Love your kids

I just had to send my big kids text messages about how much I love them (my 5-year old’s iPhone doesn’t have cell service). They’re at school and they might get in trouble for it, but given what I just witnessed, I had to reach out to them.

I basically just watched a family completely wreck their 7-year old. What an entire family was doing walking their dogs during the middle of a Thursday I’m not sure, but what got my attention was a gruff sounding “stop walking a mile behind everyone else or I’ll beat you in front of everyone.”

I heard this through an open window and turned my attention toward the awfulness I’d just heard, to see an older father of three berating who appeared to be his youngest, and apparently for walking too far behind the rest. Keep in mind the “everyone” mentioned was in fact an empty suburban street.

The child predictably responded negatively to this outburst which prompted a response from his mother who seemed to be leaning in to console the child. But no, she just wondered loudly if he was going to cry now and “act like an asshole.”

Now fully aware of this nonsense outside, I resolved myself to watching intently through the open window (I can be a scary-looking dude if I want to be) making sure they’d see me witness their dysfunction if they looked over, but no such luck. As they crossed the street and continued on their way, the youngest child obviously and understandably wanted nothing to do with his family, picked up some sticks and threw them against a tree and kicked some leaves, while falling behind the group again.

This is where my heart truly broke for this boy. As he wiped his tears and vented his frustrations on foliage, I sensed such resentment and hurt in his heart that I decided I’d watch them for as long as I could and that if his father returned to actually hit his child, I’d be out the door in a heartbeat to end the abuse. I understood why this child was lagging behind but I simultaneously ached for him to catch up so as not to incur his father’s irrational wrath.

But, the sad thing is, I’d already witnessed the abuse: it’d happened long before they appeared at my window and it will continue long after they’re home from walking the dogs. There’s a good chance I did this boy a disservice by not getting involved until a certain abuse threshold had been met, but at the same moment, I was feeling a deep shame for my own previous actions as a young father, and was struggling with that.

As a child, I didn’t have a great example of how to deal with children from my own father, but at least I had a sympathetic mother and I was never, ever spoken to in the way this boy was.

I had children early in life and my 20s were spent dealing with a metric ton of anxiety and depression issues while also raising young kids and while I now have my mental health under control (hooray for health insurance), there was too much familiar about how the parents on that sidewalk were behaving that I was essentially stunned into a very quick audit of my older children now in their tween/teen years and my parenting style in my 30s: I came away proud of who I am now as a father, and found a new resolve to cherish my children every day, because my life is owed to them, not the other way around. My 5-year old and I have such a great relationship that I wasn’t even worried about him. This boy and my youngest shared nothing in common father-wise and for that I’m proud.

My only regret is that I didn’t act in time to help this boy. It looked to me like all he needed was a hug, a smile, and someone to hold his hand.

115 thoughts on “Love your kids

  1. Abuse we can see and hear gets all the attention out there but, mark my words, receiving the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, and being forever ignored and dismissed is the same as death to a child who has no one else to turn to.

    Just because a child appears quiet and obedient does not mean they are peaceful and happy. It may simply mean that kid has adapted the survival skill of crying after everybody else has gone to sleep.

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    1. “Just because a child appears quiet and obedient does not mean they are peaceful and happy. It may simply mean that kid has adapted the survival skill of crying after everybody else has gone to sleep.” Also a powerful quote.

      I’m now remembering instances I wish I could have donned a cape and swooped in to stop abuse from continuing. I have seen the exact same situation in my own neighbourhood, but the worst was in the grocery store parking lot years ago. A mom and her young son were loading their groceries in the car, and the mom’s hand raised to close the door. The boy, standing near her, flinched. A flinch so obvious, and heartbreaking, that my mother and I noticed it from two car rows away. But how do you step in? You can’t. She didn’t do anything in that moment. I just hugged my mom instead. It hasn’t been that long since child “discipline” was normal, and not discussed. We are a product of those generations. We notice it, we know better, but we still haven’t developed an etiquette for stepping in.

