When you see a stranger treating their child badly, do you intervene? And what do you do?
I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile, just for lack of time and inspiration, and it happens, it’s ended up being timely.
I have a four year old who is full of sass, unafraid to speak her mind, and going through a major, major limits-testing phase. Without going into detail, suffice it to say there was a scrum in the car this afternoon over a flat refusal to put on shoes that involved yelling, lecturing, and pulling over and stopping the car (on our slow residential street) to march back there and put that shoe back on her. There was also slamming of car doors (checked first to ensure no little hands or feet were close by).
If you’d seen the incident and didn’t know anything else about my parenting, you’d think I was a horrible person. But if you do, you’d know it was a blip in an otherwise very trusting and loving relationship, and I’d just lost my patience with the defiance and limits testing and calmed down very quickly. The whole incident ended with her sitting on my lap (of her own volition) while I apologized and so did she, and we talked it over.
Had someone tried to intervene in my parenting fail at that moment, I would have either taken their head off with just my glare or handed them the car keys, said, “Fine, you do it then” and fled. If someone who knows me and my daughter said something later, when I was calm and able to really hear them? That, I would probably listen to. But I would have felt pretty upset about a stranger intervening who knows nothing about the 11 hours previous or the next four until she went to bed (tucked in lovingly by me at her request).
This whole thing was triggered by a post on the New York Times Motherlode blog. Apparently Liv Tyler was caught by some paparazzi yelling at a woman at a park who was hitting her toddler in a stroller. According to the NYT:
“When I saw that I couldn’t take it, I had to do something,” Tyler, whose son Milo is four, reportedly told the photographers who captured the moment.”
Admittedly, when physical abuse comes into play that changes the equation a little. A woman hitting a defenseless toddler repeatedly is a little different than yelling at a four year old who had ample opportunity to make the right decision.
Some of the commenters on Belkin’s post suggested the best way to intervene is a smile and an empathic comment, i.e. “Mine used to do that too. It’s rough, isn’t it?” versus berating someone for her lack of parenting skills. It can help the parent calm down, get some perspective, and feel less judged.
What do you think? And, commenters, let me remind you: Let ye who is without parenting sins cast the first stone.