Help! Girl Scouts Are Bullying My Kid.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 20 2011 7:17 AM

Bye-Bye Baby

My sister is making a huge mistake by placing her child for adoption.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
My youngest sister, a junior in college, is pregnant. She is friendly with the baby's father but is not in a relationship with him, nor does she wish to have one. My sister and the baby's father decided to give their child up for adoption and quickly found a couple. I am having trouble accepting my sister's decision. I understand being 21 and finding yourself pregnant is not ideal, but our parents are well-off and are paying for her education. I said to her that as a mother myself, I did not understand how she could give her child away. I told her I would be happy to watch her baby while she is taking courses, since my kids are in school. I know our parents would help with the finances. I simply cannot understand why she is choosing adoption when she has support, both financial and otherwise. I think she is being a bit entitled. After all, she got herself into this mess, and it doesn't seem fair that she just gets to put the child up for adoption and resume her life. How can I impress upon her that she can, and should, take more responsibility for her actions?

—Willing To Help

Dear Willing,
Your sister is making one of the most difficult, and generous, decisions a young woman can make. After what must have been many agonizing nights of wondering how to proceed once she found herself pregnant, she realized that being a single college student meant she could not provide the life she would want for her child. So she decided that out of her pain would come something good, and a grateful couple will get to be parents. The real issue raised in your letter is what kind of person you are, since your attitude toward your sister is both contemptuous and baffling. Your opinion is irrelevant, so it doesn’t matter that you can’t accept your sister’s decision. You say that as a mother you cannot understand how your sister could “give her child away.” (I was once rightly rebuked by an adoptive mother who explained that children aren’t “given up” or “given away” but are “placed” for adoption—an important distinction that puts the act in better context.) Yet you view the pregnancy as a “mess,” one that your sister should not be able to just walk away from. Apparently you think she should be forced to raise her child as a fit punishment for what you see as her sense of entitlement. Perhaps the thought of handing her child over to you every day, and getting one of your superior little lectures, helped your sister make up her mind. No woman who places a child for adoption, no matter how right the decision, simply resumes her life unchanged. But her choice does leave me thinking that when the time comes and she is ready, she will be a wonderful mother.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Keep the Camera Off My Thighs!

Dear Prudence,
My 10-year-old daughter had a difficult time adjusting after our move to a new city last year. She was happy and well-liked at her previous school, but she suddenly became the victim of frequent taunting, even bullying, on the bus and playground. I had hoped that Girl Scouts would be a reprieve, but it was not. Most of the troop members attend her school, and on a field trip I saw them ostracize my daughter with eye-rolling, turning their backs, and making snide comments to her. My daughter told me the worst of them all was the troop leader's child. But she wanted to stay in the troop because her best friend was in it. I didn’t talk with the leaders because my daughter was afraid it would make things worse for her. Recently, two of the leaders asked to meet with me and informed me that my daughter had made an unkind comment to one of their daughters, and suggested my daughter leave the troop. I asked my daughter about this, and she said the girls in the troop frequently told her they didn’t like her, so she said it back. I went to the mothers and said there were issues on both sides. They said my daughter was being untruthful. I then told the leader about the taunting and humiliation my daughter has endured from her child and suggested she was unfit to be a leader. I subsequently sent an apology, but my husband feels the atmosphere has been poisoned, and we have no choice but to pull my daughter out of the troop. I'm not sure what to do.

—Confused and Still Angry

Dear Angry,
After that last conversation with the troop leaders, I admire you for not trying to choke them with a box of Thin Mints. It’s understandable you turned the tables on that overgrown mean girl, and you deserve a merit badge for apologizing to her. Your daughter may want to be with her best friend, but I agree with your husband that this poisonous little troop is no place for your little girl. Instead, find some alternative activity that would allow her to be with kids who come from many other schools—look into sports, theater, or art classes. Arrange get-togethers for your daughter with classmates and neighborhood kids who aren’t part of this noxious clique. As for stopping the taunting at school, I talked to Slate's expert on bullying, Emily Bazelon, who said you should meet with administrators about what’s happening and be as specific and nonconfrontational as you can. Given recent changes in the law in some states and the generally charged nature of the word bullying, she suggests caution about using that term, especially if your daughter has (understandably) responded in kind to the mean things said to her. But there needs to be a plan to get your daughter help. Sometimes kids who are being tormented at recess or in the cafeteria can spend that time elsewhere, assisting a teacher, for example. And if the bus ride is giving your daughter ulcers, it might be good to temporarily get her to school another way if possible. If you feel there’s a power imbalance between your daughter and the other girls, Bazelon warns against “peer mediation.” In this situation, victims and bullies face each other, and all too often the mean ones say during the session what the adults want to hear, and then when the grown-ups go away, they get their revenge. For insight into what your daughter is going through, look at the work of Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. I hope that your stepping up means soon your daughter will be coming home and telling you today was a good day at school.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My boss is a really good dentist, does excellent work, can be charming, and is ethical. Unfortunately, sometimes he goes through bouts of really insane behavior. He will threaten to blow his brains out while sweating profusely. He has panic attacks in which his face becomes red and he breathes hard. All of this is in front of patients. He becomes paranoid and tells patients that his staff is stealing from him, or he humiliates the staff by telling the patients that we are incompetent. He did once apologize to us for losing control, but usually he just tries to minimize how frightening his behavior was. What should I do?

—Dental Madness

Dear Madness,
If my dentist started hyperventilating and threatening to blow his brains out, I’d be out of the chair and the office so fast that I’d still have my bib on and that saliva suction device in my mouth. You would think the problems at his practice would be self-limiting since patients who witness them won’t be back, and soon the appointment book will be empty. I know jobs are hard to get, but you are working for someone who’s both paranoid and has a drawer full of sharp instruments. It’s possible your boss is a drug addict, or mentally ill, or has some underlying physical cause for his behavior. But he needs help, and it’s time you alerted your state's dental board, confidentially if you prefer, about what’s going on.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My family is going to Disneyland. The problem is that in order to get the free admission for kids under 3 years old, my husband and his brother insist on lying about the kids' ages. (“Why, yes, our 2-year-old is exceptionally tall!”) I am not willing to sell my immortal soul for $74 and want to pay for our child. I want to do what's right without causing a trip-ruining fight or being portrayed as a stick in the mud. Do I die on this hill or pray for absolution from Mickey Mouse?

—Pinocchio’s Wife

Dear Wife,
You don’t say how old these kids are, but I hope the boys aren’t shaving and the girls aren’t wearing bras. I contacted Disneyland on your behalf. The company has no policy to hold parents hostage at Chip ‘n Dale Treehouse if they lie about the ages of their kids. Instead I got this cryptic email: “For their comfort, we suggest guests bring a copy of their child’s birth certificate if they feel their child may be questioned.” When I asked what happens to guests who prefer the comfort of not bringing a birth certificate, and how Disney’s corporate elves would sniff out an over-age guest, I was told it’s the company’s belief that “honesty is the best policy.” It sounds as if your husband and his brother have a shot at their scheme to save $74 a head getting their kids in the park. You have made clear your dismay at involving your child in this holiday deceit. Now you should back off. You should back so far off that when it comes time to enter the park, you say that for your comfort, you will go through a separate admission line. Plan to meet at Peter Pan’s Flight, where children never grow up.

 —Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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