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?