I was at Target this morning, moving through one of the long central aisles that cross the store, passing the housewares section, when I heard a woman yell in a loud, raging way: “Stop that!” or “Knock it off!”
She was a large woman in a tank top, and she had bright red hair and glasses. Late 20s, early 30s, maybe. She was was holding a plastic wastebucket by the rim, one she looked interested in purchasing. Its bottom faced toward a little blond girl, 5 or 6. The girl, like the woman, was wearing glasses. I saw the girl grab at the woman or even swat her. The woman, responded by–right when I was looking–jabbing the wastebacket twice towards the little girl’s face. Her gesture, in my mind, was saying, “I’ll smack you with this, and see how you like it, and that will teach you to hit me!”
I found the gesture shocking and threatening. I stopped. The woman caught me looking at her, and I held my stare. At the time, I was thinking, I’ll let her know that I saw what she did with the wastebacket, and that I disapprove and think it’s not just a childish, ineffective response, but potentially abusive.
I need to confess that I have never been paragon of calm virture when it comes to dealing with whining, tantrum-throwing kids. So, I really hesitate to judge other parents when they are in the midst of dealing with a kid meltdown.
Yeah, I yelled at my son when he was little. He’s now 11, and I yelled at him this year. He used to throw amazing tantrums when he was 2, 3, 4, and he was not a kid who would go into “time out.” Not unless we had physically restrained him–which we did, for his own safety–or locked him in his bedroom–which we didn’t, again for safety reasons.
These days, when he’s not getting what he wants, he draws on his amazingly verbal and persistent skills of nagging to attempt to push my buttons, wear me down, trap me in a contradiction. He is, as my husband pronounced the day he was born, “determined.” Yes, I have told him he should be a lawyer.
I spanked my son once when he was 2 or 3 and having one of his tantrums. I spanked him because I was trying out what some parenting experts think is a perfectly fine response to small-child misbehavior. A swat on the behind: Gets their attention! Stops them cold!
We were at home at the time. Not out in public. Not that it really matters.
I don’t remember the exact circumstances. I just remember my heart wasn’t in it, and I didn’t spank with the right force or attitude. Basically, my swat was weak, ill-conceived, mistimed. I turned out to be a failure at the spare the rod-spoil the child idea of corporal punsihment. Anyway, he was wearing diapers at the time and probably didn’t feel any pain.
I ended up feeling silly and out of control, which I was. He sensed that I was feeling out of control and that just made him, likewise, feel more out of control, as well as scared and angry. I learned thereafter that it was fine for me to step out of the room and take a Mommy Timeout.
Back to this morning’s incident in Target:
Threatening to hit your kid with a wastebasket? In the middle of a crowded department store? What was this woman thinking? As much as I don’t want to judge other parents, especially those in the midst of kid meltdown, I still think this woman was acting like an idiot. Of the many things I might have asked her: Have you no shame? What an immature thing to do. What are you teaching your daughter?
Yeah, that mom deserved a stare-down. A look of scorn and disapproval.
Perhaps I should have done or said something more? But what?
Since she didn’t actually hit her child with that wastebasket, she couldn’t have been arrested. But you have to wonder, if she feels free to act that way in public, is she behaving worse in the privacy of their home?
So, what do you do, if you see a parent acting out with their kid, disciplining them in a way that strikes you as inappropriate, cruel, or abusive?
I’m not sure my brief stare-down with this women had any affect. After I turned to walk away back down the aisle, I heard her resume her yelling.