There’s unrest and uprising in Baltimore. Protesters retaliating against violence done to Freddie Gray and many want to see it stop. (Powerfully expressed here in Ray Lewis’s Facebook video)
“Get off the streets. Violence is not the answer. We know what the jungle looks like. We know there is a deeper issue. There are enough of us in the streets trying to change what is going on. KIDS. GO HOME!!!! You don’t have no right to do what you are doing… We’re with you. We know what’s GOING ON!!!…It takes a village…To many babies paying attention to this craziness…We must change this right now. Stop the violence. Go home. I’m telling you, GO HOME!” – Ray Lewis
And then this video surfaces “Baltimore Riots: Mom Beats Son for taking Part in Violence“, a clip being described as a mother smacking sense into her son. And as a nation, we applaud. We call her mother of the year. We lament that hitting is no longer allowed in schools and we blame parents that don’t spank as the very problem for Baltimore’s unrest. Damn kids. No respect. Conversations fill our Facebook streams debating, “Mom of the year or mom abusing her son?”
Let’s wake up America. Why are we wasting time and energy collectively judging this mom and her parenting methods as either good or bad when we could be talking about the realities that drove this mom to lose it?
Because this WAS a mom losing it. The hitting, smacking, cussing — an act of desperation. JUST ASK THE MOM, TOYA GRAHAM, HERSELF. When asked about her actions she said, “I just lost it! I was so angry with him that he had made a decision to hurt the police officers. I was like, you weren’t brought up like this!” The boy himself goes on to explain that his mom hit him because “she didn’t want me in trouble with the law. She didn’t want me to end up another Freddie Gray.”
This is a :37 second clip of a mother angry, raging — losing it. A mother in fear for her son’s life.
I applaud Ms. Graham for going right down into the rioting, pulling her son out of the crowd and potentially saving his life. I applaud her for creating a national conversation about fear, discipline, punishment and the way we parent. I do not hold hitting and the cussing at our children as an act worthy of making any of us parent of the year but who cares?!?! That is not the point. I empathize with this mother.
And maybe that’s it right there. We as a nation, empathize with this mother.
We recognize the love behind this mother’s fear because we have been there. We see in this mother a love so big – a love masked by fear, anger and rage – emotions with the power to take over our bodies with such force that we “lose it”. Hitting, yelling, smacking the very people we love most in the world — the very definition of losing it.
I believe this is what our nation sees in Toya Graham when they call her mother of the year. Big love covered by so much fear and worry.
If I’d been in this mother’s shoes, driving down to the mall to pick up my teen son, worried he might be in trouble, arrested or maybe even dead – then seeing him there in the crowd, masked and holding a brick – I might have “lost it” too. I have never raised a hand to any of my children like this mother did, but here’s the thing — I have never been this mother. I have never been in this exact situation. I am a white, middle class mom, married, living in the Midwest. I was not raised with hitting or spanking. My ancestors were more likely slave owners than slaves. I do not live in daily fear that my children, walking out the door for school, might never walk back in. I can’t even pretend to know the fear that gripped this mother’s heart or the thoughts that went through her head in that moment.
Where this mom went in her rage is not the point America. Our reaction to it is.
To say this mom’s moment of deep fear and rage embodies our highest hopes for parenting methods is something to talk about.
Ironically, the very act our nation is largely holding up high as effective, loving, discipline (mother of the year material) is a mother gripped by fear. Where I see her actions as understandable, I struggle to see how and why much of American media finds them applaudable. If a news station captured footage of a teacher disciplining a child in the way this mother was engaging her child, no matter the cause of the teacher’s reaction, how do you imagine the media and America might react?
We praise the peace keepers and ask for the violence to end, and yet as a nation in comment after comment following the video, we call for mothers to parent more from the place this mother went in a moment of fear. We hold her reaction up as praiseworthy and call it discipline instead of naming it for what it was – an understandably challenging moment where this mother “lost it” on her son.
Comments below the video suggest the solution for our nation’ challenges. Our kids need more ass-whipping:
“If I or my wife found out that my son was involved in anything like this, we would go out and yoke his #$%$ and bring him home. After that the fun would just begin.”
“As parents we HAVE to HOPE that the next time he will consider there is a chance the entire world will watch his mom whoop his ass.”
“All these stupid kids did was make things worse for everyone in the neighborhood. They could all use some sense slapped into them by caring parents.”
“My mom would have whooped me till my but was red and I would have deserved it if I had ever taken part in something like this. My mother’s discipline AND spanking taught me respect!”