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      1. Yes this. I wish there WAS an etiquette for stepping in. Sometimes we see stuff (not this story) that has a back story that we are completely unaware of so if we*do* step in then we have it completely wrong. And other times (like this one) that we see stuff we so want to intervene in (although we STILL could be wrong about it. Who knows what a little shit the kid was being one block ago?!)

        So how can we intervene in a way that says to the kid, “you are valued. You are a special person. You are worthy of love and attention, even if it is ‘only’ a stranger’s” while also saying “I may have got this situation wrong, so forgive me for not knowing the whole story, I just want to support your whole family” as well as “No, abuse is not right. In any form.” ?

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      2. Oh gosh, you hit the nail on the head. Those are the exact 3 things a public child abuse intervention should mean to a kid/teen. As a society, I think we need to come up with a way to say this clearly, effectively and politely (just in case we do have it wrong). I really dislike the fact that if we do have it wrong though, we are met with anger and defensiveness rather than “thanks for being concerned about my kid, even if you were off base.” It takes a village folks.

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      3. Not Quite 40: Maybe by not calling the child “a little shit” and exercising compassion and a listening ear, instead.

        You’re right, “abuse is not right in any form.” Name calling is the worst kind of abuse when the child trusts the word of adults to be the truth.

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  2. Odd to see this after having witnessed child abuse also just this past Thursday..I was driving to work; traffic was at a stand still in a school cross area…15 mph but in bumper to bumper stream of cars..I couldn’t believe my eyes..At first I didn’t want to believe it was what I actually SAW..But in the car in front of me; some type of SUV..I saw a mother(a mother!) reach over to the passenger seat & was repeatedly beating something over & over again with her right hand..Left hand was on the steering wheel..My car was shorter than hers; so I couldn’t even see the child’s head..BUT it was confirmed it was a child; because then she pulled into the school..I was SO shook UP..She turned so abruptly & I didn’t anticipate it; that I didn’t get her license plate..I was squeezed in between a car in front of me & behind me..So I couldn’t get out to turn into the school..It happened SO suddenly & then poof! her car turned into the school..By time I got to work I couldn’t think of anything else..I even told co-workers about it..I called the school to report the car; but I had no license plate (and they said they couldn’t go on my description alone..) I do not believe in corporal punishment for raising children..It was something my exhusband & I used with our now grown sons..I know other people believe in spanking & corporal punishment..But certainly that didn’t qualify! Beating someone down , in my opinion, is lack of control ..There are ways to discipline without physically punishing..And always to be done with love..2 thumbs UP on your write!

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  3. Your regret is justified, and your involvement at any time would mean a close escape for the child but it would also mean an intensified wrath from his folks after they all got back home. Not that one shouldn’t step forward to help, but many times the help could have a counter effect. I unfortunately know a few parents with similar behaviour traits, for them there is no trade off when it comes to personal ego v/s their child’s happiness. I pray for sense to these parents.

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  4. I remember working at a pharmacy a couple of years ago where a father was provoking his child (maybe 8 years old) while the child’s prescription for ADHD was being filled. My boss–who had zero tolerance for children by virtue of their being children–stood by and laughed which in turn caused the adult to think he was being funny. I was livid, but as a 19 year old girl I was also not in the best position to intervene. I still regret not doing much about it–in retrospect, it would have been worth getting cussed out. Best I managed was taking the little boy aside and offering him stickers. His whole face lit up, making me think he probably didn’t often receive positive attention. It still makes me want to cry. Like another commenter was saying, however, I think sometimes intervention puts a kid in harm’s way. Maybe the best thing to do is often just to try to offer the kid some kind of reassurance and keep him/her in your prayers. God give me wisdom and a backbone, though, because I’m sure that’s not the last time I’ll witness a scene of that nature.

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  5. I have seen some awful things too, and have regretted stepping up for a child. Before I had children, I witnessed a mother hit her teenage daughter in the face at the mall. I couldn’t have been the only one to see it. But I was also very young, and didn’t know how to handle what I saw. Still, I hate that these things are happening.

