Recently, I was asked to share my thoughts on the ABC program, “What Would You Do,” specifically the videos catching strangers reacting to parents who are not “parenting from their best.” The situations staged are based on real life headlines of outrageous parenting moments (ones that may or may not be as theatrical as the parenting moments on the show) that caught controversy or buzz.
Here’s the deal. The videos, while they show us some real life compassion and concern for the children, highlight a few things that are telling of our society and why we still struggle with how to get involved when we see anyone, let alone a child, being treated unjustly, unfairly or downright awful.
- In one clip, 200 people passed by the “situation”. This means 200 people did not have the courage to say something or to get involved in some way or they simply didn’t know what to say. (The bystanders didn’t have a plan.)
- Of the people who stepped in, almost all of them had a plan: call the police. (Truthfully, a “quick fix” plan: punish the mother.)
- These scenarios clearly illustrate, to me anyway, that any and all “parenting dilemmas” usually stem from either: a lack of training the children or a fractured relationship. These meltdown moments were ripped from the most desperate parenting decisions. (The parents didn’t have a better plan.)
- The show doesn’t have a clear takeaway: are we supposed to intervene? Call the police? Make a judgment call? Help the mother? Help the kids? From what I saw in the clips, it just asks what would you do and then shows what people do, which is a variety of responses to an already popularly divided topic. (The show doesn’t offer a plan.)
Have a Plan
I could say a million things but the only VALUABLE response to offer is this: you – we – must have a plan or process in our minds so that when we encounter an incident, whether it’s bullying, shaming, lashing out or fighting — whatever it might be that has our gut yelling “do something” we don’t freeze up, look the other way, walk by as quickly as we can ( like the 200 highlighted in one show) and instead, we KNOW what we would do.
My very educated bet is that a person’s reluctance to get involved is based on two things: fear that stepping in would cause more problems, lead to arrest or some kind of backlash OR the simple answer to the title: “I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL I’D DO so I guess….nothing?”
If you ever encounter an incident on the playground, bus or elsewhere, you can walk yourself through this T.E.S.T. strategy. I’ve done this many times – and remember, I’m not a superhero or claiming to be one – I’m a mom of five kids who simply decided to act (an act here is NOT some heroic save, it is an icebreaker, a moment of support when someone has hit their limit). You can also feel empowered to act, simply by taking the time to stop and walk through a very simple T.E.S.T. process.
- T. Take inventory. What is going on? If it’s morally or physically questionable, or heading that way, it’s a good time to recognize the parent is most likely emotionally bankrupt and has no idea what else to do. She’s at the bottom – and her best thinking got her there. If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t be in this situation.
- E. Empathize. Instead of judge and plot punishment. Here’s where I take control of my thinking and remember that most parents rely on “quick fix” solutions. Their thinking does not get clearer when they are at their wits end. Parents feel like they have to do something – even if that something makes things worse or belittles the child. We all know we’ve been there from time to time.
- S. Say something ENCOURAGING to the parent. “Look, I get it, I have five kids — is there anything I can do?” Be present and kind – the parent already feels discouraged. Judging and scolding is not going to do any good – no matter what you THINK to yourself – stay focused on the goal: to help take the lid off the pressure cooker and change the dynamic.
- T. Trust the mother to reboot. Trust the mom will use this exchange to make a better decision next time. Trust that even GOOD moms make crappy decisions. (Let’s face it she wouldn’t do that at 9am after a good sleep and a cup of coffee.) Trust that not every mistake requires a punishment. Trust that little efforts add up. Trust that the problem is not “good or bad” but lack of training for the kids or fractured relationships between parent and child – both of which she can fix, with support.
Note: if it’s extreme or it’s clearly morally or physically dangerous, trust your gut and call police or get help. This strategy is for the everyday exchanges that we consistently opt out of because we aren’t sure it’s our business or what we should say. We’re in this together- every mom (or dad) at the bottom of the rabbit hole should have a rope out – if she doesn’t take it, that’s her business. If we don’t throw it, that’s our business.
The goal is to make contact, lend a moment of support and allow mom or dad to examine the incident in private, later and use that experience to make the next parenting decision. Yes, sometimes it won’t do any good or they may not get the takeaway they could, but if this one exchange, from a caring person, allows a parent to rethink her approach for the next time, that’s a win-win in my book. And when that happens (and it will as more people choose to diffuse and trust), our collective efforts have paid off, one new thinking opportunity at a time-Vicki
Have you witnessed a moment you felt you had to intervene? Did you have the courage to speak up? Was it difficult? Share your thoughts on the Facebook Wall or REPLY in the comment box below! Thank you.