A few weeks ago, I witnessed an incident that disturbed me greatly; I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I had just finished teaching music classes at the recreation center, and I was having a snack in my classroom before packing up to leave. Within a few minutes, I heard the booming voice of an angry man echoing through the lobby, followed by a child crying.
Hearing a child having a public tantrum, and even listening to a stern adult reprimand said child isn’t exactly a novel event at a family community center. But the intensity of this one made me venture out in the hallway to be a discreet voyeur. I saw a little boy running around the seating area, and a man who appeared to be his grandpa shouting angrily at him. His anger appeared to be out of proportion with what the child was doing, and I looked around me to see how the other patrons felt about it. Everyone in the lobby, including the women at the reception desk, were as wide-eyed as I was.
“You’re BAD!” the man yelled as the child wailed on. He continued to berate him and several more times added, “That’s what you get for being BAD!” I felt like I had witnessed something violent.
I caught a woman’s eye and she shook her head. The man, his wife, and the crying child got in the elevator. My heart pounding, I went to the front desk to talk with the staff, who informed me that this family were regular patrons of the recreation center. We heard them get off the elevator on the ground floor, and the man was still hollering. “Oh, you want to wear your boots,” he taunted the child. “Come on, think about it- you don’t wear boots in the pool!” The contempt in his voice chilled my blood, and the volume of the exchange left all of the parents and grandparents sitting in the lounge area looking uncomfortable.
The first thought I had was, Somebody should call this child’s parents. They should know how the grandfather is treating their child when he’s caring for him.
And then, to my great surprise, the father stepped into view. He was there with the child, witnessing this verbal assault, and doing nothing to intervene.
“Obviously this is how he was parented himself,” the receptionist remarked sadly.
I felt enraged, and helpless. Shouldn’t someone do something? Should I do something?
In the end, I waited until the family moved into the locker room, their voices having quieted. I wasn’t the only one who was conflicted. I talked with several other adults, two grandmothers, who both said, “I wish I would’ve said something. I just wish I knew what to say.” I felt the same way- I had wanted so badly to speak up.
What I really wanted to scream out loud was, “Hey, you- angry grandpa! Leave him alone! He’s just a toddler and you are damaging him!”
• Hand the grandfather a brochure for Non-Violent Parenting or Love and Logic, or perhaps even a quote: “It is easier to build up a child than it is to repair an adult….choose your words wisely” or maybe, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.
• Tell him, “People are staring at you, and it’s not because we think your grandson is out of line. It’s because you, sir, are a bully.”
• Give him $5 for his grandson’s future therapy fund. Kids who internalize that they are “bad” end up in therapy, if they’re lucky.
• Distribute the business card of a local parenting coach and say, “Toddlers are so frustrating, aren’t they? There’s a better way to handle them than yelling and name-calling. Here’s some more information. “
But in the end I said nothing. The first voice I heard in my head was my husband’s, reminding me not only was I at my place of employment, but confronting an angry stranger wasn’t a good idea.
I told myself he was right.
• Who knows how the man might have reacted, if he was so volatile to his own family?
• What if he had a medical condition or dementia, and I was just meddling?
• Is it really any of my business how another family chooses to raise their children or grandchildren?
• What if I got in trouble with my employers?
I convinced myself that walking away was the right thing to do, but part of me regretted it. Is it not our responsibility to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves? If this man had been treating his wife as cruelly, surely another patron would have intervened; aren’t children more vulnerable and in need of more assistance than adults?
Clearly this man was a product of “old school parenting,” a practice some modern parents are still in favor of. “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” “Children should be seen and not heard.” But one advantage we as “modern parents” have is more research, education, and resources. Verbally abusing, intimidating, humiliating, and name-calling are no longer considered effective parenting techniques.
Many people I spoke with after this incident told me that nothing I could’ve said would’ve changed this man’s mind. In other words, he was a lost cause. So, after a certain age, we apparently dismiss individuals of being capable of change. Your racist father-in-law, maybe, or your grandmother who makes offensive remarks about your lesbian cousin- these people are clearly incapable of changing their ways, so what’s the point of even trying?
What would you have done? Is it our obligation to educate adults whose cruelty may be damaging their children? Or do we stick with the popular MYOB policy that characterized the old school parenting era? When is it our business to intervene?
This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday.
This week’s sentence was, “What I really want to scream out loud is…” suggested and co-hosted by Tarana of Sand in My Toes
Next week’s sentence is: “My favorite decade is..”
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