Roger and I were on a walk with Rayah this evening when we came upon a father kneeled down with his child. At first it appeared as though the child was hurt, and he was consoling her. As we came closer, we heard her crying and pleading with him – whatever it was, she made sure he knew she wasn’t going to do it again. Then he started yelling at her. Screaming. SCREAMING.
My neck coiled and my eyebrows shot up. As we were (slowly) walking past, I turned around to look at them. He had his daughter — she was maybe three years old — pinned to the ground, in a sort of headlock, while he hovered over her and screamed at her about cars driving down the road. (This was on a walking path in our neighborhood park, bordered on one side by a residential street and on the other side by a creek.) The child’s mother stood there, cross-armed, observing. The little girl’s face was red and marked with tears. And this father – this father was so oblivious to anything around him, and screaming at her so forcefully, that it seemed abusive to me. He was frightening. The situation was so disturbing that *I* started crying. You guys! I started crying.
Now, full disclosure: I didn’t understand the context of the discipline. Had she gotten too near the street (about six feet away) when a car was driving by? Had she been disobedient the first couple times her father asked her to move away from the street? I don’t know. But I do know that this man was scary. And angry. He was belittling and intimidating his daughter. I have no patience for that. I wanted to rescue that little girl!
Roger and I quietly discussed whether we should do anything. We stopped and (covertly) watched, waiting to see if he would harm his daughter. We wondered at what point it would be appropriate to step in. In the end, we only watched them. I dried my eyes. The father eventually stopped, they marched past us on their way home, the little girl clinging to her mother’s side, as far from her father as she could get. I turned to Roger and said, “I never want to treat our children like that.” He had her pinned to the ground in a headlock. She was THREE.
And now I can’t get that scene out of my mind – the dad hunkered down, trumpeting his temper; the mom passively standing by; the little girl, back arched, bawling, twisting her wet face from her father’s.
I get that every parent has different discipline styles. I understand that I don’t know the full story. But I also know that something isn’t sitting right in my heart, and even though that family is long-gone, I’m curious: At what point do you step in? Or do you? How do you know when? And what should that look like?