Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What would you have done?

We went to WalMart today, and when we were in one of the grocery aisles I witnessed this scene:

A little girl (maybe six or seven years old) was shopping with someone I'll assume was her dad. (And I'll call him that even though I'm not sure about their relationship.) I suddenly heard his voice--hard, gruff, loud. Angry.

"I told you to STOP ACTING UP!"

I watched the little girl. Her eyes were wide, and her body language--leaning away from her father--made it clear that she was scared.

Then he reached out, and with an open hand, hit her upper arm. I heard the sharp SLAP.

Shortly afterward, they walked by us as they exited the aisle. She was walking apart from him, and her face looked so sad, as she held her upper arm with her other hand.

Then they were gone, and Chickie came up to me softly. "Mommy, did you just see..." she began, and she proceeded to describe the scene to me in detail, including the little girl holding her arm afterward. I got down on her level and we had a short, serious conversation about what we'd both seen.

"Yes, I did see it," I said. "It made me very sad." I talked about how it's not okay for a dad to hit his daughter like that. Later at home we spoke more in-depth about it. I explained to her the difference between a non-angry parent choosing to use spanking as a form of discipline, and a parent hitting their child in anger. (We don't spank, but I want her to know that parents can spank in non-abusive ways.)

"It's never okay for someone to hit you because they're angry," I told her. "If that ever happens, you come tell me."

The whole scene really affected me. I was quiet and choked up after I'd seen it. I felt so confused and helpless. What do I do?? I asked myself, as I walked through the store and continued to keep an eye out for the father and daughter. Option after option ran through my head.

I could call the police--but he'd just slapped her on the arm, through her clothes, probably not even official "abuse." The police probably couldn't do anything, and would it even be practical for me to try to find them again in the store when the police arrived?

I could confront him, telling him, "It's not okay to hit a child because you're angry." But that might make him angrier, and he doesn't know me; he probably would have no respect for my unsolicited parenting advice.

I could try to talk to the little girl, ask her if her dad hits her worse than this at home, tell her that she can talk to a teacher or counselor at school--but really, that was probably the least-practical option. I certainly don't want some stranger coming up and trying to pull my kid aside to ask him or her serious questions in WalMart; it wouldn't be appropriate.

Honestly, I'm not sure there's anything I could do to "fix" things. But the fear and sadness in that little girl's face still makes me teary-eyed. I hope, hope, hope her daddy doesn't take out his anger on her at home. I hope, hope, hope that if he does, there is someone who knows them--beyond seeing them for a few seconds at WalMart--that will report him, repeatedly if necessary.

So I used it as a teachable moment for my daughter...and I'm praying for them. I just wonder if there's anything else I should have done. What do you think?


Michelle said...

I teared up just reading this post. I absolutely think you did the right thing using this as a teachable moment for your daughter and praying for that little girl. I would do the same thing.

Thanks for being such a great mom and sharing this with us.

Gator said...

Oh my. That's such a tough and disturbing situation. I'd have felt the exact same as you. I wonder if getting the store security involved, and then the police would have been appropriate. Maybe they could have detained him long enough until the police showed up and at least questioned the girl to see if its a regular thing, or worse. I think I would be so upset though that I wouldn't know what to do, or maybe not even have the guts to do it. And I feel terrible for even saying that, but its true.

I commend you for using it as a teachable moment. Not just for the abuse aspect, but the discipline aspect as well.

Melinda said...

How awful! I don't know what you could have done for the little girl. I have been sitting here re-reading your story and I can't think of what I would have done. Perhaps tell an associate at the store what you saw and where and ask that they follow up. I don't know if they even would do anything anyway.

The only positive thing in it is that Chickie got to see this and had an awesome enough mom there to have that "teaching moment." Perhaps being witness will lead her to be an advocate for someone some day because she knows knows such behavior is dangerous and not right.

Lees said...

