacceptable behavior the letter is referring to, except that perhaps it was unacceptable for Matt to disagree with my bully at parents' planning meetings, or unacceptable for me to show up at weekly Park Days for years after my bully had been made clear to me that my presence was unwelcome.  I've asked around, however, and I haven't yet found anybody from that homeschool group who knows anything about this letter; it's apparently something that someone anyonymously wrote and sent under the name of the group.

In case you've never experienced anything like this before, that's how adults bully each other. Other than the legalese and the committees and the spare cash to spend four bucks on a certified letter, this looks a lot like the way kids bully each other, doesn't it? Kids probably send mean texts instead of certified letters, but they definitely exclude other kids, tell them that they can't belong, embarrass them publicly, won't let them talk or play or do fun things, gossip about them to their friends.

But the thing that, to me, is the most disturbing, is this: I tried to ignore being bullied, and it didn't get better. Matt tried to stand up to my bully, and it only got worse. I don't know what to extrapolate from this to young people who are dealing with bullying, but the only thing, the ONLY thing that made this situation better, was when I simply... left. I left, and I didn't go back, I threw all of my energy into a different group, and I relished their welcome. I put myself out there again with all new people, and these people were really, really nice to me. In my new homeschool group, when someone walks away to go to the bathroom, nobody starts to gossip about that person. In my new homeschool group, when somebody wants to plan something, everyone says, "Great idea! Let me know if you need help!" In my new homeschool group, I can actually talk to people, and it feels really great, and I never would have had that if I hadn't left my old homeschool group. And sure, my bully is apparently doing her darndest to follow me home, now that I'm not there to be abused, but a letter, at least, is something that I can share with my friends, and be comforted about. And if another letter comes, well, I don't even have to open it!

Can you imagine what it would be like if you were a kid, and you simply couldn't leave the situation in which you were being bullied?


Tina said...

Oh Julie, I am so glad that you have found good people. You are an amazing person and the passion that you bring to your kiddo's homeschooling is something that should be shared far and wide (and is, thanks to your blog). We do a lot of things for our kids, but putting up with bullies or negative people shouldn't be one of them. I'm glad you finally decided to seek a better fit. And a big high-five to Matt for sticking up for you!

I don't really understand how adults can be so awful, but then I realize that sometimes people just suck. Thankfully, though, sometimes I am reminded that there are good people out there. Just yesterday I was driving through an icy parking lot. I was stopped, waiting patiently for an elderly women to cross in front of me, when a well dressed 30-something woman who was leaving the store walked over and helped the elderly woman cross the icy parking lot. I'm not gonna lie, seeing stuff like that makes me want to cry happy tears because maybe our society isn't doomed after all.

p.s. I totally want to beat up your bully for you even though I know that violence doesn't solve anything.

julie said...

Thanks! I'm definitely learning the importance of finding your tribe, as well as the fact that no matter how you might try to be reasonable and problem-solve and place importance on conversation to resolve differences, there are simply just going to be irrational people out there--poor Matt's mostly been the one who has had to learn that latter one, though, as most of the ugly irrationality has been directed at him, most recently.

I LOVE your story about the little old lady! There was a time when kids in scouts were encouraged to put a coin in one pocket or a band on one wrist, then switch it when they'd done their "good turn" for the day. I always thought that was a beautiful practice, and now I think that everyone should do it!

Lora said...

Julie, I am horrified and angered by the treatment you received from LEARN. I'm truly glad you joined our group. You are a good friend as well as a helpful member of our circle of homeschoolers.

I never felt welcomed by LEARN either. I feel very lucky to have the Tuesday group, and am super glad you joined us!

Sally Hays said...

I have enjoyed your blog for a few months now and really love your view about homeschooling and your amazing family adventures. You really must be even more amazing in person for the LEARN ‘leader’ to be so intimidated by you that she would actively bully you. Congratulations on finding a much better group. I understand the need to walk away from bullying but it also took me to be an adult before I could actually do it. My first response to your post was to join the LEARN group and cause chaos. But then my favorite quote from Frodo reminded me to take a cooler head: “It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.” Have a wonderful Christmas and may you and your family thrive in 2016.

opheliag said...

I've been reading your blog for some time now because I also homeschool my kids and love your ideas. I'm so sorry this happened to you. I went through a similar experience in a homeschool group, and it took me a while to finally realize that it was bullying. It's hard to leave when your kids have made friends, but sometimes you just have to walk away. Good for you for recognizing that, and I'm glad you landed in a better place. Best wishes to you and yours.

julie said...

Oh, my gosh, you guys! Thank you all SO much for all the kind things that you've said! I wish that I'd reached out for support and advice years ago, but I've also learned from this that bullies can be really great at making you feel ashamed for being bullied.

Sadly, after I came clean about all this, I heard that my bully and her friends have begun to spread mean lies about me, and, more upsettingly, Matt, on their group message board. I'm trying not to focus on the fact that now a hundred total strangers are apparently being told wild tales of poor Matt supposedly cursing people out or waiting until husbands are out of the room before starting to threaten their wives (obviously not true. I mean, for pete's sake!), and instead focus on the reality that if people feel like it's okay to talk so ugly about other people in a group's message board, then that is NOT a group that I, nor any good person should be a part of.

Fortunately, though, this has necessarily meant that the mask has really slipped for my bully and her friends, and the more people witness what vile things they're capable of saying, the better I feel, strangely. Like, it's definitely not just in my head that these are mean people, because there they are, right there, actively being mean, you know?

Anyway, with coming clean about what happened to me, I definitely feel that I have done all that I can possibly do to hopefully benefit other potential future victims of my bully, and my former homeschool group as a whole, and I'm really happy to forget about the whole nasty ordeal and enjoy my life without them!