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#31 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 01:07 AM
 
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OP, only you know how severe it was. We werent there so all we have to go on is what you described. It doesnt sound that bad by your description, but sometimes it can be hard to appropriately describe how intense a situation was. So, in reality, it doesnt matter how people assess it, all that matters is you were there and you saw how severe it was.

Personally i typically dont bother with saying something because there is really not a whole lot a random stranger can do to help change a situation. Its true that sometimes a parent is just having a bad day, but sometimes you can tell this is just how they are. In a case where the verbal attacks keep going on and on, like what you described, OP, its probably the latter. I hate to say it, but short of contacting the authorities, you're not going to change their lives by speaking a few words.

Let me share a story that came to mind while reading this thread: i used to work as a cashier in a candy store, a long time ago before i became a mom. I've always had a soft spot for kids, though, so sometimes it was excruciating to witness some of the interactions between parents and their kids. There was one little boy, about 7, who came in with his mom. He was filling his bag with candy when he accidentally dropped a few. Not a big deal, it happens all the time. She became extremely stern and drill sergeant-like, telling him in a scary even tone that he is a failure, how could he do such a thing, that he better stop dropping them, on and on. And, of course, these insults just made him drop more candy which made the insults more severe. She never raised her voice, though, which was the creepiest thing, but the little boy was shaking and crying by the end of it all. I had never heard such extreme verbal abuse before, i wish i could describe it better but i cant remember her words exactly, just the intent behind it. She was literally trying to annihilate him with her words and it definitely wasnt a random occurrence--this was how she was raising him. I stood there, with my mouth open, unsure of what to do or say and then she came over to me to pay. This was the most painful part, at least for me, because i couldnt stand seeing that little boy crying and feeling so ashamed and not being able to reach out and hold him and tell him it'll be okay. I couldnt because i was a mall employee, i was supposed to just do my job and not get involved. The most i could have done was call security but was that really going to help this child?? I knew from another experience in that candy store that calling CPS doesnt amount to much if you dont have some sort of proof. Its just my word against the parent's. Oh, how i wish i could have said something, though, especially when she was being friendly towards me while paying. She went from extreme verbal abuse to this fake, ice cold niceness in mere seconds. It was the creepiest thing i've ever experienced. When they left a moment later, i watched as she immediately started digging into him again as if she never stopped. It is extremely horrible to witness something like that and the sickest part is the reality that nothing you say is going to change the circumstances, it is simply too severe.
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#32 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 06:35 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Turquesa View Post

Suppose a parent crosses your own threshold, ie they behave publicly in a manner that you consider verbally abusive. What, if anything, is an appropriate response?

There have been times where I have been able to intervene when a parent is having trouble with effective, gentle discipline. The way I go about it is to "help" the parent by disciplining the child in my own way. This obviously works better with friends and family (people you kind of know) but I have had some success in public. So, this mom's issue was that the 4 year old boy wasn't sitting up straight and using his fork?  I might make eye contact with the boy and point to my fork and give him a little wink and smile and then a big nod when he used it. Then maybe I'd straighten way up in my seat to remind him to sit up. Maybe the mom would see my help and realize that there's a nicer, more fun way to make reminders. In your case (once it got really bad and the boy was crying), I may just walk over on the way to the bathroom and say something like, "Aw...it's so hard when you're sad at a fun dinner out with mom," and then kind of commiserate a bit with the mom by making a comment or light-hearted joke about dinner dates with 4 year olds. 

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I did have an interesting thought, however. What if it had been a man and his wife or girlfriend? What if he verbally tore her down, publicly humiliated her, and even revved up his efforts as she teared up and shrunk down in her chair?

Would we be having this discussion? "We shouldn't judge." "He probably had a hard day." "Well, I've heard worse." "Well, it's not like he was beating her."

Or do we have different standards that change with each victim and aggressor?
 

Yes, it is very different for me. I think part of that is that I do not think the relationship with a child is the same as with a partner... but another part of that is probably societal conditioning that tells us on treating kids poorly is acceptable. greensad.gif  In the case of two equals (a non-caretaker relationship) I don't know what I would do but I can imagine myself telling the abuser to not be such a jerk or offering the abused a ride home. 

