Christmas, and I was happily meandering through the lanes in Brighton. I was relaxed and soaking up the festive atmosphere, until that was I heard a loud yell from behind. As I turned I saw a woman with what I can only describe as a look of absolute rage upon her face, appearing as if she might explode like a bomb at any moment. Her hair was wild and framed a face that was red and swollen, and eyes that appeared to be almost popping from the sockets, almost sitting on her cheekbones. She grabbed the arm of the young girl with her and propelled her forward and in front of her into the crowd, like you might throw something very heavy. ‘You just wait until I get you home my girl’ she growled at the child as she pushed past me. They were walking very quickly, almost running with the young girl looking up at what I assumed was her mother with a pleading and frightened look on her face. The woman had terrified me, breaking into my day with what felt like a slap around the head with a negativity and anger that radiated from her very presence. I could do nothing but watch as I saw them turn the corner that led away from the main drag. I knew the girl was in for it, didn’t know what she had done but recognised that her mother was out of control and was very likely to lash out at the child or anyone that interfered. I guessed she would, as she had said wait until she got home.
What would the child learn from a good beating, that her mother was bigger and stronger, that you use your size to instill fear into those who are weaker. Would she grow up believing that to raise children would mean raising your hand or even your fist. I wondered when it would stop, when the spirit was beaten from the child or when the child was big enough to hit back.
I don’t and won’t ever agree with hitting children and can’t find any excuse for it, however many radio shows I listen to or articles I read that try and persuade me otherwise. I find it unbelievable how many intelligent people see no wrong with smacking as a punishment or to instill discipline. That so many informed and well-respected people still say ‘it never did me any harm’ is absolutely beyond me. Common sense and basic intelligence surely tell us that to hurt another human being because we don’t agree with their actions is wrong. That a child might learn not to repeat behaviour because they fear being hit still does not teach the child the behaviour is wrong and why, it teaches the child fear. When we can find no other way to deal with our children’s behaviour than hitting out we have lost control ourselves, it teaches our children that it is okay to lash out when things don’t go the way they would like. I know there are a lot more resources in the parenting toolbox.
I wondered what good would these beliefs do me now as I looked at the corner the mother and child had turned. Would she listen to reason if I chased after her or would I by interfering make the situation worse for the child. I know that other people had noticed, you couldn’t not, but the moment had passed and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shoppers resumed as if the incident had never happened.
I gathered myself and started to run towards the corner they had turned into. As I turned I caught sight of them in the distance and called out ‘wait’ continuing as I shouted, to run towards them. The mother stopped and turned, her body rigid and I felt ready to attack. I do not know how I did it but I plastered a smile across my face, laughing as I caught up. ‘I’m so pleased I caught you’ I said as we stood face to face, me smiling and her looking absolutely livid. ‘You dropped this’ I said as I held out a five-pound note, ‘I saw it fall from your coat pocket as you passed me’. I saw a change in her expression, confusion, as she knew she hadn’t dropped it and definite suspicion of my motives. ‘I nearly didn’t chase you’ I said ‘ I thought it was my lucky day, finding a fiver’. Adding ‘but then I thought about it being Christmas and being a mother myself, I felt you wouldn’t want to loose a fiver you could use for your children’. There was silence for a few moments, I could see her mind turning, could she have had five pounds in her pocket she had forgotten about. She took it from my hand with a quiet ‘thanks’ and glanced at the young girl standing with her. ‘I bet you’re pleased your mum hasn’t lost her money’ I said to the child with a big smile ‘what with all the treats she will probably be buying for you’. The girl smiled looking from me to her mother and I saw a different look between them. It seemed and I hope that the anger had subsided, I had interrupted it and replaced it with a gift, and the mothers face had softened. ‘ Well have a lovely Christmas’ I said as I walked back to the main street without the money I had put in my pocket earlier for a coffee.
I carried on my walk thinking about the incident, had I done the right thing. It certainly wouldn’t have taught the woman anything but then I don’t think she would have listened to reason at that time. I hope I reframed things for them and their day got better.