I’m always somewhat startled when I happen upon a parent/child interaction that is reminiscent of my own childhood. So far removed do I feel from the days of old where, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” was a common family phrase, that it almost feels like I’m remembering someone else’s life. Yet, try as I might to believe that we’ve come miles and miles from those “good ole days,” I occasionally am reminded that there are families who still live there, parents who control their children through belittling and threats, children who tow the line, not as a choice, but because they are afraid. It’s easy to repeat the past and somehow justify that, “I turned out all right, didn’t I?” But at what far reaching costs to our children?
I had an experience not so long ago, where I witnessed a four-year old throwing a tantrum at a museum. Dad lost his cool and began to “physically intervene.” The child was on the floor crying and dad was nudging, lightly kicking the child and instructing him to get up. I stopped and made a comment to dad. “We don’t kick children,” I responded. “Don’t kick him.”
In his rage, dad turned on me. I could see fear and embarrassment on his wife’s face, shame and anger on his. I wasn’t afraid. Bullies don’t scare me. Besides, I’d rather dad focus his anger on me than his innocent kid. He yelled and let me know, “that he’d do whatever he wanted to his !@$!#@ kid!” But I knew that the point had been made. Dad looked around to see if anyone was watching. He quit assaulting his child and the little boy stood up. The family skulked away and out the front door, with mom holding on to her little boy’s hand. I like to hope that mom was empowered by our interaction that day and that dad thinks twice before he unthinkingly does to his children what was done to him. But most of all, I hope that little boy grows up remembering that a stranger took his part and stated clearly how children should be treated.