I am certain I have made mistakes as a parent, just like parents everywhere. However, most of the parents I know are terrific, love their kids like crazy, treat them with respect and are raising them to be awesome people. It's to parents like this that I pose a question today...what do we do when we witness bad parenting? I'm not talking about physical abuse, because I suspect most people would report such an incident. But what do you do when its verbal? In public? Let me tell you what I witnessed a few months back:
I was walking through a party supply store, browsing the wares of action figures, pirates, monkeys and robots. The store was pretty quiet, most people planning their own events in their heads as I was. There was one woman in the aisle behind me talking very loudly on her cell phone (a pet peeve of mine anyway). Her voice came closer and as she walked by I saw a young girl, probably five years old, trailing behind her. The little girl had a balloon in her mouth she had picked up out of the bulk balloon bin, and she was trying to blow it up. The girl was barely keeping up with her mother, and the mother was barely watching her daughter. However, with a backward glance the mother spotted the saliva covered balloon in the little girl's hand. The mother exploded.
She began screaming--SCREAMING--at her daughter for taking the balloon. Of course, the little girl started to cry. More yelling now about crying and the balloon, which resulted in more crying and more screaming. As if the entire scene wasn't uncomfortable enough, it got worse. The mother was still on the phone and began telling the person on the other end of the line what the little girl had done, and then loudly continued to describe her daughter using words like "brat", "little thief", "dumb" and "stupid". Not just into the phone, but loud enough for all of us in the store to hear.
I'm not sure how I was able to observe the incident without the mother's notice, but I was able to watch the child's face. As she heard her mother's belittling words the tears stopped, the frown stayed and she dropped her eyes to the floor. She folded her arms as if to cover herself up. Her face and her body language looked so brokenhearted I couldn't take my eyes off of her. She must have felt my gaze because she lifted her head and looked right at me. I smiled and gave her a wink. Her expression in her eyes changed for maybe an instant, then her mother yelled for her to "come on!" and she scattered away down another aisle out of site.
Now some people might say "well, she needed to be taught a lesson about stealing", and they would be correct, however, there's got to be a better way than that man! I mean, couldn't this incident be a real opportunity to teach? With consequences too if you like, but does public humiliation really have to be part of the game plan?
So this is the question...what do we do when we witness behavior we believe to be at the least incorrect (yes, I know I'm sounding all 'super-parent' ) and probably harmful? Is there any way to report "self-esteem abuse"? Or is it none of our damn business?
I don't know. I thought the mother at the party supply store handled the whole thing abominably, but who am I to judge? Does that make me a Mom Snob? A Nosey Neighbor? All I know is I think about that little girl often and I hope her mother was just having a bad day. If not, I hope that little girl has plenty of people in her life to give her a lot of little winks.
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