Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What Should I Have Done?

Today I went to lunch with a group of my girlfriends and their children. We love to go to Barro's (a local pizza chain) where there is a great play area for all of our kids to run around while we chat.
While we were talking, a dad showed up with his two boys who looked to be about ages three and four. They ate their pizza and then the boys started playing with each other while the dad read a book. Our children finished up their pizza and started to play in the same area as the boys. Well, things were fine, the kids were playing like kids do. Then, I noticed that one of the little boys was keeping the playhouse door shut, so that our kids couldn't go inside.
I calmly walked over and just said, "Hey, why don't we open the door, so all the kids can play?" I then walked away. Situation solved. I said it sugary sweet and the boy immediately opened the door for the other kids to play.
I wish I could say it stopped there or maybe the dad backed me up and said, "yes, let's share," or something equally supportive. Unfortunately, what happened next has made me feel nervous and worried all day.
The dad looked up from his book and in a very angry voice said, "Cole! Get over here right now!" I looked at the boy to see his reaction and there was this fear in his face that made me feel sick. I've not often seen kids in fear of their parents, but when you see such a look, it's impossible to not feel panic.
The child immediately walked over to his dad and his dad harshly barked, "What's wrong with you?" The boy just stood there and took it. The dad continued, "Sit down!" The boy crawled up into the bench facing his dad and his dad said again, "What's wrong with you?" The boy started to silently cry. The tears were pouring out of his eyes and his dad sat there glaring at him.
I've never been in a situation, to my knowledge, where I've gotten a child in trouble that I thought may result in physical or mental danger for a child. I felt absolutely terrible. I would've taken back my involvement in the whole thing right then if I could've. Sure, the little boy had been teasing the other kids, but did it really matter? Was it worth his being treated like this?
I was stewing, not knowing how to handle the situation when I heard the dad say, "You're going to get it when we get home." At that point, I felt that I had to go over and say something. So, I stood up and walked over to the table and leaned over to the dad and said, "Excuse me. I'm really sorry, I didn't mean for your son to get in trouble." He said, "Don't worry. If I would've seen it, he would've gotten in trouble from me just the same." I continued, "Really, it was no big deal. The kids weren't mad, I'm not mad. There's nothing to be upset about." The dad just continued to glare at his son and said, "Well, he knows better."
I walked back to my booth completely deflated and worried. For all I knew, I had further made the situation worse for this poor child when I was trying to make it better. The dad and boys quickly left and I don't think that the dad had changed his feelings at all. All I can hope is that he perhaps cooled down in the car.
What do you do about situations like this? How could I have made it better other than just not getting involved in the first place? I still feel sick about all of this.
It's also made me realize how careful I need to be when I speak to my own children. It's so easy to crush a child's self esteem with hateful words and looks. Sometimes I speak in haste when I'm angry and I can see it hurts Ryanna's feelings. I always try to apologize and follow up with a hug and a talk, but still. That old phrase, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Don't buy it. We are all affected by what people say to us whether it's spoken with kindness or malice.
I wonder if that dad realizes the fear his voice brought into the face of his son? I never, EVER want my child to look at me that way. I never want my children to fear me. I never want them to think that I could even contemplate hurting them intentionally. Situations like this serve as a good reminder that our children are relying on us to feel safe. If we can't provide that safe haven for them when they are little, where do they go when they are older? Who fills that void inside them?
Even though my intervention was done with kindness and good intent, I'm left feeling really hollow about the whole thing. From now on, I'm going to let kids work out their own problems unless someone is being hurt. I just could've never forseen a reaction like this and I certainly don't want to see another.


Toons said...

I'm so sorry! I've been in situations like that and there really is nothing you could've done! Let's just hope, as you mentioned, he calmed down and took your words to heart. Sad but we know that abuse happens all the time - almost as if the adult 'looks' for another chance. Love your kids and pray for them!

jayne said...

Sounds like you did the very best you could with what you had. Sad that some parents are allowed to be parents. Thanks for the "use kind words" reminder all of us moms need sometimes.

Lacey said...

Like I said at Barro's and Jenn said too...he would have found a reason that day to be upset with his kids! You couldn't have known what would have happened and you were only looking out for the well being of your kids...

Lara said...