 

A better analogy would be an adult caring for another adult (special needs, elderly). Of course, we can imagine a caretaker being a bit short or stern out of stress...but we just don't see adults out right yelling or shaming other adults with special needs, do we? I'm not saying it doesn't happen behind closed doors but it's taboo in public. This is were I think the societal norms come in that trains us to tolerate one level of behavior towards children and another towards adults. 

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#33 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 07:53 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Oh wow!  This discussion has gotten so fascinating that it may be hard to keep this post focused! :lol

 

 

 

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Originally Posted by IdentityCrisisMama View Post

So, this mom's issue was that the 4 year old boy wasn't sitting up straight and using his fork?

 

Oh, just to clarify, the boy that I witnessed was about 7.  The 4-yr-old was my own DS, who was at my table obliviously eating his pancakes, thank goodness! lol.gif  Great idea on handling the situation, by the way.

 

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my point is that although it is a useful perspective, the relationships are not analogous. in one relationship you're the other's equal, and in the other, you're their caregiver. I don't command my DP, and he doesn't command me. I would never dream of telling him to be quiet or sit down and my feelings would be very hurt if he did so to me.

 

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Adult partners have the option of walking away. The angry partner could walk away if s/he needed a break, and the other partner could walk away if s/he felt mistreated.

Parents and children don't have that luxury -- they have to stick it out whether they're at their breaking point or not. Which is hard and sad for both parties -- the parent can't take a break to regroup when she feels herself getting out of control, and the kid can't say, "That's it, I'm outta here" if things go too far.

 

Here I'm definitely going to disagree.  I've had a lot of experience working with IPV victims (intimate partner violence), and maltreatment of ANY form--from verbal abuse (or just being a jerk) to outright physical violence--and to any person occurs because there is an unequal dynamic in a relationship.  At least in the IPV context, 100% of physical abuse begins with just verbal abuse, which wears somebody down psychologically.  I'm not sure if that's the case with child abuse, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is. 

 

While I agree with Identity Crisis Mama's assessment that an adult-to-adult-caregiver relationship is more on par with an adult-to-child dynamic, there's still a psychological complexity that occurs between "equal" adults.  There was a horrible study (horrible as in cruel) back in the 1960s in which kenneled dogs were shocked at their feet.  At first they yelped, resisted, and tried to escaped.  Then futility took over.  They still yelped but passively accepted their fate.  That's where we get the idea of "learned helplessness."  That also helps answer the question that so many people ask of IPV victims, "Why doesn't she just leave?"  It's because *she* (in some cases *he*) is not only disadvantaged psychologically, but also often economically.  They're also often isolated socially from friends and family, and taught that they can't survive without the abuser.  So the question is less "why doesn't she leave?" and more "why does the abuser do this to her?" 

 

Now my scenario of the man and woman in the restaurant may or may not be an IPV situation.  Witnesses can't know just by looking.  But I would be very, very careful before assuming that adult-to-adult encounters are "equal" and as easy to end as "walking away."  

 

The other issue I have with the this point is. . . for the sake of argument, let's suppose that there *is* an equal dynamic in the adult relationship. How does that make publicly humiliating and psychologically tormenting a child more tolerable?  I agree that it *is* more tolerable in our culture, but I don't think that's right.

 

 

 

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Originally Posted by PrimordialMind View Post

OP, only you know how severe it was. We werent there so all we have to go on is what you described. It doesnt sound that bad by your description, but sometimes it can be hard to appropriately describe how intense a situation was. So, in reality, it doesnt matter how people assess it, all that matters is you were there and you saw how severe it was.

Personally i typically dont bother with saying something because there is really not a whole lot a random stranger can do to help change a situation. Its true that sometimes a parent is just having a bad day, but sometimes you can tell this is just how they are. In a case where the verbal attacks keep going on and on, like what you described, OP, its probably the latter. I hate to say it, but short of contacting the authorities, you're not going to change their lives by speaking a few words.

 

First off, thank you.  I wouldn't be pouring so much into this thread if the situation had been just someone's trivial bad day.

