There was an incident on Saturday in IKEA Bristol. It wasn’t the usual caffeine-fuelled bickering over how many napkins/tealights/picture frames/clippy things for open packets we need. In fact, we weren’t even directly involved, but it reduced me to tears.
I hope I can write this post without coming across as a judgey mum. It is horrible to feel sneered at for your parenting choices or behaviour and we should support each other whenever possible in this, the hardest and most relentless of jobs.
But… I witnessed something that upset me deeply and I’m wondering whether I am being unreasonable or whether I should have actually said something. Can you ever step in or are you just unnecessarily stepping on toes?
A family behind us were clearing up to leave the restaurant when all of a sudden there was a big clatter of plates and I looked up to see their maybe 6 or 7 year old daughter saying, ‘Sorry mummy, sorry mummy, sorry, sorry.’
She must have leaned on the little trollies you get to carry plates or tried to climb/balance on it and sent its contents flying. She knew immediately it was a thoughtless move and sounded very genuine in her apology.
Most parents would probably get narky. We aren’t all Joy from Topsy and Tim with her ‘At times like these, we just need to take a deep breath…’ (I mean, we try, but it doesn’t always work out like that). This girl’s mum absolutely let rip at her though. Shouting at the top of her voice. ‘Sit down there, you STUPID girl. Silly girl. How could you be so STUPID? How many times have I told you not to climb on things? Look, everyone is looking at you thinking what a silly girl you are’ and so on.
Now, I am no saint when it comes to parenting and I definitely lose my rag and get to the end of my tether at times (er, like last Sunday, shouting at my poor son when he had been miserable for days and can’t speak so can’t say what’s wrong). Mostly it’s borne of my own frustrations rather than what my child is doing. I’m sure something similar went on here, but this episode made me so desperately uncomfortable. At the time I felt like I was getting a window into the life of an abused child, but I have calmed down a little now! One ill-handled incident does not make an abuser. This might be the first time she has ever acted like that and I have no idea what went before.
And yet… I sat there feeling like I did at school when you see people being bullied and don’t stand up for them.
With the benefit of not being actively involved, I could see the bigger picture. The kid made a mistake, created a mess (of empty plates, let’s remember – she didn’t doss their uneaten dinners on the floor). Yes, I guess it’s kind of embarrassing to make a noise and have people stare at you, but no one really cared.
Point out her mistake and feel frustrated by all means.
But bawl her out in the middle of the restaurant? Humiliate her and call her stupid? Make her feel foolish and like everyone was looking? The mum kept saying things like, ‘See? Everyone’s looking at you because of what you did.’ It was both her words and her vitriolic tone that got to me.
I so wanted to say, ‘Actually I’m staring because I’m hugely uncomfortable about how you are speaking to your child. It’s really upsetting me.’
But can you ever really do that? I know some people don’t think twice about offering their opinions on others’ parenting, but it’s very rarely helpful. It’s a private matter in a public place. If it is a one-off incident, then you are just making a mum feel even worse. And if it’s not, would she take on board your comments anyway?
All I can hope is that this was an uncharacteristic loss of temper; the alternative just saddens me deeply. How often can a child be told they are silly or stupid before it permanently damages their self-esteem? What kind of behaviour modelling is going on here? I don’t want to judge but I just can’t help it on some level. I don’t think there is ever an excuse to shame a person in front of people like that. Or privately.
So I cried, my husband rolled his eyes at me, we ate our meatballs and I vowed to always try to take those deep breaths first and to act respectfully to those I love. I will fail, I know I will, but as I have said before: nobody is perfect.