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  6. my heart breaks for this little boy:( sadly I probably would have done the same as you, not say anything unless it got physical. Even if you did go out there when he was yelling and talking to his son the way he did it probably would have gotten worse for his son at home. Poor kid and parents like that shouldn’t be aloud to be parents.

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  7. This same scenario played out many times between me and my mother, supposedly because I “ran off” on her once and the age of 4. So, she became “worried”, “overprotective”, and all those other polite words people use to describe highly controlling parents with zero ability to trust their kids. Her game was to protect us from everything except her own wrath and pettiness. I never come to her about anything now of course.

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  8. And the worst of it is, unless the child has the self-esteem to get therapy when he’s older, he will probably grow up just like dear-old-dad. “Hurt people, hurt people,” as they say. I’m glad you’re feeling good about your parenting these days. Who knows, maybe one of your well-adjusted kids will make friends w/ that poor kid someday and help him out.
    Congrats on the FP – I hope a lot of emotional abusers will read your post as a result and perhaps give it some thought.

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    1. I’ve never heard that saying “Hurt people, hurt people” but it is a gem. If I have kids of my own someday, that is the perfect way to explain a bully’s behaviour… I hope I remember it!

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  9. i love reading blogs about parenting…. i hope that somehow, someone passes this one along to the “asshole” who needs some parenting readjustments. well written

    theheatherxo.wordpress.com

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  10. What a heart wrenching story.
    Please keep a close lookout for this family again. CPS needs to be called, if you can figure where they live or even last name from another neighborhood person. He deserves to have the abuse caught and stopped. all of the children.

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  11. You could have acted in time, but I think had you done so, his parents would have taken it out on him when they got him home. Trouble is that almost anyone can have children, but not everone can be a parent. Excuse me, but I’m off to text my sons and let them know I love them. (Nice post)

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  12. From the tv show fringe: Na einai kalitero anthropo apo ton patera tou. Be a better man than your father. Isn’t that what we men all struggle to be? And some of us don’t have to work too hard to be better than what we had handed to us. Keep up your struggle, sounds like you’re doing great. Nice entry.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very powerful, thank you for sharing! My last blog post from this evening is eerily connected to yours, it touches upon this very topic and the trauma I see in working as an art therapist. I am currently interning at a children’s hospital and student center and although the work is extremely rewarding, simultaneously it can be gut wrenching. My last post that talks of all of this in depth is titled “The shame is not yours”

    Great post and congratulations on the Fresh Press!!!!!!!!

    – Jennifer

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  14. This was quite high in India,recently it is reducing. people think that they can mold a child the way they expect just by punishing or treating him ill in front of others. That’s really a shame.

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  15. This post makes me stop and think how lucky I am to have such wonderful parents. They certainly never talked to me like those parents did to that little boy. I feel for kids that get treated that way. It is so wrong on many levels. I don’t think some people should be allowed to have kids. Not everyone is cut out to be parents. I truly believe it takes certain characteristic’s to be a parent. One of those being compassion and caring.
    I think it was a very thought provoking post. Good job.

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  16. Powerful post. Verbal abuse by parents is all too common. Frustrating when I see it at the park or while watching my son at Lacrosse practice. Parents looking at their smart phone, playing candy crush and yelling at their other child who is playing nicely or asking them a question and telling them to stop or they are going to be in trouble. I don’t know if that’s bad parenting or abuse or both. But literally just expecting young kids to shut up so they can play a game. What is wrong with people? Why did they have children?

