I know I’m not qualified to comment really, but I do find some parents attitude to parenting quite bizarre…
We had a coffee in Abingdon marketplace the other weekend. A couple of parents arrived with one infant in stroller and one youngster in backpack. Something was going on because the mother was in a right strop with the father. She humphed down in the chair and studiously ignored all three of them. So he parked the stroller by the table, got a high chair and put the youngster in it, then went off to get coffees. They were quite respectably dressed – she especially looked as though she’d come from a traditional Church meeting – quite prim and proper with thick tights and a matching ensemble.
He came back with just two coffees. Now, clearly (to me) the young boy in the high chair was going to associate being put into it, and up against a table, with getting food or drink. Why else was he (in his mind) going to be there?
When he realised that Dad had just bought mother and himself nice big cups of foaming coffee, and nothing for him and his sister, he did what any self-respecting young boy would do – make his presence known. He kicked out with both his feet. Now, bear in mind that he isn’t yet all that coordinated so whether he was just a bit irritated or seriously angry (I actually thought the former) his legs went out with some force. Result! The table was seriously jolted and both cups of coffee were spilt. Although there was a lot of mess, I doubt if more than an inch of each went flying – they didn’t have to go and buy replacements.
Father leapt up and went to get some cloths. Mother stood and faced down the boy – eyeball to eyeball she tells him what a stupid thing that was to do, how he should NEVER do that again, how he could have hurt his little sister, what a mess he’d made, and it went on and on. Eventually, father returned, mopped up while she continued to remonstrate with the child. Finally, she sat down, more humph, more ignoring the family. Father picked up the little boy (who was not crying but was very obviously extremely subdued) and took him for a walk around the marketplace.
So what do you do when these things happen? Do you just sit and watch – a little gobsmacked? Do you intervene and, if so, with whom and how?
It so happened that there was a convention of rescue dogs behind us.
At least, three humans each guardians of a rescue dog, were swapping notes about the abuse that their respective mutts had suffered in the past and how they had stepped in and saved them. One in particular had a very harrowing account of how he’d literally taken the dog from drug users on a street and, when he’d taken it to the vet because it was ill, discovered that it was doing cold turkey itself. I’d seen this bloke walk past a few minutes before, and to be honest wouldn’t have gone out of my way to talk to him – dressed a bit roughly, tattoos all over his arms, legs and neck, large dog in harness with muzzle. He’d further drawn attention to himself, by asking the assistant very politely while she was clearing tables if she could possibly bring him a coffee AND SOME ICE-CREAM FOR THE DOG because he didn’t think it was a good idea to bring his companion into the shop!
The contrast in attitude to another being was quite extraordinary.
I wish I could say I’d done something. Maybe ask the mother if she was alright? (Probably the preferred option!) Maybe offer to buy the kid some ice cream? Maybe suggest the name of a relationship counsellor? Maybe ask the father if he needed the name of a good divorce lawyer?
So, what are the fantasies and fears, projections, and stereotypes that influence our behaviour in situations like this? Which ones help us survive today and which are legacies from our cave-man ancestors? When does our sense of outrage provoke us to act? When does our sense of decorum prevent us? Are those people who do intervene more naive or more spiritually evolved?