 

Second, a big reason that I started this discussion is because in many ways, I am afraid to act, partly for the reasons you mentioned.  But I also know that Zenaviva was right in saying that it could make things worse. From my IPV work and all of the literature on IPV that the worst thing you can do is humiliate an abuser because their response is to regain that lost power by committing more abuse.  Again, I DON'T KNOW if she actually abused that boy.  It's very likely that she did not, and that I witnessed a one-time incident.  But it's important to tread cautiously when we don't know either way.

 

Another aspect of this discussion that I want to explore is the don't-judge maxim.  If we're not careful, "don't judge" becomes a way of saying that we're not allowed to have an opinion on anything.  I think that "don't judge" should come with the disclaimer that there is a difference between juding a person and judging an action.

 

With the woman in my OP, I actually don't think it's a good idea to judge her.  There could be any hundreds of explanations for her behavior.  Maybe it COULD have been an exceptionally bad day with an exceptionally rare moment of her taking it out on the boy.  Maybe a loved one was on a death bed or something else horrible and stressful.  Maybe she was abruptly coming off of some psychotropic medication, and taking another dose would have calmed her.  Maybe she herself was abused (verbally, physically, sexually, etc), and was repeating some cycles and patterns.  Maybe she beat the poor child behind closed doors.  greensad.gif  I'm not in a position to judge her because I don't know a thing apart from what is happening in that moment that I witness . . . and my own subjective impressions of it. 

 

But judging the action?  You're darn right I'm going to do that.  It was horrible. 


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#34 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 08:40 AM
 
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I think that don't judge in this context means don't assume she is an awful mother who always interacts like this based on one time seeings her having an awful interaction with her child, not don't judge the action. You can't know how someone parents just from one interaction.

I don't feel that strong judgment about other parents is helpful for myself personally because in judging I also put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and when I cracked I did so badly because I wasn't expressing my annoyance in healthy little ways all along. It is easy to contain those emotions with a young child but as they get older and parenting becomes harder stuffing emotions also becomes harder. Part of not judging for me comes down to what I need to do to be good parent.

I disagree with the assumption that victims of dv can't leave or that one episode of bad parenting means you are acting just like an.abusive spouse. They can leave but choose not to for a variety of reasons, many leave and return, and some of us do just leave. And I would be very surprised if many parents raise their children without ever snapping at all or even got through marriage without one nasty fight. There are many past threads by mdc members about snapping because it is something that happens between family members. Family pushes your buttons like nobody else can.
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#35 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 09:24 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I think that don't judge in this context means don't assume she is an awful mother who always interacts like this based on one time seeings her having an awful interaction with her child, not don't judge the action. You can't know how someone parents just from one interaction.
 

That's what I said.

 

 Most of your post just reiterates points that I already made.  But it can be very, very hard to leave an abusive relationship of any kind. 


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#36 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 10:00 AM
 
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But it can be very, very hard to leave an abusive relationship of any kind. 

I agree. But you and I are operating from different premises, which I hesitate to bring up because you've said a couple of times that you're not interested in discussing the aspect of whether this mother's behavior constituted abuse.

So in my context, I'm saying that when one adult partner (in an otherwise healthy relationship) has a bad day and begins to mistreat the other, they both have the option of stepping back and taking a breather before interacting again.

Whereas you're thinking of the abuser/victim dynamic, where the victim is so emotionally beaten down that s/he doesn't struggle against the abuse, and might even feel as though it's deserved. Which is very real and valid. I just wanted to clarify that I don't support the whole "Why don't abuse victims just leave?" thing.

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#37 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 10:07 AM
 
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That's what I said.

 Most of your post just reiterates points that I already made.  But it can be very, very hard to leave an abusive relationship of any kind. 

You're right, I misread your post and read it as you arguing the need to judge this woman not just her actions as many Pp have suggested from the start. I really need to wear my hideous glasses when I read long posts

It is hard to leave and there are a lot of societal pressures that contribute to that. Feelings of being judged and judgments we make about others and not wanting to be like them come into play there too but hard and not possible are different things. I think a thread just about how judgments, making and directed towards us would be an awesome spin off but I don't know where it would fit if we look beyond parenting to the effect of our lives and selves.
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#38 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 10:30 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I agree. But you and I are operating from different premises, which I hesitate to bring up because you've said a couple of times that you're not interested in discussing the aspect of whether this mother's behavior constituted abuse.