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  17. Although this was hard to read I think the dialogue it’s opened is very powerful. Thank you.
    I too recently had been a witness to a mother (carrying an infant in one hand, a toddler holding on to her other hand and a young girl straggling behind them). It was raining and the mother was clearly annoyed and overwhelmed. She yelled at the girl to hurry up. She was already crying and yelled back “I’m trying!” The mom then told her if she didn’t catch up they would leave her there. I could see the hurt in the little girls face. How could they leave me? Aren’t I part of the family. I was watching from my bedroom window. Glued and emotional for the girl. The mom and two other kids eventually turn a corner and the girl watches her family disappear. As soon as she see this she begins to bawl hard and runs into the direction of their parked car. At this point I don’t know if I should run out or call her from my window so she doesn’t run too far. But then I see the mom who is even more angry now, rush back to get her. More yelling and screaming. But the worst was when she took the girls umbrella and threw it in her face!! The poor girl left the umbrella on the wet floor and followed her mother in the rain… Soaking with her tears and the pouring sky. I was a mess. The whole day was consumed with this girl. What happened after? Does that kind of thing always happen? And because I don’t have kids of my own I always feel as though I’m in no place to tell a mother how to handle her kids. But at the same deep down I know she knows this is wrong. I hope to god she does anyway. My only regret was to at least have let them know that someone was watching. Someone could see what just happened. But coming from an abusive family I know that if she had seen me… The little girl would be further punished for “causing a scene”

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  18. Unsettling. Startling. Truly insightful piece of writing. This is one of the reasons I put up with my job–teaching. I see kids reprimanded for all the wrong reasons and treated so unfairly. Then, parents, in time, wonder what happened to their sweet little child.

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  19. I am sorry you had to have a bad start to the day. I tried thinking what i would do if i was in that situtation and i could not decide. Of course everyone is going to say they are going to step up and say something but when the time comes you do not know what is truly the right thing to do. I think what you did was the right thing and it was awesome to see you texted your own kids and that there still our good people in the world.

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  20. Oh my gosh, my heart just thudded reading your post… Very heart felt. Geesh, I am asking my self now, what would I have done? Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Love the post. I am 21 years old and have 2 babies. My daughter is 15months and my son is almost 6 weeks old. This post has emotion to it, felt heart-filled words. I don’t know how people could be so heartless to their children or child. Children bring such joy in our lives and never ending love; unconditional love. I will make sure I am the best mother I can ever possibly be to my babies for the rest of my life and theirs as well.

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  22. So true people dont realize but your parents have an great impact on your life. All your decisions in life is based on how you are treated and how your home is. Kids need to be in a loving warm secure enviroment with discipline but with the knowledge that they will always be loved unconditionally.

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  23. Reblogged this on Lone Parents Survival Manual and commented:
    It is so important to show gratitude to your children and really focus on the good stuff. I sometimes wonder when I hear of people disrespecting their children, why on earth they had them in the first place. It isn’t easy being a parent so why do it if you are not going to to love and respect them with your whole heart.

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  24. Thank you for bringing awareness about this subject. Last Friday, I watched a 2 hour lecture (on YouTube) with Dr. Robert Anda, who was co-Principle investigator of an extensive study (Adverse Childhood Experiences – ACE) which included over 17,000 people. I was stunned by the findings. The study showed a significant link between adverse childhood experiences and many of the nation’s worst health and social problems, including substance abuse.

    Center for Disease Control ACE Study: http://www.cdc.gov/ace/about.htm

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  25. I feel you. I lived in what I thought was the perfect neighborhood only to find a houseful of seven under-encouraged kids a couple of doors over. I couldn’t step out of my house without being amassed by them. I mean, there was a chld in diapers out in the snow with no adults aware. Kids peeing in the front yard ’cause they couldn’t get to a bathroom. One of the kids made top ramen and fed the whole lot half the time. I was a single parent then, still am. I fed them from time to time, called the cops and CPS like so many of my neighbors, took them out on field trips, camping in my back yard, trick or treating, lunch at the deli, trips to the pet shop and watched them like a hawk. I always had time to talk to them and they had time to talk to me. All they had to do was look up at my window to know if they were behaving or not. You could see them run really fast when they knew they weren’t. I never confronted the parents altho I did befriend them somewhat; they were well aware of what I did not approve of. I did see the husband “attempt” to posture on the deck. Sorry, fella; I’m not going away!