It is extremely sad. I don't think there is much you could have done short of calling CPS, and you didn't have enough information to do that anyway.

I'm sorry you had to see that.

Kelli said...

I don't think you did anything wrong. I don't think you should have acted any differently. How could you have known the dad was abusive? Too bad abusive parents don't have to wear a sign that says, "I abuse my children" maybe if they did they wouldn't.
Jarom and I were some where the other day when a similar situation happened. We were standing in line and this mom (of all people) was yelling and dragging her son behind her. He of course was crying and she didn't care. I can't help but think there is a speical corner of hell for people that treat their children that way.
What a sad situation, hopefully we can learn and treat our own children that much better. Love on them a little more. And appriciate the wonderful people they are.

Jess said...

First and foremost, you did the right thing, which was to protect the interests of your kids, not to mention the other kids playing there. Second, if that little boy was up for a beating, nothing anyone said could have changed it, and it would've happened for a completely different reason later when he left a toy in the living room or some such. Third, dear God, I hate even to think this, let alone type it, I think we all have a breaking point, and there isn't a single one of us who isn't at some point borderline abusive with our child(ren), so above all, we need to be better with our kids, pray for his kids, and pray for him, too...'cause I've been there, as in that woman kelli commented on...dragging my tantruming boy through a WalMart on the way out, both of us out of control, and headed straight home to consult my Nanny 911 book. Hey, he's 3. Sometimes the parent is doing what they have to (and no, I'm not talking beating), and perhaps it's best to reserve judgment. (Why I am always the only dissenter? Is it just that I'm the worst Mom? Or the worst Mormon? Meh.)

Audrey said...

Okay Jess, I know you like to be subversive, so what I want to emphasize about that post was the fear I saw in that child's eyes. You're totally right, we all have poor parenting moments where we overreact in anger and regret it later, BUT, hopefully, when you say your children's names, they don't look at you in fear and feel as though their voice is not heard.
That little boy never even whimpered a reply to his dad to explain himself or anything. My kids would at least try to defend themselves because they know I will hear their voices. A child who can't respond is a child living in fear and I'm sorry, but any adult that sits there and glares at his child until the child cries has crossed every boundary.

JenW said...

that guy was really scary, frankly I was a little afraid of him...who wouldn't have been then?

Jack and Annie said... did what you's sad the way some of these "parent" treat these little sweet children who are just learning like the rest of us. I, like you, can only hope things calmed down later. Makes me want to go and give Gabi a big hug!

DONNA said...

Great blog! Sorry that there are so many wackos in the world. That you were so appalled by the situation is a check mark in the "good" column for you. Meaning, of course, that you have feelings attached to your heart and a moral compass. Too bad you couldn't call 911 (on those types of people) to report obnoxious parenting and glare abuse!

Dori said...

I HATE those situations. To my dismay, the world is full of, well, Rastards. We can't do anything about it. You did everything you could to better the mess. The man is a jerk. I guess we just have to do the best we can with our own! Love you!

Jess said...

Oh, geez...subversive makes me sound like I'm picking away at the right for the sake of arguing. Please don't think that. I'm not defending the guy AT ALL. Reread. And I'm not saying that he DIDN'T cross boundaries. If you had had proof (other than his poor son's sheer terror) of physical abuse, you could have been on the phone to CPS right then and I'd have been RIGHT behind you. (I HAVE called CPS, and for substantially less...) What I'm saying is more in response to the parents who judge other people for the child being spanked in the parking lot, or the adult carrying their tantruming child over their shoulder out of a store. Some people's discipline (and ability to control anger) is not nearly as celestial as it sounds like most of your friends' mine, unfortunately. What I'm saying is that the rest of us (NOT this man!) are doing our very, very best. Sorry. Wrong forum. Shoulda stuck to the beast you encountered.

Adrienne said...

I haven't been able to stop thinking of this post since I read it!!! I know that feeling, when you feel responsible but there is so little you can do. You want to call someone to check on their home life, but can't do that without more proof. I will be hoping and praying that it was just a really really bad day for the dad and that it's not typical. That poor baby.

jlj said...

It's no wonder the boy was having a hard time sharing. He was just modeling the selfish behavior he probably sees at home every day. Poor kid.

I think you did the right thing approaching the man. This way he knew that HIS behavior was noticed. Good for you.