So in my context, I'm saying that when one adult partner (in an otherwise healthy relationship) has a bad day and begins to mistreat the other, they both have the option of stepping back and taking a breather before interacting again.

Whereas you're thinking of the abuser/victim dynamic, where the victim is so emotionally beaten down that s/he doesn't struggle against the abuse, and might even feel as though it's deserved. Which is very real and valid. I just wanted to clarify that I don't support the whole "Why don't abuse victims just leave?" thing.

Thanks for clarifying. I agree about the variation in context.

As for debating the mother's behavior, I mostly didn't want to get bogged down in defending myself and my impressions of the event. I was just after some advice as to handle myself and the situation. But this event definitely made me (and others around me) really upset and uncomfortable, which is why actually agree with Zenaviva that it may be a good idea to reflect on what our ideas and definitions are of "verbal abuse."

What was it about this event that triggered me? Everyone was weighing in on their views of what constitutes verbal abuse, and it made me remember that famous Anais Nin quote: "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are." So much goes into how we perceive these things.

I did an online search of the "verbal abuse," and the only definitions I could find were extremely sweeping. I understand the concern about using the term liberally because in some situations it can sound inflammatory. Not every marital spat or child-scolding fits that mold. I do think that verbal abuse definitely exists, though, but I need to reflect a little more on my own definition of it, as well it was about this particular encounter that crossed the line for me.

So yes, let's go ahead and have that conversation. I'm curious what others think. When does someone cross the line between say something jerky when they're in a bad mood . . . and outright verbal abuse? Tentatively reflecting, part of my issue was how long the encounter dragged on. When I say something stupid to my kids, I'm usually not persisting with the matter because even in my worst moods, I'm actually regretting what I'm saying *while* I'm saying it.

But I'll have to give the matter a little more thought.

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#39 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 10:50 AM
 
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I don't want to attack your perception of what you saw. It was over the line for you (and apparently for several people around you), and that assessment is good enough for me. I love your Anais Nin quote -- that probably played into my reaction, because the mother's quote that you posted is something similar to what has come out of my own mouth on my worst day, and I certainly don't think I'm an abusive mother. It's scary to think that someone could see a moment in my life (like those 2 women on the escalator I mentioned earlier) and label me Abusive, or Bad Mother.

But you know what? Those judgements, deserved or not, are a risk we all take when we are in public, and I think it's eye-opening to think about how much strangers do notice when we're out and about, and to consider how they might perceive our speech/actions.

So it might not even be a "does this fit the legal, prosecutable definition of abuse" thing, but just an "is this how you want people in your community to think of you" thing.

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#40 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 12:11 PM
 
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I'll just make a quick comment that's kind of a tangent...  I am in a caregiving relationship with my spouse.  People don't generally know that, it's not like he LOOKS disabled.  Due to his brain injury, he has trouble regulating his emotions, and he is often short or rude, or even has outbursts.  These happen in public sometimes.  I imagine it's been on more than one occasion that passerby thought that he was abusive, or that I was passive or possibly abused or whatever.  I've taken caregiver training and am pretty aware of when to react and when to let a situation go, etc.  I'm not saying at ALL that this is the norm for between-adult-interactions, but just saying that yes, it is the case that sometimes the situation is not what a casual observer sees from the outside in.

 

On one occasion, when I was heavily pregnant, we were in Epcot (had a babysitter for the kids, so it was just us) and were waiting in line for a snack.  DH was in a great mood (really, really rare for him... it's usually a battle to get him out of the house, much less Disney!!) when he made some offhanded comment to me that someone else overheard.  I didn't even register what he said as being rude (it's almost like Tourette's that he has, he swears a lot, etc.) but they turned around and started telling him off.  He got out of line immediately so as not to bother the people in it anymore, and we ended up having to leave right away.  He was absolutely crushed, and me being really hormonal at the time due to the pregnancy just burst into tears because what was supposed to be a once-in-practically-never opportunity for a date night out, was ruined like that.  The stranger?  I bet she was really well-meaning.  I have no hostility towards her, but it was just really cruddy the way that turned out.  Haven't gone on a date since.  I'm thinking I should carry around "disclaimer cards" to hand out to people in the future.  You know, like the ones that say, "my child is not a brat, he's autistic" ones?  It'd be like, "My husband is not a jerk or an abuser, he has a brain injury, thanks for your understanding."  Etc.  I don't know if it's a good idea or not, but maybe it'd work.  Maybe not.  Meh.