“When I was young I was taught respect the same way that kid was just taught ! It makes me cringe every time I’m in a store, and hear a kid screaming, swearing, and throwing a fit because they didn’t get their way! I would have gotten yanked out of the store by the scruff of my neck, and had my butt warmed for me if I ever had done any of that B.S.!”
“Enough with child abuse. Teens are using it to get away with murder. I say go back to the old way of raising teens. The way our parents raised us!!”
After the video’s release, the Police Commissioner was quoted as saying, “I wish I had more parents that took charge of their kids.”
I agree. Let’s take charge of our kids. And let’s talk about how.
How can we as a society teach our children conflict resolution from their days in the sandbox on up?
How, even in the face of an unfathomable injustice, can we model self-control and ways to channel negative emotions? What are our actions teaching to our kids when we as parents and/or persons of authority are triggered — pissed off, angry, scared, irate, raging?
If we are a nation that stands behind corporal punishment. If we are a nation of people teaching children with our words and actions that might makes right and anger is best expressed through violence, then WHY ARE WE SURPRISED WHEN THESE SAME CHILDREN PICK UP BRICKS AND FIGHT WHEN THEY FEEL ATTACKED AND ANGRY??!?!?
What if we, instead, taught our nation’s parents and children tools for conflict resolution and how to channel anger when we feel anger, rage and out of control?
Where does violence begin and where do we begin in taming it?
This might not strike you as original, but when I see what’s going on in Baltimore I think, what would Rosa Parks or Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. or John Lennon or Jesus or Inez Milholland Boissevain or Mother Teresa do in the face of racism and the many injustices of our time? How would they empathize with this mother’s understandable fear for her son’s life? How would they encourage this young man and other protesters to put down the bricks and to create lasting change for our nation, a nation of people hurting one another, in need of peace?
I believe their response would sound a lot like Ray Lewis’s message above. Empathy. A clear, firm message to stop the violence. A plan in what we as a people CAN do for true and lasting change.
Peace starts in each of us. In our hearts. In our homes. In our parenting, school and even our judicial system. In the ways we treat one another in the face of conflict, anger and injustice.
Does violence end violence?
When we yell and hit children for yelling and hitting, we model and thereby teach, the very thing we want our kids NOT to do. And we miss the opportunity to teach our children valuable tools on what TO do with big, negative emotions. Anger transformed into clarity and action, minus violence, has the power to create lasting transformations in how our society operates. Transformations like ending slavery. Rights for children. Rights for women. Rights for gays. Rights for all people.
Perhaps the problem our nation faces is not a lack of violence being done unto children in the name of discipline but a lack of parenting tools that teach children and parents alike how to manage anger and conflict. What does this look like? How is it different for different facets of our culture, depending on race, geographics, income, health, age and more? How might these tools make a difference in the hearts and hands of our nation’s future police officers, uprisers, business and social leaders, parents and teachers alike for generations to come?
That’s a discussion I’d like to see us having as a nation.
I’d like to end this post with a story from author Astrid Lindgren, recipient of the German Book Traders’ Peace Prize in 1978 and the humble call for peace it embodies. The sort of peace that starts within each of us. Her story does not pretend to have all the right answers and nor do I. My intention with this post is to start a conversation. Asking questions. Listening. Empathizing. Building bridges and peace. These are my intentions.
“I met an old pastor’s wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking–the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with. The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock that you can throw at me.”
All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy onto her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence.” -Astrid Lindgren
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Posts to read that further this conversation from people who know far more than I:
“My mother shot a man for abusing me. Her then-fiancé put me in a bath of scalding hot water, leaving scars I can still see and feel some 40 years later. Like I said, she would do anything for us. But I wonder now, with jail cells and graveyards packed with people who faced similar discipline, if it had the societal payoff we intended. The hard data tells another story.
Children who are subjected to corporal punishment are no more likely to refrain from bad behavior than those who are not. In fact, studies show it has the opposite impact, and that they seek out more crafty ways to cloak unwanted conduct.
That is no indictment on the mother from Baltimore or my own. It does, however, speak to our collective hypocrisy.”
“I don’t have a son, but I do have a mama, and she has never prioritized my feelings or my pride above my safety. And her fear for me (staying out late, going anywhere alone—fears she still has now and I am well into my 30s) is not always based on logic, its based on possibility, its based on knowing what can happen to a person in black skin in this country, just for walking down the street or trying to get home.”
“The debate over the moment Graham says she “lost it” is complex. There’s a parallel black debate going on that, as always when it comes to racial issues, is richer and more nuanced. But anyone white who’s applauding Graham’s moment of desperation, along with the white media figures who are hyping her “heroism,” is essentially justifying police brutality, and saying the only way to control black kids is to beat the shit out of them.”
A powerful interview about a little book that’s enhancing the lives of thousands.