Mom’s viral post points out the dangers in judging a fellow parent based one a single incident
Little kids can’t defend themselves, which is why it’s so important for caretakers to report suspected abuse when they see it. But our mom instincts can be hard to turn off, and there are times they kick into gear when we see a fellow mom interacting with her kids in public in a way Mary Poppins definitely wouldn’t approve of. Sometimes these instincts have us reaching for the phone to report a fellow mom for her actions, but can you really judge a parent based on a single interaction?
One mom did just that, and regretted it.
In a now viral Facebook post, Megan Burnside explains how a few years ago in Tennessee she made a call that she thought was the right thing to do at the time.
“We were at a gas station when we saw a woman with a boy of about 10 years old, struggling to get him in the car,” she writes. “He was screaming and she was so angry and frustrated. We watched her get him in the car and there was a lot of physical fighting in the car. It looked like she was hitting him as well, so we called the police.” Deciding to call the authorities is never an easy decision. Burnside must have been worried about the wheels her call would set in motion, but she thought she was doing the right thing for the child.
She and her husband didn’t stick around to see what happened, but later on she got a phone call from the police. It was then Burnside realized that the fight she thought she saw in the parking lot between a child and parent wasn’t exactly as it seemed. “They told us that the boy was autistic and she really struggled with him, and she had even asked for the police’s help in the past to deal with him because he was very violent. They said they have been helping her and she’s doing the best she can.”
Burnside realized that while her heart was in the right place, maybe she could have handled the situation differently. “I had the most overwhelming realization of my mistake,” she writes. “In my eagerness to protect the child, I neglected to offer help to the mother. Instead I ‘turned her in’ to the authorities. We sat and watched her struggle and called her in. I have felt guilt even years later that I didn’t get out of my car and offer her some help. If I had helped in that moment, it may not have led to more violence.”
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Burnside found herself in line to pay at a store near a mom with two little ones. The mom was having a hard time with her kids. “She was so angry and explosive at both of them, the whole store was aware of them. People stood there and watched them struggle in the line,” she writes. Burnside found herself thinking back to that mother at the gas station in Tennessee. Only this time, instead of judging the mom or trying to come to the kids’ rescue with a phone call, she decide to try and help in another way.
She walked over to one of the kids and put a hand on his foot. The mom melted over her kind gesture. “The mother was so frazzled and apologized. She told me she worked nights and she couldn’t even think in the day,” Burnside writes. “I told her she was a good mom. I told her everything was going to be okay. She cried, guys. She CRIED as everyone else watched her struggle with her burden.” Burnside realized how far she’d come in judging other mom’s parenting. “Years earlier I would have been holding my cell phone ready, watching to see if she did anything that I should report.”
Of course true abusive behavior towards a child should be reported — full stop, no excuses. Burnside’s speaking to those situations where a parent could use a little support instead of the sideeye — someone to help distract their crying child instead of the silent judgment or a life-altering phone call to child services. “I know there’s a place for the authorities to step in,” she writes, “but I feel like we have become a culture who watches for faults instead of opportunities to help. We have become more separated and condemning, instead of compassionate and loving and serving. If we helped more, we would have to call the authorities less.”
Burnside said she was inspired to speak out on this topic after a dear friend of hers was recently reported to child services. This is a mom she admires, not one she thinks can’t parent her kids. “I have spent many hours in her home and she is the kind of mother I want to be like. I have observed the love and patience with which she helps her children do their chores and the way she listens to them tell their stories. I seriously aspire to be like her.” Burnside tells Scary Mommy the case has been thankfully dropped and her friend is recovering. Still, she feels it’s just another example of someone thinking that they’re “helping” a situation while actually making it worse. “I am sad that the person who called her in didn’t ask how they could HELP HER,” she wrote.
With thousands of people sharing her post, Burnside’s hopeful that all the attention will encourage moms to be more caring towards each other. “I’m really encouraged that so many people are resonating with this message,” she says. “The overwhelmingly positive response is a huge sign that we’re ready to put down our judgement and step in to help each other. Many moms are feeling isolated, and the fear of the judgment of others perpetuates the problem.”