Friday, November 12, 2010

Interventions

She opened the bathroom door and screamed,

"Hurry up!"

She shut the door, but opened it right back up and started yelling again.

"Don't get dressed again. Leave everything off except your underwear."

She half closed the door, then changed her mind.

She grabbed her daughter by the arm and dragged her out into the dressing room of the ballet studio with her pants at her ankles.

I was quietly helping The Rooster change into her leotard and tights.

There were fifteen other five year old girls in the room in various stages of dress all getting ready for ballet class.

I had noticed the woman even before she started yelling. She was sitting listlessly beside a baby boy - maybe eighteen months old. She looked extremely depressed and tired.

Her daughter started to cry as she was dragged by the arm out of the bathroom.

"You're a MESS!" her mother screamed and roughly wiped at her mouth with a tissue.

The girl continued to sob while the mother barked out orders.

Softly at first, I spoke...

"Take it easy."

Then I said it a bit louder.

"Take it easy."

I tried to keep my voice even and calm.

"Let's just take it easy."

She turned.

"Are you talking to ME?" she asked.

"I am," I said. "There are a lot of kids in here."

She told me it was inappropriate of me to talk to her.

"I'm sorry," I said. "It's just that you seem really angry and there are a lot of kids in here."

"I'm NOT ANGRY!" she insisted. "I'm just FRUSTRATED."

I felt so sorry for her. We've all been there. I could empathize with her situation.

"I'm so sorry you're frustrated," I said, "but there are a lot of kids in here." I concentrated on keeping a calm and even tone.

"The fact that you are STILL talking to me tells me that you suffer from some serious control issues."

[I tried not to laugh out loud because OMG I totally DO have control issues!]

Regardless, I looked her in the eyes and tried to seem kind.

"There are a lot of kids in here," I said again, this time as gently as I could.

She didn't say anything else.

I took the Rooster to her ballet class and waited in the lobby.

The frustrated mom spent the duration of the class in the dressing room.

I sat there second guessing myself a bit.

I wondered if it would have been better for me to mind my own business.

As a mother of two small children myself, I certainly understand her frustration and I know I'd be furious if a stranger called me out.

Still... there were a lot of kids in that room and she was so angry.

33 comments:

Amanda said...

Hard to say. It is awful when everyone just endures it, faces burning and hearts breaking. I don't know. Wow. I think it is powerful, if even just for the kids, to have communicated that there are times when our behavior has to modified.

GBK Gwyneth said...

HIndsight is 20/20...I know. So please take my comment with a grain of salt and knowing that I know I would have had no idea how to react until hours afterwards.

But given that, I'm afraid that if I had been the harried mom, your calling me out would have made me defensive and not calmed me down....not at all.

However, if you had stepped in and told me you could see I was tired and at the end of my rope and you'd help my child get ready for class, well, you'd be my hero for life.

Sympathy and and offer of help are so much easier to accept than being told you are acting inappropriately, IMO. And a random act of kindness goes amazingly far.

Again, I'm not criticizing you. Just reminding myself of what I would like to do in the future.

Aimee Greeblemonkey said...

I know it is hard - but it DOES take a village. I worry about saying anything because I know sometimes it will just make it worse for the kids - but how can we not? You were absolutely right that there were other kids there - but more importantly HER kids were there.

John Ross said...

And she thought YOU had control issues!?? WTF!?

yes, having a 6 yr old of my own(with some boggles of his own), I'm quite familiar with public frustration(S)....buuttt-

The phrase comes to mind "who's 'sposed to be the adult, here?"

I'm betting you did the right thing...I wonder if I would have been strong enough to do the same?
I sure would like to think so.

Leah said...

Thank you for being brave enough to say something. There has been many a time that I have wanted no needed to say something and I couldn't muster the courage.

matt said...

always better to say something. I'm not normally a fan of social pressure, but a subtle "people are watching" reminder can sometimes snap someone who's losing control back into focus. she knew you were right, and she was embarrassed, so she talked back to you, the same way a little kid might if you caught them doing something they knew they weren't supposed to. She might as well have said, "you're not my mom, you can't talk to me that way." That's fine, let her have that out, if that's what she needs to let herself calm down.

Kristine said...

I've been in similar situations. Do I say something or don't I? When I say something I then second guess myself for the next month.