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#41 of 46 Old 06-23-2013, 01:02 PM
 
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OP, i didnt mean it as a judgment, only an assessment. I think that we all have the ability to assess if it is a normal, everyday occurrence vs a rare thing. I know that we're taught to always remain neutral, but if we really listen and pay attention to the parties involved, its not that difficult to figure out if this is normal for them or not. This is why i shared the story i did--to show an example of when its a normal occurrence. I think the biggest red flags are when the parent is doing it matter-of-factly--there doesnt appear to be much concern over other people's reactions, they just keep doing it, the tone of their voice is more even keel than someone who verbally abuses rarely (because its become a normal part of their speech), and the child is also more likely to turn inward than outward (they are used to the abuse and since it usually happens when no one else is around, they are conditioned to not act out to get attention).

So, in the case of the OP's story, the fact that the mother kept going on and on and not caring that other people were staring and even reacting shows that its more than likely a common occurrence. She doesnt have the natural shame that should rear its head in a situation like that. In the personal stories PPs have shared there is the common theme of saying a few words or sentences, feeling bad either because of other people's reactions or simply because of natural shame and then not repeating the behavior. You see the difference? They probably also didnt have an even tone since they're not used to speaking that way, and their child probably reacts strongly to the words, crying loudly or screaming or another form of acting out. In the case of the child the OP talked about, it sounds like he was crying quietly and trying to disappear--a clear sign that he is used to the abuse.

Maybe its clearer to me because of working in the public around kids for several years, so i have enough experience to notice the differences. When I think about it, though, i think it has more to do with trusting my instincts. I'm not afraid to go with my gut reaction and notice how something makes me feel on an intuitive level. OP, it sounds like you're afraid of trusting your own instincts and feelings, for the sake of not being "judgmental" (you even used that term when it comes to assessing the situation, which shows how scared you are of doing it). The only way to truly know how to react is by listening to yourself, which means you need to be willing to step out of the neutral zone, stop feeling afraid of judging, so that your true feelings and instincts can shine through. If you're constantly uptight then you're not going to be able to trust yourself. Trusting your instincts is very important in a case like this because you will be better able to assess if it would be good to try to distract the mother or help her feel better so she stops hurting her kid or leaving the situation alone since you've assessed that this is more than likely a common occurrence. You can also be able to assess if you should call the authorities or not.
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#42 of 46 Old 06-25-2013, 10:37 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I just wanted to thank you moms for sharing your background. It provides insight into these posts that makes discussions so much more valuable. For the most part, I've shied away from the parenting forum because sensitivities run high in here as we struggle to do our best. The creepy thing about that incident is that if we all succumbed to our lowest base nature, we'd be capanle of the same. greensad.gif

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#43 of 46 Old 06-26-2013, 09:33 AM
 
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In the situation you described, I would move on about my business.  I could not think of a way to confront the woman without it traumatizing the child much more deeply.   I would go home and cry for that boy, then look for a way of being a child advocate under better circumstances.   Some battles just have to be left for a better day.  

 

Now, however, if there was any way I could get that woman alone or away from the kid for a few, I'd try to get her information and explain that her behavior was abusive and not OK.

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#44 of 46 Old 06-26-2013, 12:28 PM
 
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What do you mean, that you'd try to get her information?  Like what, her name and address and phone number?  What purpose would that serve?  Not trying to be rude, just curious.
 

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#45 of 46 Old 06-26-2013, 06:00 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Turquesa View Post

The creepy thing about that incident is that if we all succumbed to our lowest base nature, we'd be capanle of the same. greensad.gif

I dont believe everyone's lowest base nature is to be verbally abusive. I believe thats only the case if we have unresolved issues from being abused ourselves.
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#46 of 46 Old 06-27-2013, 01:21 PM
 
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What do you mean, that you'd try to get her information?  Like what, her name and address and phone number?  What purpose would that serve?  Not trying to be rude, just curious.
 

Yes, i would happily hand out my 'details' to some random stranger....

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