“Get up.” I instructed, quite tersely, for the millionth time. My son and I stood outside the local post office in a battle of the wills. He wanted to go to “Nana’s house” while I simply wanted to accomplish a quick, easy errand.
From the moment we received the pink slip in the mail, I knew that the trip to retrieve the package was going to be hellish. Something about the post office sets my son off like nothing else. It could be the cranky employees who are known for being rude and mistreating customers, it could be the fact that his little internal sensor recognizes we parked in a thirty minute parking space (the time of which he was quickly taking up with his shenanigans), or perhaps he could sense my paper-thin patience wearing out. Whatever the reason, he was acting up something fierce.
He hadn’t wanted to wear clothing or get out of the car seat. Neither of these are unusual occurrences, but he couldn’t be reasoned with on this day as he normally can be. I eventually picked him up and set him down on the sidewalk so I could lock up the car. After a couple of minutes of the tantrum and trying everything possible to get him to tell me what was wrong, two women in a beat-up car elected to give me a gem of parenting advice.
“Pinch the little shithead, hard!” the woman in the passenger seat giggled, “It doesn’t leave as many bruises and it still hurts him. It’s so stupid you can’t beat the shit out of kids these days, that’s what I did with mine.”
I had no time to react before they pulled away, nor did I really want to make eye-contact with the stranger. I held onto my two and a half year old who was now in hysterics because of what he had heard and marveled at how, in the span of him displaying strong emotions, some of the outside world sees him as either a cute, little human to play with or, alternatively, a dehumanized whipping post. Because I didn’t hurt my son when he was in the middle of an emotional crisis, I was seen as a bad mother. I felt trapped between taking care of my son in a way I knew was best and having the expectation put on me to abuse him.
Several hours later, after I put him down for a nap in the car, I was waiting to go into another store. During that time, I had recounted what could have caused his outburst. It had been a combination of being jet lagged, being tired from traveling, slight dehydration (we had been out of water at the house, another reason for the urgency of getting errands run), over-consumption of sugar while on our trip, and him needing an early nap. None of which, “beating the shit out of him” would fix.
In great contrast, when I walked into the next store with him, happy as a clam as he wiped his tired eyes, the man at the door greeted us. He spoke to my son in a kind voice and helped us towards our destination. After another employee helped us find the item we were looking for and brought us cold water to drink, we were on our way out. The man stopped us to chat again.
“He is your greatest blessing from God, I hope you know ma’am.” He added with a smile, “And I am sure, your greatest challenge as well.”
I nearly broke down. Partly at having another Christian in front of me who was boldly speaking in a store as an employee, and partly because I desperately needed to hear what he was saying.
“Thank you.” I whispered.
“Merry Christmas to you, God’s blessings.”
As I drove home, I wondered how our day would have changed had we encountered the man first rather than the woman, and how all our days would go if I was surrounded by people who understood or remembered what it was like to be young or raising a young child. Who cared about my son as a little person who is still learning the ropes of living in this world rather than an annoyance in their day no matter how well he behaved. Who treat him with respect without giving him the impression that the world revolves around him.
When I was younger, I encountered a lot of different types of abuse. Originally, this post was going to be written on how to help homeschool mothers so that they don’t get overwhelmed, which I believe is a contributing factor for abuse. But in light of having a two and a half-year-old who is strong-willed and independent, I wanted to come at it from a bit of a different angle.
I firmly believe that abuse comes from (but I wouldn’t say is caused by) a lack of resources and feeling like there is no other choice. In the moment of my son and I experiencing that woman’s foul mouth, I felt like, to be seen as a good mother, I would have to do what she said. But because I love my son and believe he is made in the image of God, I knew in my heart that what she was promoting was not only abusive, but misuse of my authority as a parent that God has given me. I am to protect and cherish this young child and raise him up in a God-pleasing way, and that doesn’t include abusing him even when that kind of parenting might be more common than we would like to admit.
The lack of resources that contribute to abuse can also be not knowing what healthy is. Not having a support system so that you can get a break and breathing room. Or not having the energy, health, sleep, nutrition, or mental stability to function properly and give grace or appropriate discipline.
There can also be manufactured scarcity from social pressure and impossible expectations that cause you to lose sight of the context of your life. When you focus on everything that isn’t perfect and how others perceive you in light of that, you risk lash out in a verbally, physically, or spiritually abusive manner towards your youngest neighbor rather than seeing the whole picture. The vast majority of the time, my toddler doesn’t act up because he enjoys it, he acts up because he needs something and doesn’t have the words or capacity to convey it. Physically injuring him doesn’t fill his need.
To be certain, I’m not addressing spanking here. I’m not debating it because that isn’t the point of any of this, so please don’t make it that. I am addressing what this woman advocated for, which was physical domination over a child intending to silence the issue and break the will, that would likely result in bruises. That is never okay.
If we really want children to grow up to be healthy members of society, the first step is not teaching them that they deserve to be abused because they are having a difficult time. The first step is making sure they aren’t experiencing scarcity issues, and their caregivers aren’t either. So go a hug a mom and baby you know, ask if there is anything you can do to help. Maybe bring them a meal or play a game for a few minutes with the kiddo. Moms and babies are people too, albeit often sleep deprived and a bit stressed out.