I popped into a supermarket on Saturday, just to get two things. It was supposed to be an in and out errand….five minutes max, as the rest of my family were waiting for me. I found the two items I was after, and in doing so noticed a Mum with her two boys…..the boys at this stage were running around. Dashing here and there. The Mum was calling for them halfheartedly. Somehow she managed to wrangle them up to the counter and I ended up in the checkout line behind them. What followed was a rather painful five minutes of the two boys not doing what they were asked to do, then two boys physically fighting on the floor of the supermarket, the Mother threatening to take their massive bag of sweets off them (she didn’t – she ended up buying it along with her other groceries) and then there were massive tears from the youngest child as the older child continued to sit on him and hit him….then the Mum ended up carrying the younger one out of the place. And everyone around finally breathed out in relief.
At the time I was pretty astounded at what was happening. But at the same time I was trying hard not to judge. Who knows what had already gone in this family’s day before the supermarket ‘event’. They may have been up before the birds. They may have just said goodbye to Dad before he went away for a trip. Grandma may have given them food with red dye in it and they may react to that. There’s a whole range of things that could have caused the unruly behaviour. But because in our generation of bringing up kids we kinda like to let people be, and heavens above if anything ever looked like we were judging, I stood by and said nothing and did nothing……What I would have loved to ask the Mum was ‘is this normal behaviour?’. Because if it was, that lady needs help. What those kids were doing was not ok and was not normal. But who’s going to tell her?
This week in New Zealand I was horrified to read of the murder of an Indian shop owner in a suburb we’re very familiar with. This event was shocking enough, but then it came out in the news that the two accused of the crime are aged 12 and 13. Yes. 12 and 13. As far as I’m concerned every 12 and 13 year old should be at home at 7.30am on a weekday morning, eating their Weetbix, playing minecraft on the computer and about the most trouble they should be causing would be pestering their Mums about what’s for dinner.
But obviously this is not the reality for a lot of families and life is not the simple and easy thing it absolutely should be, for a lot of young people. And because of this, my heart breaks.
And isn’t it easy to feel helpless?
And isn’t it easy to feel angry and deeply saddened about the way some children have to live, but feel absolutely clueless about what to do to help and make ANY kind of difference?
It is easy to feel powerless. Absolutely powerless. But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to be. Maybe, just maybe, we all need to step over the line and act on things we see. And not stand by when we see little things happen, because in my simplistic way of thinking….the little things mount up…the little things add up….and the little things can make a huge difference.
Coming back to the Mum in the supermarket….I could have firmly but kindly knelt down to the little boys and said something along the lines of ‘hey, is that kind behaviour? How about you show me (and the rest of the store!) what a brave and kind big brother you can be’. I could have said to the Mum ‘hey we all have bad days, can I help you to your car?’. None of those options would have been judgemental – just a friendly face with a desire to help.
Sometimes we can just step over that line – and actually help.
How about if we see a bunch of kids in our neighborhood, hanging out when they should be at school? I am naive enough to think that if we actually called the neighborhood police and alerted them to that…maybe, just maybe having an authority figure step into the picture would actually get them back in school.
How about if we did everything we could to support our teachers and youth workers?
What if we actually struck up a conversation with the young single Mum in the same waiting room as us, and took an interest in her and her child?
What if we actually started parenting as a village?
What if we admitted to our friends when things weren’t going well and needed fresh ideas on how to deal with certain issues?
What if we became less timid about sharing our successes and useful tips – not to show-off or blow our own trumpets, but because we saw a real need and could actually provide someone with a practical thing to help them with a parenting issue?
I certainly don’t have any real answers to deal with these major issues that society is facing….I know I’m simplistic in my thinking and there’s a lot more at stake here than I”m looking at in this short blog post…..but I do know we have power in our shared experiences. What if we stepped over the line a lot more?
This is a very interesting article, that I’d love you to read – an interview with a pediatrician in New Zealand. Kiwi kids: how we can save them.