Great Responsibility: Maile’s Thoughts on Intervening After Seeing a Mother Hit Her Little Girl

Maile and Leo, in his first moments of life.
Maile and Leo, in his first moments of life.

After last weeks post about us confronting a neighbor who hit her little girl, we’ve had a lot of feedback, all over the map. Maile and I have continued to talk about it, and I asked her to please write something for my blog because 1) I’ll do just about anything to convince her to share her writing voice with the world and, 2) I think she has some really good things to say about what happened. Here is what she would like to offer to the conversation.

I’ve made it a practice of mine not to get too involved with my husband’s blog. It’s his thing, not mine. I love reading his posts, hearing his perspective on this wild and wooly life of ours, but his blog and his community here is just that: his. But when he posted last week about our recent volatile exchange with the neighbor, myself co-starring in that low-budget drama, I felt the need to respond.

I actually hadn’t seen the blog post until my brother texted me, saying that he read it and how proud he was of me for standing up for injustice, not remaining silent. Like any little sister who wants to impress her older brother (despite the fact that we are now well into middle age) I was flattered by his words. But I immediately noticed an unsettling deep in my belly, an unsettling that I recognized as the same churning I felt the week before when I saw my neighbor hitting her daughter.

I immediately put down my phone after texting my brother back and went on a hunt for my computer, not a small feat in a house with six children who are well trained in the art of laptop misplacement. I found it, got on Shawn’s blog, and read his recount of the event, tears in my eyes as I relived it through his words.

Damn, he’s a good writer.

But when I came to the end, I didn’t want to read the comments. It still felt too fresh; I still hadn’t come to terms with how it all played out. I wanted to call Shawn and tell him to take the post down and delete all the comments. The truth is that I didn’t want people applauding me, but I didn’t want them criticizing me either. I had too many conflicting feeling of my own about it all, and I felt unable to shoulder the feelings of others.

Immediately after the blow up with my neighbor, I felt angry and ashamed and hypocritical. I couldn’t turn a blind eye to someone beating a small child in front of me. I shouldn’t have, and I’m glad I didn’t. A couple days later I shared the story of the incident with a friend, and she said something that gave me some comfort: she said perhaps that girl will remember that someone stood up for her once; that someone said that hitting her wasn’t okay. I hope so.

But while I definitely had compassion for the daughter, I neglected to show compassion for her mother. I don’t know what her life has been like up until now. Clearly, from the fact that her car was being towed and she was tearing down the sidewalk and apartment buildings with her screaming because of it, she wasn’t having a great day. And who was I to point a finger at her when someone could have easily pointed a finger at me during one of the many times I’ve lost it with one of my children; I am no perfect parent. So when the dust settled after the event, the overwhelming feeling that hung over me was failure.

A couple days later, I listened to a sermon by Richard Rohr where he talked about Christ as the Divine Mirror. Rohr’s lesson centered around the passage where Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well. In the course of their conversation, Jesus basically “holds a mirror” up to the woman, telling her the things about her life that he shouldn’t have known: her sleeping around, her current live-in boyfriend. But Jesus doesn’t say these things in an accusatory way. He simply holds up a mirror to her face for her to see her life as it really is. Rohr suggests that in this divine “holding up of the mirror” in our own lives, Christ’s love and grace will not produce guilt or shame, but it will fill us a feeling of great responsibility.

That phrase “great responsibility” perfectly verbalized the sense that filled me nearly to bursting after the interchange with my neighbor. I was keenly aware that there was a better way to have handled that situation than I did. My greatest regret in it all, or should I say, my greatest wish is that my interaction with her would have led to building a road, no matter how gravelly and pot-holed, that connected us, a road that would allow for exchanging our names and an occasional “hello”, perhaps a road that her daughter could cross to sit beside our children on a sunny spring afternoon to make pastel chalk pictures on the city sidewalks. Instead, my yelling at her without extending any form of compassion built up a wall, and, at this point, that feels nearly impossible to overcome.

Thankfully, I’ve finally come to the realization that God doesn’t see what happened as a failure, but I do clearly recognize the great responsibility He has placed in my heart. I hope I get another chance to do things differently, to write a different story for my neighbor and I.

I hope.

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You can read the original post HERE.

