D ear Readers: I’ve stepped away from my column for a few days. Please enjoy these “Best Of” columns in my absence.
When I was a child, my mother would lose her temper and yell at me in public. At home she threw things and hit me with different objects. She was also an affectionate and enthusiastically involved parent.
She was college-educated, attended church regularly, did not drink, and we lived in a solid, middle-class community. Life was a roller coaster.
I know many strangers witnessed my mother’s behavior. I don’t recall one person ever stepping in to help me. Once I was an adult, neighbors and friends told me that they were aware of what was happening but didn’t think it was their place to intervene.
As a young woman, I found myself in a very dangerous situation, and it never occurred to me to ask someone for help. The impact of that changed my life forever.
I am now a mother myself. I have experienced the embarrassment of my children throwing temper tantrums in public. Once a stranger crossed the street and offered to help. He offered the help directly to my daughter. I did not take offense. He was doing the right thing.
I guess I’m trying to say that it is important to do something. She should have stepped up to the mother and gently said, “You look like you’re having a tough day, can I help you? We all can use a break sometimes, right?”
Trust me, one simple act can make all the difference for years to come.
— Speak Up for Children
I don’t have to imagine it. I lived it.
How, as a boy, I wished someone would intervene. Of course, whenever anyone did challenge my mother, she immediately painted them as “stupid” or “crazy.” Maybe if enough people who recognize inappropriate parental behavior speak up directly, it would finally become socially unacceptable to treat a child this way.
I usually try to make a joke out of it, as in, “Hey, Mom, if you think it’s that easy, why don’t you put on some skates and come on out?” The child usually laughs and the parents realize that perhaps they have overstepped their bounds. If they don’t get it, I am happy to stand up for the child in a more abrupt way.
Point taken. One awful result of adults bullying children is that it can perpetuate the aggression.
Once, when I thought that a woman was about to hit her daughter, I went up to the mom and said quietly, so only she could hear, “You’re all she has.” It stopped her cold. I’ve used it as my own mantra when I was losing my temper.