You were right to try and deescalate the situation. Perhaps next time an offer to help would be taken better.

Tough situation to be in.

Oh, The Joys said...

The advice about offering help seems really sound. That said, awkward in this instance since her kid was undressed. I'm not sure I'd be too into an offer of help from a stranger if it involved dressing my daughter.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering why it was so important that there were other kids there? I think HER kids are the bigger issue.

badmummynocookie.com said...

I'm not sure what your intention was. In fact, what message were you trying to extend by reminding her that there were kids in the room? I know that we censor ourselves around kids, but it's not like she was swearing a blue streak.

I'm with GBK Gwyneth here...In the mother's position (and I've been there. Especially today, when I ended up sitting on the kitchen floor and sobbing), I would have welcomed a "Can I give you a hand with anything?" or being handed a wet wipe for the kid's face.

And since the mum spent the entire class sitting in the change room, maybe she would have welcomed an offer of a coffee...

Emily N said...

Wow you are ballsy. Good for you. I am sure that woman will remember that moment forever and HOPEFULLY learn to take some deep breaths in the future. Doubtful but one can dream. Her poor daughter.

Amy said...

That's tough. Sounds like you handled it pretty well, but, oy, that poor mom and those poor kids.

What you said, though, that's the kind of thing that might sink in later, and might settle somewhere deep in her brain and resonate.

Jonathan said...

Sometimes parents need to be called out for doing a crappy job. It's as simple as that. We're not all good at it all the time.

Just for the record, we have three daughters. There are days when we want to string them up - but we don't.

kurrabikid said...

I am like you, I tend to speak out - have always been that way. I think I am reasonable when I do so, but truth of the matter is I am trying to NOT do this. Because every time I do, I regret it. It makes others feel rotten, and I'm am trying to learn that it's not my place to do that.

Anonymous said...

I think you did exactly the right thing. This mother needed to take a step back and realize what she was doing to her little girl. That little girl had to be humiliated in front of all the other children as well.

Anonymous said...

Some commenters are making the assumption that she's in the same place they are- that she's behaving badly but she could do better. Maybe she could do worse. Maybe she could lose her sh*t and beat them silly. Maybe she could puddle on the floor and cry till she pukes. Maybe she could drive her car straight and hard into the nearest bridge pylon with the kids in the backseat. Maybe this little display is the VERY BEST SHE CAN POSSIBLY DO. Nobody treats their children that way because they think it's the best way to parent.
Offers of concrete help (you want me to watch the little one? , not just "Can I help?") give her a way out and serve as a reminder that it's become obvious she's come off her tether. She's hurt and probably mortified and doing the best she can, which ain't so hot.

As for the kids- they're living with this 24/7, not just at ballet lessons. How are we going to fix that? Her own freaking family and friends can't fix it. She can't fix it.

If you don't understand how people can do things like that, thank your cuss cussing lucky stars for your good mental health and your support network. Be really grateful that your genes keep you stocked up with serotonin. Be super glad that your parents never did this to you, setting up a cascade of stress hormones that changed your brain and made you less able to handle stress as an adult.

By all means, speak up, wrong is wrong, but telling people what to do is less helpful than actually being helpful. You've got the courage to speak up, you've got the courage to offer to dress her baby.

That family is really really hurting, people. Be nice.

That said, I'm not trying to bring guilt to this party, because Oh the Joys did the best she could do too. And it was good, wasn't it, to stop the hurt a minute. I'm just saying next time we can all have a little more compassion and maybe do a little more good.

(Sorry to post anon- I'm having technical difficulties with my account, but I go by ephelba on blogger.)

Oh, The Joys said...

It's interesting (and confusing and sad) that there isn't an agreed upon norm here. Maybe that's what makes knowing what to do so hard. There's a chance that an offer of help would have upset her as much or more than my simple reminder about lots of little ears. There's no standard for how, when or where getting involved in anyone else's parenting - which is why, I think, the comments here are so varied.

Is there a right answer? Do we each just stick with our gut?

What is the line between that mother's responsibility and agency and mine?

What is the line between yours and other parents?

marriedsinglemom said...