For some good thoughts about how to intervene when you see someone treating a child improperly, check out this article. I know I wish I would have read it sooner. What about you? Have you ever witnessed an adult physically abusing a child in public? What did you do, if anything?

11 Replies to “Great Responsibility: Maile’s Thoughts on Intervening After Seeing a Mother Hit Her Little Girl”

  1. This is beautiful. I don’t think it’s ever too late to build that road. It won’t happen immediately, but it can still happen. I appreciate your honesty in admitting that grace is hard and messy. And you definitely have a voice to share with the world when you are ready. Thanks for sharing it today.

  2. Thanks for this. Just the other day I was working in my yard when a mother walking her two young children passed by. She was speaking incredibly abusively to her daughter, “Why the f— do you have to f—ing mess up your shirt? What did you do? Why are you f—-ing like that?”, in a low growl. She didn’t see me behind the rose bushes, cringing. After a quick prayer I greeted them with a cheerful “hello!” It caught them all off guard, and she returned the greeting. I didn’t fix anything; I couldn’t, but I interrupted the moment, and interjected something different. I still felt helpless. Another time I saw a man raging at his son outside of a grocery store. Because I had my own children with me I couldn’t intervene….what would even help? So I stood witness; locking eyes with him unflinchingly with a gaze that said, “I see this and it isn’t okay.” In both situations I was left with a question…how do we best help, both parent and child; is there a “right” answer? It’s hard to engage someone coming unhinged, it’s harder to look away with no response. Lord have mercy.

    1. Great insight to pray before interacting. I wish I would have taken that avenue, but that is something I will definitely remember in the future. Thanks, Sarah!

  3. You’re such a good person, Maile. And I totally agree with God, you’re not a failure in any way. Still, I’m praying that you get the opportunity to build that road with your neighbor, because I know the Mom could so benefit from having you as a friend, as could that sweet child. Keep loving and keep caring. It really does take a village. I think it must be something in the name, but I have a cousin named Maile, and she’s one of the people in my life who helps me to want to be a better mother and person. People like you make a difference every single day, and lots of the time you don’t even know it.

  4. Maile, this is a beautiful and humble response. I can understand your mixed feelings- but, in the moment, you triaged. You chose the most hurting person to give your aid to. I also think that you can still make a way to each other- and your eyes will be open for the opportunity. When I worked at Gapkids in college, I would often witness cruel words hissed at children, arms pulled too harshly. It’s a terrible feeling- and I am proud of you for jumping to the defense of that little one. Blessings to you, friend xo

    1. Yes, Coral! I love this use of “triage” because, looking back, that is exactly how it felt! I, too, hope that she and I can make a way to one another. I would love to have that story to share someday. Thank you for hoping with me.

  5. Maile,
    You are one of the most humble and gracious women I know. When I read Shawn’s post, I was sick and sad and praying it would end without physical harm to you as well. Thankfull, it ended with Lucy’s arms wrapped around her Mama – protector of children. :)

    After reading this, again, I am blessed by your humility. God’s Grace has been messy from the get-go. Christ dying was certainly messy. You stepped into a messy situation… and we, as imperfect humans, tend to imperfectly handle messy situations. In my “mom” perspective – had I been brave – I would have done the same thing you did. And would probably feel some of the same guilt or hurt you do as well. The best part – this story is still being written. It is not over.

    This woman and her child, I assume, are still your neighbors. There is nothing wrong with taking a plate of cookies over and asking her to talk about what happened… or sympathizing with her that she had such a terrible day that day. If she opens the door, awesome! Even if it slams shut again, she still opened the door. There is still and opportunity for that bumpy, pot-holed, gravel road to start.

    Not knowing the journey she is on, maybe she just needs that extra touch of a mom who might know some of her struggles. Maybe she needs a shoulder to cry on, and in all honesty, any woman is a better woman all around if they are in your presence and talking with you.

    Take courage, my friend. God is walking this journey in step with you. Do not be afraid, for He is with you always… every step of the bumpy, pot-holed road.

    Miss you and Love YOU!

  6. Just found this blog, and I love the honesty of both related posts… and even more the thoughtful comments on prayer before action (even a quickie!) and the idea of extending an olive branch to the neighbor. Maybe we don’t need to get it right the first time around… peace to all our neighborhoods…

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