I saw something that broke my heart last night. Some friends and I were dining on the patio of a restaurant that overlooked a plaza. A man was pacing around talking on his cell phone, which is nothing unusual, when several of his children came out of a store. One of them, a girl of about 7, blasted through the door with her face twisted in a grimace and emitted a loud wail.
In the blink of an eye, the man flew into a rage. He grabbed the oldest boy, who was about 10, corralled him in a headlock, and started punching him very hard in the shoulder while yelling in a whisper through clenched teeth with so much intensity that his face flared red and his veins popped out. The girl and the other children immediately disappeared back into the store.
After a moment, the man seemed to remember that he was in public, and he released the boy roughly and pushed him away. The boy choked back tears, cradled his shoulder, and took off. I will never forget the look on his face - a terrible mix of shame, violation, and rage.
I was transfixed in horror. The man visually scanned his surroundings to see if he had been witnessed. He began in my direction, and our eyes met.
My dinner companions had not seen the incident, so I did not mention it and rejoined the conversation. This morning, I woke up crying.
When I see a parent hurt a child, my heart aches for them both. That father's reaction was so instantaneous that it seems highly likely that when he was a child, he was a victim of abuse himself. It's also possible that he never learned how to cope with major internal stress, and he has lost all self-control.
Either way, he's simply another link in the chain of pain, passing along a legacy of domination and violation.
For rage of that intensity to be so close to the surface ... well, I can't imagine what it's like to carry that much pain. But I know someone who can imagine it. His 10 year old son.
I'm not sure why I witnessed this event. I spend most of my time working with very high functioning parents who already know that it is never never never okay to hit a child.
And then I thought ... well, I am a writer. Maybe I was shown this so I could share it with others. Perhaps there are parents who are still hurting their children, believing that it is for their own good.
Perhaps in reading this bird's eye view of an incident like this, those well intentioned parents may come to understand that when they hit or hurt their children, they are teaching a very different lesson than the one they mean to impart. Children learn what they live. That boy might indeed have hurt his sister inside that store, but who do you think he learned that behavior from?
Violence begets violence. Not remorse. Not future self-restraint. Not morality. And it certainly does not teach children how to handle their feelings, communicate with each other, or work together. Children learn those skills by watching the behavior of those they love, and receiving gentle instruction during quiet and loving moments together.
Please don't hit or spank your children. There many more effective ways to help your children learn appropriate behavior. Physically punishing a child does not teach him a lesson. It only creates feelings of pain, violation, and rage.
If only that father could have seen what I saw on his son's face, maybe he would understand ...
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