03/03/2016 12:13 EST | Updated 03/04/2017 05:12 EST

I Thought I Understood Bullies Until My Son Became One

I used to read stories about kids being bullied and shake my head. Why is it so hard to stop? You find out what's going on, then you mete out consequences. Simple. At least that's what I thought until it happened to my son.

Like the myriad curve balls parenting throws at you, bullying comes in shades that aren't black and white.

When I saw a child leave school one day with an icepack pressed to his head, it never occurred to me that my little guy could have inflicted that pain. My sweet, scrawny boy who loves to cuddle, but who can get easily overwhelmed due to his autism. My little monkey who tells me 500 times a day that he loves me, but who sometimes struggles to exert control over his own body.

How could this boy, my son, be a bully?

After all, he wasn't the usual suspect. He didn't fit the profile I imagined when I thought of a bully, and yet on more than one occasion my son had struck another kid.

His intentions weren't malicious. I knew he wasn't willfully trying to hurt anyone. But that's the thing about bullying; intent doesn't matter. When someone gets hurt, intent doesn't even figure.

The other thing about bullying is this: no matter which side you're on, it feels awful.

When I saw that boy with the icepack, I felt sick. Sad and scared and frustrated. How could my child do this, when I work so tirelessly to teach him to be compassionate and caring? I felt responsible, and desperate.

How can I make it stop -- now? By communicating openly with my son's school and working together.

Time passed, and the shoe invariably found its way on the other foot.

At bath time I saw bruises on the backs of my son's tiny thighs, from where an older, much bigger boy kicked him at recess. I felt sick. Sad and scared and frustrated all over again.

Who was this brute in the playground? Did he have challenges similar to my son? It was tempting to speculate about his troublesome home life and all the ways in which his parents must be failing him.

The following day I saw the boy and his mother after school. I wanted to confront her. I wanted to despise her, but how could I? She walked ahead with her son, her eyes downcast. I knew exactly how she felt because I had been her not so long ago. In some ways, I still was her.

We were one and the same. Doing our best to raise boys who will grow into kind, gentle men -- even though some days our best simply won't be enough.

A version of this post was originally published at

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