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  26. I have a niece who is verbally abused and was physically abused by her mom. Never could do anything for her life as it just made her life worse by my trying to intervene. I’ve offended everyone in the family. But I also had drawn a line to what needs to happen in the family. Hopefully, she is happier even though I am out of all their lives – I’m sure I will never know. Praying to God in these situations is powerful to change them. Apart from calling the cops on these people … which if the child will not accuse the mother or father of abuse turns out to be useless.

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  27. This is so sad, and it happens a lot, more so in the UK, I think, where I grew up. It is hard to know when to intervene. It might have encouraged the little boy, but intervening might also have made things worse for him, when he got home.

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  28. ” Dealing with a metric ton of anxiety and depression issues ” definitely captures the moment. I remember, as new parent, while my wife was in labor with our first child…..I think it was nearly 24 hours of sleep-deprived thought that had me worrying about my kid’s Algebra grades and whether or not he should take a foreign language….and my son had yet to appear on the planet. Luckily, I was able to come to my senses……after some sleep. I have scaled it back quite a bit since then, so I have been able to truly enjoy every moment of being a Dad.

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  29. Thank you for this post and I pray that this child be protected and that the parents understand that their actions/words mold the life of their children and that those actions/words carry more weight than they could ever imagine. Being a parent is a privilege and honor. I want to thank you for your devotion to your children.

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  30. I can so relate to this post…“Just because a child appears quiet and obedient does not mean they are peaceful and happy. It may simply mean that kid has adapted the survival skill of crying after everybody else has gone to sleep.” …what Gina said is also very true, because I’ve been there. I’m still a teen who unfortunately hasn’t had the best childhood nor a good parenting example. As a teen I’m going through a lot of family problems. I know how much these things hurt. They can scar you for the rest of your life. When you face all this as a kid or teen, you get distanced from those you once thought were your own, those you thought were family. In fact, I’m planning to go away from home to a boarding college from next year just so that I can get some mental peace. I’ve also promised myself already that if and when I have kids, I’ll give them the best life possible. Thank you for sharing that touching story.

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  31. Reblogged this on M.O.M. master of multitasking and commented:
    This post resembles what I see to many times here where I live. Its very very sad to see children go through this and i hear you, as to many times we feel guilty of not doing anything to stop this abuse, AFTER the act was witnessed. Why is this, i wonder? Is it because we are afraid of the consequences to our own bodies? Or are we in such a shock while witnessing these acts that we cannot act immediately? I really do wonder, what stops us?.

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  32. I see this every once in a while at the store, family gatherings, etc. and it breaks my heart to the point where I can’t snap out of my misery. I don’t know why it breaks my heart so much but this post was what I needed. It made me realize that you can always do something about it, you just need the guts and the mindset. This also makes me want to go hug my mom and dad because of how loving they were, and how they made me feel so important my whole life.
    Kary

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  33. I have taught preschool and worked in child welfare. I seem to either attract at risk families or I am drawn to them. I try to stay close, to the parent(s) and the child(ren). I’ve known people who were very open to getting help and received it when I was their friend and not a scary social worker; other times, CPS got involved.

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  34. So sad that poor little boy has no-one in his corner 😦 My ex was a pill and still is to our son unfortunately, but I’m always in his corner to step in when necessary. Children should always feel their parents will be the ones to defend them & feel safe in their arms. I’m ashamed for those parents and the damage they’re causing.

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  35. “My Life is owed to them not the other way around.” Only if other father’s saw it that way it would make a big difference in a child’s life. I as a father understood as soon as my children were born just to give them a chance in life and a happy life.

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  36. I love it when my mom just lets me sit in her lap while she strokes my hair. We don’t even say anything but that always makes my day. I think parents need to find time to spend with their kids. Life’s too short.

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  37. Being aware of ignorant parenting and being a positive presence in a child’s life when possible is good. I also think, though a natural response is to want to reprimand this parent, approaching them w/ some amount of kindness may be the only way to make a difference.

