What Do You Do When You See a Parent Borderline-Abusing A Child In Public?

I feel awful. But feeling and doing something aren’t one in the same.
Publish date:
March 7, 2013
parenting, kids, abuse, verbal abuse

My grandfather was the pastor of a church. In that church, there was a deacon, Brother Wynn. One Saturday each month, the church would do food giveaways to families in need. How it worked was the families would come, sit through a sermon on God’s glory, or if it was an election year, a speech from a community leader on the importance of voting, and then the boxes of food would be distributed.

On one of those Saturdays, as the church was emptying out, I was standing in the foyer alongside Brother Wynn. A commotion began when a woman began cursing her son -- f-bombs and all -- inside the church. Maybe he was 3. I missed what horrible transgression he committed to drive his mother from zero to sixty. But his Mom was dropping more motherf***ers than a Bernie Mack comedy skit.

Brother Wynn and I, about 10 years old, stared in shock. Other folk walked by us, and the yelling Mom and kept it moving like there was nothing to see here.

When the Mom simultaneously yanked the kid into the air with one hand and yanked down his pants with the other to beat his bare behind, Brother Wynn approached her to intervene.

“Miss, you ain’t got to do all that,” he began. It was a plea for the Mom to stop swatting, and too, cursing, inside the church.

She dropped the crying kid. (To credit, it wasn’t a long way down, but still.) And she turned on Brother Wynn to release a new round of profanities directed at him. “Who the f*** are you trying to tell me about MY child?” she roared.

Brother Wynn wasn’t a big man, but tall, wiry, and a man, period, who towered over the Mom by close to a foot. He stared her down. And she stared back for a bit, before she finally turned back to her son and instructed him to pick up his pants. She lifted the box of groceries and walked out the church with her small son following behind her.

We watched mother and son her walk down the steps and around the corner. He breathed a sigh of relief and I don’t remember exactly what he said. It was something church-y like “some of God’s children…”

I remember thinking, “What the f***?” because even though I was being raised in the church, my father had a more secular mouth that I’d already adopted in my inside thoughts.

It’s been awhile since I thought of that story, but in response to Monday’s post about the backwards line of thought showcased in that video about Black men who travel to Brazil to meet prostitutes, a commenter, Marketing Gimmicks, wrote:

“It’s the mother of mother of taboos but how some black mothers treated their sons growing up would make a great topic of exploration. *Cough* That’s your cue Clutch *Cough*”

And that brought it all back.

Perhaps this won’t go in the direction Marketing Gimmicks intended, but this is where the comment took my train of thought:

The A train -- always the A train, and notably not the train I take most often. It’s usually there when I see a Mom going buck on her under-age 5 kids and dropping credible threats to f*** them up.

Just the other day, I was getting my hair braided (right by the A-train) and there was a woman in the shop cursing and carrying on because she’d been waiting almost an hour to get in a chair. When her braids were finally being done and she was on the phone gabbing with her girl, her son, about 12, appeared with a Styrofoam cup with a straw in it. Mom took the cup, took a sip, and roared at him, “WHAT THE F*** IS THIS?”

It was Coke, she wanted root beer. He mumbled an apology, but that wasn’t good enough.

“Do you want me to f*** you up in here?” she yelled, bracing her hands on the chair to launch herself up. The shop fell silent. The son didn’t move. Didn’t flinch. Zero physical reaction. Mom went back to talking to her friend as if nothing happened, and Son turned around and left. Everybody went back to doing whatever it was they were doing before the commotion.

I sat there, hair half-braided, thinking, “all that over the wrong soda?”

But I did the same thing I always do -- nothing. I cringed, and then knew my judgment was all over my face, so I stopped cringing and went blank-faced just like the kid. And then I wondered if I was over-reacting because this time, like last time, and all the times except for the time Brother Wynn said something, no one ever intervenes and so maybe it’s not the big deal I think it is? Then I think no, it is. But still I sit. Silent.

I feel awful. But feeling and doing something aren’t one in the same.

I think then of Brother Wynn and his intervention and how the Mom stared down him, wiry and grown, because he has the audacity to tell her what to do with her kid. And it’s not like that little confrontation made a difference, like she had a Paul on the road to Damascus moment and vowed never to call her son a MF again.

I imagine, business just went on a usual. So would it even matter if I did say something this time or the next time or any of the times it’s bound to happen again?

Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never tried. But have you?

Reprinted with permission from Clutch.