Sunday, May 25, 2014

Speak Up!

A dear friend of mine was standing in line at the post office the other day.  She watched a dad smack a young boy’s hand very hard and then verbally threaten to break the child’s arm if he did whatever it was he was doing again.  My brave friend spoke up and told the man she’d heard what he said.  Of course, he quickly changed his story, lied about what he’d said to try to convince her she’d heard incorrectly and then made sure everyone heard him tell her that she’d best mind her own business.  I commend my friend for having the courage to speak up and say something to this man, especially in front of the child.  She sent a message loud and clear to both the man and the child that what she’d seen and heard wasn’t ok.  Better yet, she gave them both the opportunity to step back, reassess, and do things differently.

I had the lovely opportunity to be on the other side of that coin today.  Four men watched my son hit me today. I saw the horrified expression on all their faces when he did it.  The speed in which I blocked the blow was a tell-tale sign this wasn’t the first time this has happened. These men knew what they had just witnessed wasn't in jest. They knew it was real.  They also knew there was some real intent to do harm behind the blow.  I have no doubt that if he could have, my son would have hurt me in that moment.

I was stunned. It’s not the first time he’s come after me when he’s been highly triggered, but today was the first time he's ever done it in public. I looked at him in surprise and said "Oh, you didn't just do that! You didn't just hit me in front of all these men??" The smug look on his face said it all. He did, and he was proud of it, too! My next comment was "Hmmm...I wonder if all these men right here might have anything to say about that?" 

Indeed those men did have something to say, but it certainly wasn’t what I expected!! Had any one of those men said "Um, no. It's not ok to hit your mom!", my son would have immediately turned around and sobered up. But they didn't say anything of the sort. Rather than being anywhere close to supportive or acting like the descent, grown up men that they are, they laughed about it!  They minimized it. They joked about it.  They told my son it was indeed ok to hit his mom, that they’ll cover for him any time, and that it’s funny to hit your mother. 

I didn't even think about what came next. I just turned around with more firey passion and venom than I've had about anything in a very long time. I looked squarely at those men and VERY firmly (to the point I was shaking) said "Don't you EVER tell my son it's ok for him to hit his mother!!" Their response was instantly very hostile and along the lines of "Don't involve us in your family problems. We didn't ask for it. We were just sitting here!" And with that, they continued to be even more flippant about the whole thing and minimized the situation even more.

I left the exchange shaking, furious, and felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.  Try as I might, I couldn’t pull it back together and settle down. I finally had to leave the building.
  It took a couple hours after that before I could even speak to my son.  When I did, I learned that one of those men had the audacity to later chide my son because my son got him in trouble. Seriously?
  Newsflash, Mr. Arrogant!!  My son didn’t get you in trouble.  You got yourself in trouble when you sent a loud, clear message to a teenage kid that it’s ok and even a little funny for him to hit his mother!

I really don’t care who is involved or what the situation is.  I don’t care if you’re at the post office, in the park, at the grocery store, at church, or in the privacy of your own home. It’s NEVER ok for a teenage kid to hit their mother.  It’s equally not ok for a man to hit a woman, a woman to hit a man, or an adult to hit a child.  I’m not talking about a brief disciplinary spanking, either. That’s a whole different situation with different intent we're not getting into here.  I don’t advocate for spanking kids, but the type of hitting I’m referring involves more than a swat across the fanny.  It’s hitting with force, in anger, and with intent to do harm…and if it’s happening, it’s a sign that something is terribly wrong and these people need some help!  It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong in the situation.  It just needs to stop immediately so both sides can step back, regroup, and diffuse.

Just as it’s not ok for a teenage kid to be hitting their mom, for a spouse to verbally abuse their partner, or for a dad to be threatening to break their kid’s arm if they don’t behave, it’s also not ok not to say anything when you witness these things.  We’ve all heard that saying (that I utterly despise) “It takes a village to raise a child”.  I’ve noticed a really disturbing trend lately.  The village is right there, sometimes even right in your face, when it’s easy for them to be there.  The village is great about bringing in meals when someone is sick, or teaching Sunday School, or serving on the PTA, or loving on adorable babies so their tired mommies can have a breather, or bringing in home baked treats to make the kids smile.  But what about when the help that is so desperately needed is not so easy or pleasant or convenient? What about when we face situations that are awkward or hard or messy?  What about situations that are clearly backwards from anything we think we know, such as a kid who is abusing their parents? What about when we see a yard in need of attention?  What about when we witness stuff as innocent bystanders that we wish we hadn’t seen?  The truth is these are the times when people need help the most!  They don’t need to be shunned or ignored or judged.  They just simply need compassion, a courageous intervention, and help.  Sadly, though, instead of offering anything that actually resembles help, in times like these the villagers tend to scatter…and gossip…and judge…or they turn a blind eye because they don’t want to “get involved” or they pass the buck and call the police and let them handle it.

It’s time for another newsflash here.  Rarely is a call to the police the type of help families such as mine, or probably even that man at the post office need.  There certainly are situations that warrant that type of action, but most of the time it only adds a whole lot more stress, anguish, and hurt to an already overwhelming situation.  Very often it turns out to be a giant waste of public resources, too. Neither the police or DCFS have training in how to handle mental health related cases.  Sometimes the kids are too young for them to do much of anything. Sometimes they already know from looking at previous records that this is a mental health case, not a criminal case.  What that really means is that they don’t usually end up doing anything except talk to the kids, tell them to do better next time, and file an incident report.  Before you get button happy and make that anonymous call, take some time to observe what’s going on and find the courage to and ask some questions.  It’s quite possible you’ll find a situation isn’t what it first appears to be and that a simple, kind, short, no-nonsense, supportive intervention exactly what is needed to calm a storm.   

Please, when you encounter situations where something doesn't seem right, know that it's probably not.  Find the courage to speak up and say something!  Please don’t make light of another’s situation. You likely have no idea what's driving it or what they've been through that you can't see. Offer to help…even when it’s hard or messy or awkward or inconvenient!  Remember, that’s probably when they need you most! 

1 comment :

Brie M said...

WOW! I'm so sorry for the experience you had. I was just thinking how hands off everyone has become...My toddler fell head first out of a cart at Target - other than a father exclaiming "Oh My God" as he walked past with his family, there was no involvement to see if we were okay - just stares. Finally, an employee halfheartedly asked if we needed anything. I've noticed when I try to offer help to strangers, I'm turned away as some sort of crazy. It's sad that our world has turned into a place where we are afraid to help or accept help.