Beth... This is sad and I think you handled it properly with your daughter. And you were probably right not to call the police. What if it was a bad moment? What if thus was out of character - that child could have been removed from her home for nothing....
Or it could be what you think, a regular occurrence. Sometimes I try to nicely say something that empathizes with a frustrated parent who has lost their cool that doesn't ok their behavior but does let them know they've been scene. Something like "parenting is tough- hope you day gets better". Then as they are on your heart in the next dew days, pray for them. Pray that if it is serious that someone who sees it regularly would tell. Prat that the girl would get courage to tell or the mom would bot stand for it. In times like this we have to trust the ONLY ONE who dies know the whole story and the heart of that parent!

That sucks!!!!

Amanda said...

Ooo if my husband would have been there he may have been laid out on the floor. Coming from an abusive home like such, that is abuse and it's probably worse at home. I don't know if sending my parents to jail would have been good...but sometimes the police can shake a person up so much they stop or start to think about their actions. I think praying for the father's heart to be changed is a good idea.

If it were me, I would have spoken up and said, "that is not necessary" in a very stern voice and let him know some eyes were on him.

Lara said...

I witnessed something like this a few months ago. I actually followed the mom and child (at a distance) just to make sure the child was safe. I don't know what is the right response in these situations.

LEstes65 said...

Sent you a private note/answer.

Call Me Cate said...

Oh, that breaks my heart. I really don't know what you could've done differently. Not having kids of my own, I think you did exactly the right thing with Chickie - a quick response, time to think, then a longer discussion later.

As for the little girl herself, maybe it was indicative of an on-going situation or maybe it was just Dad having a bad day. Not that a bad day excuses his actions. Without more information, I'm not sure there's anything else you could've done.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what I would have done, either. It makes me think of my dad and the fact that he was abused by my grandfather (beatings) until one of his uncles intervened. I think my dad was about 10 years old when his uncle spoke to my grandfather. The beatings stopped immediately, but then my dad was totally confused if he did something he wasn't supposed to do and didn't get beaten. He worked very hard to control his temper with us and succeeded, but it is so hard to break that cycle once it begins. I'm just torn up thinking about what you saw. Now I'll think hard about what I would do, so that I'll be prepared if I witness something similar.

Mellodee said...

This is an almost impossible situation for you and it's one I've been in a time or two. (I've lived a lot longer than you.) Seeing anything that is even just a little bit over the line makes my stomach knot up and before I know it, I have gone off to confront the parent. Usually with little or no success. Nonetheless, I have a very hard time just ignoring it. There is some judgement involved before I go tearing off into to some haplass mom or dad who has just reached the end of his/her rope. Did you actually see the slap? Had you seen the child's behavior beforehand? Was she "acting up"? Had you heard a warning? Did the child cry? (Abused children learn not to cry!) Was the "dad" still angry? Did he look "crazy"? Could drugs or alcohol be a factor?

We can't always answer these questions, but sometimes it helps you decide whether or not to intervene.

Basically, there is no good way to know what to do, sometimes you just "know" in your gut. In that case, I act and don't wait.

I'm sure this helps you not at all! But I just wanted to let you know I know how upsetting this can be.

Oh, by the way, these days I would really have to think about confronting a male for all the reasons you described, but I would call the police or store security instead.

I hate that these kinds of situations happen!

Anonymous said...

The closest I ever came to getting my ass kicked was (coincidentally) in the parking lot of a Walmart. I witnessed a very large man beating his son and shouting expletives at him. The child was no more than 5, and he was cowering in fear and covering his head while the father hit him repeatedly.

So I told him to stop.

He looked at me like I had three heads, and he told me to mind my own f-ing business. I said, "when you hit a defenseless child like that, it IS my business."

So he stopped hitting the child and came after me instead. I'm a pretty strong guy, but this guy had about 6 inches and 100 pounds on me, so I didn't stand much of a chance. He probably would have killed me if the police hadn't shown up.

But at least he stopped hitting the child.

Moral of the story? Don't get involved unless you're prepared to defend yourself if necessary.

As for me, I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I had to.