Monday, January 14, 2008

Whose Business is This?

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?


Mom Thumb said...

You're quite right, that is a slippery slope. I work with an agency that shelters abused and neglected children, and I am extremely sensitive to the way children are being dealt with in public. I mostly don't know what to do, either. Just one more chapter they left out of the parenting handbook.

chelle said...

It is a tough call most times. I have never intervened but there have been time sit left a pit in my stomach.

fizzledink said...

This is a great, thought-provoking post, Heather. I read it this morning and spent all day trying to figure out how I feel about it.

I think that in the PARTICULAR situation you described, I probably would have gone to the front desk or service center or what-have-you to inform someone in management. Yeah, it "passes the buck" and lets them decide what to do, but I think it would be a good 'compromise' position --I could feel like I'd done something but I wouldn't feel like I'd crossed a line.

In the hypothetical, seeing a parent with a screaming kid, I have to agree with you - we can't do much more than offer the sympathetic grin, the shrug, the "Been there" or "rough day, huh?" kind of comment.

To your closing questions, I would say that it really does depend on the situation. If you see a tantruming kid or an angry teen, and their parents are TRYING to handle the situation, then you probably have to respect their parenting choices - even if their method of handling it is far different from your own approach. On the other hand, if you see a parent "growing violently frustrated" then it seems like we have a moral imperative to step in. Doesn't that child deserve to see an adult who sees them and stands up to say, that kind of treatment is unacceptable? However - in the real world - if I'm out and about with my own child(ren) in tow, then I'm not going to risk endangering myself and my family if the person I'm observing does seem violent. In that case, you'd have to defer to making a call to security or the police.

So I think, we should get involved when it's clear that we can actually contribute something useful, even if it's just helping that parent feel less-alone in knowing others understand, and when it's clear that we won't be harming ourselves or making the situation worse for the children involved by doing so.

That's about as clear as mud, isn't it?

Damselfly said...

You're right, it's tough to know when to get involved.