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  38. What a wonderful post. “But, the sad thing is, I’d already witnessed the abuse: it’d happened long before they appeared at my window and it will continue long after they’re home from walking the dogs.”

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  39. I have also seen instances like this. I don’t have children but I believe I have a sense of how you should and shouldn’t treat your child. I know there will be people reading this thinking “no you haven’t got a clue until you have them” but sometimes an outsiders perspective is what’s needed. I know that’s trUEFA from a personal experience with a friend and her child.

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  40. Congrats on the Freshly Pressed!

    I had to respond to this one.

    There was a point when my son was an infant and I caught him staring at me. The look was of admiration and I could see how much he looked up to his father. I always think of this and try to live up to a child’s love. It is to bad that other people never see this.

    At some point, every child loves their parents and relies on them for security and protection. You can be a drunk. You can have a crappy job. Or you can be well off and comfortable. Everyone is on the same line and equal. The only one who can let down their end are the parents.

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  41. Great post blending together what you saw that day, what you experienced in your childhood, and your actions as a father. I am an educator on family communication and I am constantly telling people that we ‘teach’ our children through our actions and words. Actually we are always training them. We are training them how to treat others and how to talk to others. Hopefully this child can learn by opposite example and do the right thing when he is an adult.

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  42. Really sad, as a teacher and a parent I see it from several perspectives. Children who are talked to like that often become angry, lash out have trouble in school and may even repeat the cycle when they have kids. It is tough when you see parents berate their kids in public I have often wanted to step in, but have always come up with an excuse not to. I’m glad to know others feel the same awkwardness and get upset when they see these behaviors just like I do.
    -Malcolm Purnell
    taoofmal.com

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  43. You’re a powerful writer. This made my heart wrench. The sad thing is to think that there are others besides that little boy who have had to go through something similar, including a rough father relationship you had. I’m glad you learned how to be a role model, an example for your children. They are very blessed.

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  44. I beat myself up sometimes, too, but like you I assess myself now and I feel good about who I am and the mother I am. But I too was once torn by mental health issues and the residual effects of my child abuse. And yes, it was, is, and sadly will continue to be as long as we remain silent. It’s not easy to speak out. One of my goals is to teach my readers how to assert themselves with self-respect and basic human respect toward the confronted. Before your article, I had just read a “freshly pressed” article from The Justin McElroy Institute. One thing he stated, “Don’t correct people. Unless their wrongness will lead to them getting hurt or hurting someone else.” Your situation was one of the times to speak out. I know it is scary, because…will the abusers escalate in violence? Will the authorities do nothing? Will the abusers abuse the child more as a result of the confrontation? Will the child go into the DSS system and have worse circumstances? Will the police minimize the situation and try to ridicule my effort? Who knows, but if there is a chance to save a life-and I don’t mean a body, I mean a body, mind, and soul-then do it. I only hope I would have the strength to stand fast if the situation occurred in my presence.

    How to go about it?

    I suppose the correct way to go about it would be to:

    1.) Call 911
    2.) Guard the situation from a distance while the police are on the way
    3.) Try to get a license plate number
    4.) Document your observations
    5.) Step in if the abuse escalates

    As a nation, child welfare is everyone’s business. Our nation is falling a part due to generations of poor and abusive parenting. It’s time we turn the tide. The question is, “how?” I have a suggestion if anyone has connections with the Dept. of Education.

    Thank you for broaching the topic.

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  45. But if they are that willing to be abusive with people watching, imagine what it would be like if you confronted the parents. The parents and the boy would go home so he would be blamed and get a worse beating than what they threatened. If you do anything video it and take it to the police so they can identify the parents from the picture and hopefully separate the parent from his child.

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  46. It is heart breaking. But… stepping in on this occasion would have no impact on the child’s daily life. The parents only know how to be one sort of parent. In some cases, stepping in can make things worse for the child when away from the public. What to do?

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