Dear Sue Ellen,
I was doing my laundry at the public laundry mat. It’s amazing the people you see and what goes on. Two boys were playing. They weren’t running or loud. The boys just had a tough time being still. I heard many threats from the mom. On the way out the door she had a leather belt in her hand carrying it the way a parent does when they are going to use it. I didn’t know them but I felt such sorrow for those boys. One was maybe 4 and the other about 6. It’s not the first time I have witnessed something like this. What can be done?
Dear Facebook Friend,
I heard a story once that helped me grapple with the issue of protecting children from abusive parents. Here it is: There were two men walking together on the banks of a river. The river had a strong current and one man noticed a baby floating down the river. Then he noticed another baby…and another and another. As the babies were floating down the river, the one man said to the other “What are we going to do about this?” The other man said “We’ve got to go upstream!”
We’ve “got to go upstream” with child abuse prevention. What does going upstream look like in preventing child abuse? It is doing whatever can be done to educate parents and future parents about the importance of good and thoughtful parenting. It is getting to abuse and violence before it happens. A friend once shared her story with me about a family she observed in Wal-Mart. An older lady (probably the grandmother), with three small children; two toddlers and a newborn, was clearly losing her patience, so my friend followed her out to the parking lot and offered to help her get the toddlers strapped into their car seats. The grandmother seemed to appreciate the help, and my friend probably spared the children from their grandmother’s wrath and frustration…for a moment anyway.
The problem with taking immediate action when you observe a parent/grandparent losing patience with children or lashing out angrily, is putting yourself in potential danger. None of us want to be told we are bad parents, especially when it is true. So if you approach a parent that is clearly in distress, be very aware of the potential danger you are putting yourself in. You may also be making it worse for the children because they may be punished harshly for your attempt to help them. Sad, isn’t it?
Now I have a mental picture of those two little boys you described. Fast forward 25 years; and they are in the laundry mat with their own children. The children are getting restless. What do you think is going to happen? Are they going to beat their children into unreasonable submission, (like we fear they were treated when they were little boys)? Unless they learn a better way to parent, the answer is yes.
A message to readers: If you are an angry parent; if you scream at your kids, or spank/beat/slap your kids out of frustration, you can do better than that. Being overly strict is NOT good parenting. Taking your frustrations out on your children is NOT good parenting. Expecting your little children to behave like adults is NOT good parenting. You may think you are doing the right thing, but I challenge you to be honest with yourself. None of us can be perfect parents, but we can all be better parents.
Please email your parenting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Parent’s Corner on the subject line.