I came across a post on a Facebook group for mums that really got me thinking… This post isn’t about having the answers. It’s just a question I think is worth thinking about.
When should we mind our own business and when should we have the courage to step in?
The poster was asking for advice. She had witnessed an older woman in a store being really angry, harsh, and aggressive with the three children that were with her. The poster’s own child had become unsettled and frightened by the woman’s behaviour. She felt uneasy about what she had witnessed, but didn’t know what she could do. So she just looked away and went home. But hours later the experience was still nagging at her. She was wondering what other mums would have done in this situation.
The response she got from so many other mums, in this supposedly “supportive and non-judgmental” group, was that she was being incredibly judgmental and she should mind her own business.
Many people commented that she had only seen one part of this woman’s day and didn’t know what else she was dealing with. Others said that if the kids looked physically okay (well dressed, not bruised etc) then she should mind her own business.
Would people still say she was being overly judgmental if:
- The older woman was in fact a paid family day care provider and not a family member?
- The adult with the children was a man instead of a woman?
- The woman was in her late teens and dressed poorly?
Now don’t get me wrong. I can’t stand how judgmental some people can be. And I’ve noticed it more than ever since becoming a mum. So I’m all for telling people not to judge too quickly.
I’m dead certain that one day I will lose my shit at my kid in a shopping centre. It’ll be a long day, he will have asked me for something one too many times. I will be so tired of him giving me attitude when all I’m trying to do is be a good mum. I’ll yell at him and grab his hand a little more firmly than necessary. He will look like a sad and scared kid because he didn’t get his way and he’s realised he pushed mum too far and now she’s cranky. And when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
But this kind of parent-child interaction is pretty common and generally doesn’t send people home feeling sick to their stomach. The situation this Facebook poster described was far more than a frazzled mum or grandmother trying to control her unruly kids.
So what’s the answer?
When is it okay to dismiss poor treatment of other humans because we don’t want to appear judgmental? Is it okay to ignore abuse and not get involved because it’s not our business? When is it time to have the courage to step in? And how can this be done in a way that is sensitive and careful?
There are too many stories in the world of unthinkable child abuse. But most of these stories don’t come out until the children are grown and the damage is done. Or worse, we only hear about it after the child has been killed. And then everyone cries, “why didn’t anyone do anything?”
I am by no means suggesting the woman in the store was definitely a child abuser. I was not there to witness the interaction, and even if I had been, I still probably wouldn’t have enough information to make that definitive judgment. But I do know that it was enough to disturb one woman for hours, to the point that she put herself out there on social media, only to be shot down for being judgmental.
What would you do?
I think it’s worth considering whether you would have the character to step in if you truly felt someone was being mistreated. And how would you go about it?
I like to think I would be able to remain calm, kind, and compassionate. Perhaps I would approach the woman and comment that it looks like she’s having a hard time. Maybe I’d be able to offer some assistance and get a better feel for what was really happening. It’s possible that a simple kind gesture from a stranger was all this woman needed to reset her day. Or perhaps her reaction would give me a clearer idea of whether I thought these kids were in any danger.
Until we’re in the situation it’s hard to know how we would react. Have you ever gone to someone’s aid when you thought they were being mistreated? How did you handle it?