As my son and I approached the entrance of the store I noticed a mini-van parked in the fire lane at the front of the store, driver absent, motor running. While things as simple as this (not parking in an actual parking spot but parking right outside the door) bother me, it was what I saw as I drew closer to the van that really sparked my anger.
Three children. No adult in the car. Two of the kids were strapped helplessly in their car seats. The third, the oldest of the three at perhaps five years old, was wildly launching himself over the seats with a gleeful grin on his face.
My mind raced to all the things that could happen to these children. Someone could steal the van full of kids in a heartbeat. If there was a lighter in the car, they could start the car on fire. At the very least, the oldest child could land on and injure one of the younger two.
Forget the fact that it is winter in Minnesota.
Let me clarify that this store was not a necessity-type store. There could be no emergency product that called a parent to this store. Not one.
I admit it. I was livid. But I did nothing. I should have called the police. At the very least, I should have informed someone in the store.
I didn’t want to get involved.
This parenting thing is tricky business. What I think is right another parent might shake their head in disgust thinking about.
Perhaps it is similar to seeing a parent in public with a screaming child. If you’ve been there yourself you tend to ignore the situation when it happens to others because when it’s been me I’ve wanted to disappear. The most I do in that situation is smile and say “I’ve been there.”
Because if you try to offer more than that, I think you risk alienating the parent. Chances are, she already feels like a horrible parent in that moment. A stranger’s “help” would perhaps underscore her perceived lack of parenting skills. When you’re already feeling badly about your skills, you don’t need someone else making you even more aware that others are witnessing this debacle.
But what is our societal role in raising children? Is it okay to correct someone else’s child even when the parent is obviously trying? What if the parent is growing violently frustrated with the child? When should someone else step in?
When should we get involved?