It Takes A Village… But the Village Doesn’t Want to Get Involved


I am not a parenting expert. An etiquette expert, yes, but not a parenting expert. Then again, is ANY parent, besides the Duggars, a parenting expert? I didn’t think so. There is no other employment one could have that provides constant on-the-job training that still does not make the person in the position an expert.
Really, all we know about parenting for certain is what NOT to do. Don’t hit, don’t forget to feed them, don’t leave young kids alone… Even then there are more questions; does spanking count? What if you only feed your kid fast food day in and day out? What age is okay to leave a child on his or her own? *sigh* It is never-ending, and no matter what you do, there will be someone, somewhere, ready to tell you that you are doing it wrong. But sometimes someone should be ready to step in and tell another someone they are doing it wrong.
On a recent trip, my family ended up in an airport food court, waiting in line for, I’ll admit, fast food. A young woman was loudly berating her very small daughter, and the lines of people around her stood silent. “If you don’t knock that off, I’ll beat your butt right here in front of everyone,” she barked. As far as I could see, the little girl was doing nothing wrong, save existing in this, I hesitate to say “lady’s”, world. The volume and tone of her voice seemed to be expecting the people around her to approve of her being a tough parent and putting a four year old in her place.
Every fiber of my being wanted to speak up, but I, like the rest of the people around this depressing scene, was afraid of the stability of this young mother. The little girl looked soulless, empty, and too familiar with this type of proceeding. If I stepped in and said, “I know travel is frustrating, but this little girl doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment”, would the woman go off on me? Would she have a weapon? Would a miracle happen and she would thank me for pointing out the error of her ways? What if I stepped in and the woman snapped and said, “Fine, you take her,” and left? Then what? That little girl couldn’t be any worse off.
Clearly, everyone hearing this was thinking all the same thoughts. It is nothing to be proud of, but all of us chose to avoid involvement.
Malcom Gladwell writes of this very same phenomenon in his book Blink. A crowd of people assumes someone else will step in and therefore individuals do not step up.
The woman retrieved her food and stomped off, the forlorn little girl following in her dark wake. The crowd relaxed and went about their business. I felt ashamed, said a prayer for the little girl, and let the scene haunt my memory. What will I do differently next time? Because there will be a next time, sadly. Do I do like the public safety ad where a woman approaches another mom in the parking lot during a meltdown and asks, “Can I help?” Yes. It is disarming enough of a question that it is truly the best way to do something. I vow to do this as it is practicing what I preach; that when you make someone aware that others are aware, there is more likely to be resolution.
Other ideas to stop an out-of-control parent are welcomed. In the meantime, I have come up with a few, from the over-the-top, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, talking to a child like that!” to a variation of the PSA; “You appear to be really frustrated. What can I do to help?”
I vow to do better, as should everyone who is afraid to get involved. Though I am desperately hoping not to have to practice, I will say something if there is a next time. Stay tuned.