That's a toughy... better you than me... but honestly, I probably would have done the same thing. Especially with my kids around. They are not babies.. 5 year olds hear things and remember them..

kudos to you for speaking your mind. most would just sit there and be uncomortable in their chair. if you would have been uncomfortable whether you said something or not, but just being a witness to it, then yes, good for you!

http://talesofamarriedsinglemom.blogspot.com/

Virtualsprite said...

I've been that mom. Not always in public, but certainly in private. There has been at least once that I was frustrated in public - not to this degree - and a kind soul - probably like you - called me on it then offered to help. And I accepted. Gratefully. Because I knew that someday I'd run into a frustrated mom and I'd offer to help.

I think you did the right thing. If nothing else, you probably soothed a few scared kids. Besides, could you have lived with yourself if you hadn't said anything?

Rebecca said...

I can so relate to this, only I'm the hysterical mom. My daughter is the love of my life, but she is EXTREMELY strong willed and can be overwhelmingly defiant at times. She seems to know when I'm tired and frustrated and instead of being compliant she instead pushes back, making the matter worse.

That said, I think you did the right thing, however I would second what some others have said which is to ask if you can give her a hand. Who knows what else is going on in her life that might have led her to that point. Is she going on 3 hours of sleep for the 3rd month in a row? Is her husband no help at all? Is she feeling overwhelmed. We don't know what is happening in others lives. I have to remind myself of this often. I constantly have to check myself and say "maybe she's having a bad day," and then offer help.

TRS said...

I manage a portrait studio and this scene is all too familiar. I can't believe how some parents torment their kids in pursuit of the 'perfect' portrait.

I try to remind them that this is supposed to be fun. Sometimes when I see that mom or dad is stressing the kiddo out... I tell them "In this room, the only person you have to listen to is me!" Sometimes I whisper it in the kid's ear - if I get the feeling the paternal unit might explode at the suggestion that they (parent) is not the center of the universe.

Often, the parents are hissing... "Don't smile like that!" "Smile your REAL smile!" as if the kid has a fricken mirror to look into. Guess what... 7 year olds are awkward... this IS his smile at this age. If you shut up - and let ME control the situation - I can make your kid laugh and we'll get the natural smile - but your hissing isn't going to do it.

I could never call a parent out for truly uncharitable behavior because I would get a bad survey which would impact my ability to bonus for the quarter. But if I suspect abuse and outright meanness... you're leaving my studio sugar and I don't care what you think!

I can just as easily say, "We don't talk to kids like that in my studio." as I would say, "We don't talk to mom like that." to a kid.

Easy for me to say... I don't have kids. But I remember what it was like to be one.

Lora said...

you did the right thing. You spoke calmly and you stood up for her child and her emotions.

She's a crazy person, yes.

But you did the exact 100% right thing. You acknowledged what she was feeling and you didn't call her a bad mother.

And I think my opinion should count, like, triple or something. Seeing that the city pays me big dollars to be a "parenting professional" and a social worker and all. **wink**

badmummynocookie.com said...

@Lora

So frustrated = crazy?

Lora said...

frustrated can definitely lead to a case of the crazies.

and a case of the crazies most definitely can leave one frustrated.

and children can make us both crazy and frustrated.

sadly this lady sounds like a total asshole, but I like that there wasn't a complete blow up between all the moms in front of the kids, and this crazy frustrated asshole of a lady was called out on her behavior.

badmummynocookie.com said...

@Lora

I'm offended by your use of the word 'crazy'. You need to find another word. At the very least, it's unkind. At most, it's appalling that a social worker would use the term. A first year social work student knows better.

Even worse, you decide that she's an asshole because her frustration and "craziness". How dare you.

Anonymous said...

Oh my.

Lora is an absolute moron.

Nothing justifies the ballet's mom behavior. And certainly nothing justifies public admonishment when it is not accompanied by an offer to help. But Lora, whatever her status/situation is, has never been overwhelmed by toddlers with no help from a husband, possibly physically ill, and broke.

Shame on you, Lora. You are obviously barren.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

I never know.

Penny said...

