I heard an angry voice coming from the table next to me in the busy food court at Kingsway Mall. I tried not to look but I could overhear every word the man said to his son sitting opposite him. The boy, about eight years old, tried to hold back tears, but as the tirade continued he began to cry, and then sob.
“Tell me what she said! I’m your father, and you will tell me. We’re not going until I know what she said! You hungry? Too bad. Tell me what garbage she’s spewing!”
The hair stood up at the back of my neck.
“Maybe it’s the truth,” the boy stammered.
The father ignored his comment and looked into the screen of his Blackberry, his misdirected attention clearly communicating that his son was less important than the text on the screen. He then proceeded to curse and threaten the child that he wouldn’t take him home to his mother unless he got the information he wanted.
As the scene played out, I lost my appetite. I glanced at the two of them and thought, if this is what the son hears in public, what does he hear behind closed doors? I felt like smacking the guy.
Hearing parents humiliate and belittle their kids always sets me off. Sometimes it’s a mom snapping at a child who touches something on the store shelf while she herself casually strokes every item within reach or a dad barking because his child didn’t close the door to the truck hard enough.
Being a parent is a tough job. It’s exhausting, relentless and confounding. But many parents have forgotten how tough it is being a kid. Learning to navigate through the labyrinth of social and civic participation is a monumental education. Throw in blended families and shuffling between different homes and it all gets very complicated.
It’s shocking how some people speak to their children. Berating or humiliating an adult in public would be completely unacceptable, yet some parents use their position of authority to control a child by being cranky, impatient and downright mean. When I hear a parent speak sternly, I can relate. All parents find themselves in situations when they have to bring their child to a place of constraint in a public situation. I’m not talking about appropriate discipline or using a loud voice to bring a misbehaving child into line.
I’m talking about the lazy, brainless insolents that seem to check out of responsible parenting. The woman who doesn’t realize the entire cereal aisle is listening to her tell her little girl that she’s a brat. The guy who grabs his son by the collar, growling that he doesn’t want to hear his voice and warning that if he gets in his way again, he’s going to give him something to cry about. I’m talking about parents who resort to verbal abuse in controlling their child.
Sure, parenting is hard, and adding the stress of the public eye can sometimes aggravate a situation. In public your parenting techniques are being judged and sometimes your child will take advantage of your restraint. But occasionally I see parents who aren’t following any rule of decency. They use their power to dominate their children rather than direct them. This infuriates me.
To parents who use humiliation and insult to control your child in public — shut your mouth, grow up and get some help. Stop dumping on your child as if you’re entitled to some adult temper tantrum when they inconvenience you. If you’re not sure how to handle situations that arise, then read a book or talk to someone who can help guide you. In the meantime stop acting like a bully.
Dee-Ann Schwanke has been known to leave a cartload of groceries in the store so she could take her misbehaving child home.