Smack Judgement

The internet, from Facebook to Instagram, is full of scathing reports of parents behaving badly in public. From shouting at their kids in Walmart to spanking them in the bathroom stall at Disney world, we love to call out others for their mistakes. We can make them sound like monsters, terrible adults taking preying on the defenseless, unable to control their emotions and anger. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, we shout into the series of tubes, SO SHOCKING.

Today, I am sure someone is gleefully reporting on the mother they saw hit her three year old at the zoo. AWFUL.

That mother was me. I smacked Evan, right out in the open for God and the Italian ice girl and the wrinkled, judging eyes of the elephants to see.  He staggered sideways, his eyes filling with tears as I picked him up and held him while casting furtive glaces around to see if anyone was calling Child Protective Services. No one went that far, but the looks I got made my scalp prickle.

The whole thing was an accident, but even if you suspected that you have already started judging me. I was explaining elephants to Caroline, crouched slightly to point out their ears and tusks and big feet at a level she could understand both physically and developmentally. Evan was tired of the elephants – “Mommy, don’t wanna see the elephants! Wanna see the tortoises, fighting tortoises Mommy, this way!” (To lighten the tone of this post, I’ll tell you the tortoises weren’t fighting but since that’s what Evan called the thing they were doing – and doing loudly – I didn’t correct him.) In his excitement, Evan grabbed my leg and yanked, twisting me off balance. As I tipped toward the pavement I flung my arms out involuntarily and one of them connected with the side of his body. It hurt me more than it hurt him, truly. He was surprised and shocked but not actually injured. I swallowed my quick flash of adrenaline and hugged him as tight as I could, murmuring apologies and looking for bruises.

But if you had also been looking at the elephant’s ears and tusk and big feet you would have turned when you heard the unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh followed by a crying child. You would have seen a mother looking guilty and ashamed and a little boy saying “I sorry Mommy! Please don’t hit me!” You would have judged and condemned. You might have tweeted or taken a picture of us as we walked away to put on Instagram. You might have shared what you had seen with your message board. I might have done the same, before I was on the other end.

We are reminded all the time not to judge other people’s choices. “You don’t know what they’re going through” we chant, “You don’t know their circumstances. Do what is right for your family.” But we make exceptions for the Really Bad Things. We know we are better than Those People and Those Choices and no matter what they say there is No Excuse. And sometimes that is true. I’m not saying you should doubt your instincts if you see a child being harmed or in danger. But I am saying things are not always what they look like, even when you see them with your own eyes, and maybe a private yet public social media shaming shouldn’t be your first reaction.

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7 Responses to “Smack Judgement”

  1. Emily Y. says:

    Awww. Accidents happen! I’m sorry you had to endure judging glances, but I’m sure some of them weren’t judging, just checking to see if everyone was okay. You are so right, though. I always feel bad for the public online humiliation of parents who may have just been caught at an awkward moment, and aren’t actually terrible people. I’m pretty sure ALL parents have less than stellar moments, and sometimes it really is just an accident or misunderstood by others, like this.

  2. Cheney says:

    That is a nice post – spanking posts can be sketchy and scary to write, but I love the point behind it.

    “You have no idea what’s going on, don’t judge what you can’t understand.”

    Not judging at all would be great, but we know that will never happen. I can’t believe people take pics of a kid getting spanked just to put them on Instagram and talk smack though, that’s crazy!

  3. Audrey says:

    Oh man. The “please don’t hit me” would have broken me. Judgie judgers suck.

  4. Adrienne May says:

    I definitely try not to make judgments and give people the benefit of the doubt. It is a good thing to remember.

  5. Amy says:

    I just accidentally hit Spencer in the face the other day and oh lord the screaming. I can’t imagine how mortifying it would have been had it happened in public.

  6. Jessica says:

    Oh that is so tough, the guilt and then the being judged. I try not to ever jump to conclusions. Having a 16 year old with autism who tends to melt down in public often gives me a different perspective on what could be happening that we don’t see on the surface. I just wish everyone else would do the same. Staring and judgement doesn’t help anything.

  7. Amanda says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about being judged. In my experience, parents who hit their kids in public (like, on purpose) are not in the least apologetic or concerned about their kids well being. They usually follow it up by yelling things like “Are you happy now?” or “Look what you made Mommy do!” – and that’s when you know that it’s okay to be a bit judgy.

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