When we sit by and ignore verbal or mental abuse heaped on a child, whether or not it is a one time deal or a chronic happening, we condone the behaviour, publicly and privately, consciously and subconciously. That woman may have been even angrier at herself or her daughter, for having your attention called to her. However. She would have had to realize and respect that her behaviour was not appropriate. And that will give her cause to consider her methods and actions. We, as a society, do have structural guiding societal norms and values and your attention to the situation let her know that she was out of bounds. Did you have the right? If you have ever wondered how a drug addict came to be, or how a single parent commits suicide, or how an abused child kills a school yard foe, or how depression cycles through generations, causing more pain, abuse, anger and suffering.. you have the right to voice your opinion. There is nothing in our society that says you own your children, that you can raise them without input from others, occassional interference or having to take responsibility and accountability.

When I see things like that, I offer help, physical help, if I can. Going over and asking if you can hold something, or making light of the situation, such as, "these things can be really frustrating/tiring/irritating".. but, sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes you need to take a firm hand. And our society needs outspoken people who don't mind asserting themselves, even if they are considered controlling.

So, the Next time someone questions your voice, feel free to ask them why they think you don't have a right to stand up for a fellow human being who obviously is in need of an advocate at that moment.

And GOOD FOR YOU, OTJ. Good for you.

You risked being seen as unpopular for the sake of a little girl. And I'm sure that little girl, who was owning and internalizing her mothers criticism, will subconciously appreciate that maybe it's not all her..

Penny said...

When we sit by and ignore verbal or mental abuse heaped on a child, whether or not it is a one time deal or a chronic happening, we condone the behaviour, publicly and privately, consciously and subconciously. That woman may have been even angrier at herself or her daughter, for having your attention called to her. However. She would have had to realize and respect that her behaviour was not appropriate. And that will give her cause to consider her methods and actions. We, as a society, do have structural guiding societal norms and values and your attention to the situation let her know that she was out of bounds. Did you have the right? If you have ever wondered how a drug addict came to be, or how a single parent commits suicide, or how an abused child kills a school yard foe, or how depression cycles through generations, causing more pain, abuse, anger and suffering.. you have the right to voice your opinion. There is nothing in our society that says you own your children, that you can raise them without input from others, occassional interference or having to take responsibility and accountability.

When I see things like that, I offer help, physical help, if I can. Going over and asking if you can hold something, or making light of the situation, such as, "these things can be really frustrating/tiring/irritating".. but, sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes you need to take a firm hand. And our society needs outspoken people who don't mind asserting themselves, even if they are considered controlling.

So, the Next time someone questions your voice, feel free to ask them why they think you don't have a right to stand up for a fellow human being who obviously is in need of an advocate at that moment.

And GOOD FOR YOU, OTJ. Good for you.

You risked being seen as unpopular for the sake of a little girl. And I'm sure that little girl, who was owning and internalizing her mothers criticism, will subconciously appreciate that maybe it's not all her..

Penny said...

I just typed an essay.. lol.. I think I lost it.

bottom line

it was your responsibility to say something.. good for you for risking being unpopular.

colorbox said...

I have cared for children and families (as a nanny) for 15 years now....and I think you summarize the issue quite well with the concepts of responsibility and agency. Where does that line fall? A parent no more owns a child than a man can own a man. We are social beings, creating social beings. In that sense...we must employ both.

These are our children.
We have to socially negotiate the messages we want them to receive. Even when it is difficult. I really appreciate this about you...you do this work.

It must feel really sad. I hope you guys have the opportunity for a more joyful conversation someday.

Anonymous said...

A little late to the party, but just got around to reading this post. I absolutely think that you did the right thing. There are several concerns with that situation, like if she treats her daughter like that in public, what happens to the child at home? I think it was wise for you to remind her that there were other children around (who soak everything up and are tender). It's a shame that she didn't take that as a wake up call and regroup. I've watched too many things happen and wished later that I'd spoken up...I'm really trying to be better about standing up for what is right when the time comes, and I think that you did that well!

Kevin Charnas said...

"Still... there were a lot of kids in that room and she was so angry." - exactly.

I love it when people try to distract from the fact of what's being said... They'll deflect, deflect, deflect. It doesn't change the circumstances of what they did, or what they said. They can scream until the cows come home, but without self-reflection, their anger will only grow.

I'm proud of you for speaking out, but more than that, for staying calm while you did. And you're right... Everyone has freaked out time and again, at least I have. However, the fact remains: "Still... there were a lot of kids in that room and she was so angry."

Love you.