Schoolyard Gossip And The Damage Done

by Bill Brenner on November 21, 2011

I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends among the parents in my children’s school community. But like every community, there are people who blow things out of proportion.

Mood music:

I guess you could lump me into that class of parent. I needle people, especially when I like them, and I can be like a bull in a china shop at school events. I’ve also engaged in gossip with some of the parents.

It’s easy to forget your own faults when your kid suddenly becomes the subject of that schoolyard gossip. But that’s what happened Friday afternoon.

I was sitting in my living room doing some work when I got a text from a friend whose daughter is in Duncan’s class:

“Just wanted to give you a heads up that a lot of moms are pissed at school … I guess Duncan was telling (his classmates) that Santa doesn’t exist and that the parents (do the work). Some of the moms are sending texts to everyone! I have gotten six so far!”

Duncan told us about a month ago that he figured out that Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny don’t really exist. Ironically, he reached this conclusion because, as he told me, “To do what they do they would have to use magic. And magic isn’t real.”

That’s his point of view, of course, and truth be told we were sad about the whole Santa thing. No one wants their child to shed innocence before the age of 10, right?

We asked Duncan not to discuss it at school because a lot of his classmates still believed, and that they should be allowed to believe. We apparently needed to give him more than one reminder.

As I learned that several moms were texting each other wildly that Friday afternoon, warning parents that Duncan Brenner told kids at school Santa is a fraud, my blood ran cold and my head got hot.

How dare these moms trash talk my son, I thought. There they are, texting each other like some big emergency is afoot, in this case the potential destruction of Christmas.

The suggestion in this kind of parental banter is that the kid who can’t keep his mouth shut is a troublemaker. His parents must be troublemakers, too.

My first instinct was to get the names of the parents and apologize on Duncan’s behalf. Then my mood shifted and I wanted to tell them all off. Now, with my attitude somewhere near the center again, I’m writing this out, looking for the right perspective.

A few things occur to me:

–Kids in the school yard are going to talk about all kinds of things we’d rather they not talk about. There will be profanity and bad jokes. We parents should intervene whenever possible, but we’re not always going to be in the right spot at the right time.

–If someone is worried that their kid’s Christmas will be ruined over this, do you think it might be time to re-examine what Christmas is supposed to be about?

Here’s what really bothers me:

We all have a habit of gossiping. It’s a very human thing to do. But you know what? It’s wrong.

Schoolyard gossip rarely accounts for the things that are really going on with the kids and parents at the center of all the chatter. We make harsh judgments without having all the facts.

A good example is the mom who started trash-talking about a pair of siblings, suggesting they had anger issues over their parents’ impending divorce because the older sibling refused to work with her son on a class project.

Missing from that bit of gossip was the fact that the girl didn’t want to work with him because he was slacking. Also, he’s been teasing and tormenting her since Pre-K and she finally decided to take a stand.

This is a community and, like it or not, we are all responsible for making it work. Many parents already work tirelessly to that effect, but some do too much complaining about others who don’t march in lockstep.

That’s mean. It doesn’t inspire other parents to get involved and help. It’s not OK. We all have flaws and so do our kids. It also never accurately captures the reasons some people do what they do. We have no idea if someone is acting out of depression, heartache, work stress or any number of other things.

We can’t shield our kids from all the unpleasantness of life. Nor should we. When we coddle our kids too much, we do them a disservice by not preparing them for the challenges of life.

We should let them deal with some of the unpleasant topics of a schoolyard during recess because they just might learn something valuable in the process.

We should remember that when one kid says something other kids aren’t ready to hear that it’s not the end of the world. It’s may lead to unpleasant dinner conversation at home that evening, but it hardly qualifies as a crisis.

Above all, we should all remember that gossiping is mean, and kindly knock it off.

I’ll try to do better on my end.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen Doucet November 21, 2011 at 4:42 am

He will live on in infamy. Third grade, Phyllis DeCrecenzo, at snack time standing by the windows, told me there was no Santa. I haven’t seen her or had any contact with her since 1985 but I will never forget her.

Tricia November 21, 2011 at 5:35 am

“If someone is worried that their kid’s Christmas will be ruined over this, do you think it might be time to re-examine what Christmas is supposed to be about?”

Exactly. If a child becomes devastated when they find out there is no magical Santa then having them find out was probably the best thing that could have happened to them. Santa is all fine and fun, but he should never become so big a factor that Christmas ceases to exist when he does.

christine November 21, 2011 at 7:52 am

WHAT!!???? There’s no santa!!! I don’t believe it! I will ALWAYS believe in Santa 🙂

Mary November 21, 2011 at 8:37 am

LOL! Hey– Look at the Grinch! He didn’t steal Christmas–it came anyway!
Duncan is a Leader and NOT a follower! –AND he is just a little boy, he is waiting to see what happens! (Love that he used the word Fraud!)
If the “other” parents are doing damage control for thier ideal of Christmas, that should be fine.
John is offen the boy who has done something that will make me cringe (BECAUSE of how other people will see him)–but that is part of his charms!
This too will pass…

Laura Coy November 21, 2011 at 3:06 pm

I know this is about Parents and their drama, texting each other over this situation is ridiculous. I think if someone had something to say at all, they should of just discussed it with you; you know, like an adult….anyhoo, I wanted to share my experiences with the Santa phenomenon with you. My older daughter was told there was not a santa at school also. It was her teacher who told her so. I had enrolled my children in a Christian (not Catholic) school, because they had a great after school program, and I was a working mother. We did not attend the church of this school. At the time I was a practicing Catholic, and we attended St. Anthony’s every Sunday. I had mistakenly thought that the religious politics of this school were taught in the church program, but that the class room was the class room. They accepted students of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, it was against their teachings to believe in Santa at all. Christmas was about Jesus, and that was it. My daughter came home to tell me with teary eyes what her teacher had told her. In all honesty, I was shocked! I told her that in our house we believed in Santa, and that some other people did not believe in Santa, and that that was okay. Anyway, I felt bad because they missed out on all the fun. This made her happy, and I think she lasted two more years. Now, my younger daughter, I’m really not even sure how she found out “the vile truth”. This may have been sybling to sybling or friend to friend….I forget. I forget, because all I can remember is her disappointment. My daughter was not only disappointed, but angry. She was angry at ME….because I had lied to her. Go figure. I think I still feel guilty about it. She happens to be 19. I think she has forgiven me, but telling lies in our house was a big no-no, so I get why she was so upset. If Santa Claus is going to be the breakdown of the psyche of our children, we’re all in trouble…..I thought we had bigger things to worry about?!

io_saturnalia September 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

For bringing fire to humanity, Prometheus was chained to a rock and had crows peck out his eyes. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

At least your boy only had to deal with a few miffed suburban housewives.

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