Mothering in Public

I had read the online chatter about this video, but it wasn’t until last night that I saw footage of the mother dragging her child around by a leash through a cell phone store.  You’ll have to Google the video if you’re curious – I don’t want to post either the video or a link here; I found it that disturbing.

People online and in the media are justifiably outraged by the video.  Many are debating whether or not this mother should be charged with felony abuse against her child.  I’m going to leave that discussion to those more inclined to have it. 

What I want to ask is a question.

Why are we, as the general public, more inclined to condemn than to assist?  The person video-taping the incident grabbed their camera before grabbing the woman’s arm to intervene.

My children are older now, and public excursions are much more manageable.  But at one time I had four kids 7yrs and younger – trips to the grocery store were especially heinous.  I remember one trip in particular when I had allowed my oldest to walk alongside me, asking her to put her hand on the cart and “stick like glue.”  She had her own ideas, and kept running off.  I pulled her to me and scolded her for her behavior.  There was only one other woman in the aisle, and as I put my daughter’s hand back on the cart, the woman said, “Gee, is it against the rules to have any fun anymore?”  I was shocked, but I managed to hiss at her, “She’s not in trouble for trying to have fun, she’s in trouble for disobeying me.”

This woman was ready to condemn me, but clearly unwilling to offer a supportive smile or a reassuring glance.  It would have been just as easy for her either way.

I had many experiences like that when my kids were younger.  With such a large family, we get a lot of curious looks and nods in our direction.  But I’ve rarely been approached by any of the same onlookers with any kind of help, or given any gesture of encouragement.

The mom who dragged her prone child around the floor of a cell phone store clearly exercised a massive lack of judgement.  I do not at all suggest that what she did was right.  I’m just saying that I’ve seen this all before – the interest in the spectacle without interest in the people involved. 

I don’t think the question now should JUST be “why did this woman do this?” or “how should we punish her now?”  I think people need to ask themselves, “what would I have done if I were there?” and as a general public, can we ever be moved to greater empathy than judgement of those we watch mothering in public?

  • This is a great post. :=)

    I don’t like what this woman did either, but, sadly, I kind of understand it. If she has a wild child like mine, then it may have been pure frustration after telling the child no, stop it, etc., ad nauseam. And when the child decided they wanted to have a fit and not walk, she just said “Fine I’ll drag you” to which the child said “OK” not thinking Mom would actually follow through.

    I have been there. NO I have never drug my child through a store on a leash. But I have been holding her hand when she decided to pull the “go limp” manouver. You do end up dragging the child about a foot or so trying to get them to stand up. But I would never do what that woman did.

    The video is disturbing, yes, but like you said, what is even more disturbing is that no one said a word. Instead they just passively filmed her to be forwarded to the police later. Had someone tried to help her, she may not be in jail. Her actions were likely borne out of exasperation and frustration rather than pure malice.

    I am not so sure she needs to be given a jail sentence for this; I think counseling would be more appropriate. And I don’t think her child should be taken from her unless there is a history of abuse we know nothing about. I think she needs help not a public flogging.

    I also agree with what you said about being condemned by that customer rather than helped or understood. Because of the struggles with my own daughter’s behavior in public, I am ALWAYS the one who says to another mother having difficulty “Don’t worry, I know how you feel. Been there, done that.” or “That looks familiar”. this is my small way of telling that parent they are not alone and I am NOT condemning them for disciplining their child in public (unless it’s abusive) and that I understand. i always get a haggard smile and a “thank you” back.

  • Great post! I think its very hard to look from the outside in. Some people are saying why didnt they stop her from dragging her. I have been in a situation where I have literally had Charlotte under my arm and her kicking and screaming and walked her right out of the store. For someone my height with a 3 foot kid under your arm, its probably HILARIOUS and looks violent.

    I think in your case, maybe that was that womens way of stepping in in case you WERE abusive. On the flip side, you know your not abusive, but what about the child that is being smacked in public and then abused at home? Then people say, why DIDNT someone step in.

    There really is no way to solve it but i would much rather someone approach me then to risk a childs life. I can defend my actions, but for the innocent children that are ignored by public turning thier heads everyday, i just weep for.

    I still think it takes a village.


  • Erin @ Closing Time

    Your experience in the store brings to mind one of mine. We were on a trip and had to stop off at Target to pick up a few things. While in the store, she started to melt down. Phil and I could see the signs, and it became our goal to leave the store as quickly and quietly as possible before it happened. She was not happy, but was still in control. As we walked towards the checkout, a woman stepped right in front of my daughter, forcing us to stop. She bent down to eye level and said to my daughter, “Boy, you sure are mad, aren’t you?”

    That was all it took. My daughter, who had genuinely been trying to hold it together the best she could in her tired and irritated state, lost it. Screaming at the top of her lungs. She is slow to warm up to people on her best day. But here a complete stranger gets in her face and comments on her being mad. I was in such shock that the woman would do such a thing that I didn’t stop her. I picked my daughter up and carried her as quickly as I could to the car. She screamed the entire way. LOUD. Everyone was staring and looking concerned. It was horrible.

    Oh, how I wished I had been able to tell that woman a few things about how NOT to talk to children in a store, and how to be supportive of parents who are genuinely trying to do their best. I will never know what she was thinking. Did she actually think that would help? She had older children with her, so she was either a mom herself or at least had been around children. But seriously, that was a lesson in what NOT to do.

  • Rachel

    I know we’ve all had moments where we’ve looked like less-than-ideal parents. I believe good parenting takes a certain number of teaching moments, which sometimes look odd or harsh to the outsider. I’ve sought quite a bit of professional help with my older child (also my first go-around at this parenting thing…). I remember a counselor telling me that I always need to be willing to walk away from a full cart of groceries, meaning that if I have to leave a store and walk away from a full cart of groceries to be a good parent and teach my child that there are certain behavior expectations, that lesson needs to be taught. It will be criticized by others and no doubt irk the store clerk, but it may help teach a powerful lesson once rather than have lasting problems.

    Would I ever put a leash around my son’s neck? No! But am I much less critical of others now that I too am a mother? Certainly.

    I appreciate your “take” on this – it’s a good point. May the good Lord grant me the courage and wisdom to know when and how to help.

  • Here, here Stacey. I learned early on with my first child to never say never and I try to help if I can and not judge others at all when it comes to parenting. I get all those wonderful looks when I go to the store with five kids in tow. To make matters worse, one is a very surly two year old, uninhibited by rebukes and stirred up by older siblings. Baggers at grocery stores walk away when they see my cart. Older people and younger ones without children roll their eyes at our antics and I’m tired of being told I have my hands full. Well, if it looks like I have my hands full let’s not make matters worse with small talk. Either hand me the box of cereal my toddler just threw or walk away without making eye contact. I did not view the video because I do not want to feel like it’s my place to judge but I can just imagine how some of my parenting techniques would look to onlookers who did not witness everything nor hear the conversation that went with it.