Where’s The Line?

Mama bear instinct. Most mothers have it. That need to protect, not only our own children, but any child we see being neglected or abused.

I used to be very vocal in my judgment of parents who weren’t, in my view, perfect.

That, of course, would be before I had a child with special needs.

And let me digress for a moment and say something about those two words ‘special needs’. I’ve always hesitated to use them in regard to Vista. Outwardly she appears normal. Most people passing her on the street would never guess she’s anything but. She looks just like your kid, and your kid, and yours. Only she’s not.

Did you spend an hour this morning laying in bed with your child, not cuddling them, but restraining them while they shrieked and screamed and fought to get their hands free so they could punch and hit and attack you, as you softly talked and sang to them, trying to refocus their attention and calm them down? No? I did. But you’d never know that to look at my daughter, happily playing an hour later, while I still struggled to suppress the anger and frustration I felt over the incident. That was before 7am this morning. And that is not an unusual way to start or end my days. But, she looks normal.

And that exasperation may have come through as I snapped at her as she dawdled to the truck, fiddling with her umbrella in the rain, this morning. “I’m wet, you’re wet, group starts in 10 minutes… LET’S GO!”

But all you would have seen is me snap at her. And I’m sure the words “What a bitch” would have flitted through your mind as you walk past and felt sorry for my daughter at having such a horrible mother. You wouldn’t have noticed the long sleeve shirt and jeans I was wearing to cover the bruises left from her lashing out yet again. Nor would you have noticed the cap I was wearing to hide the fact the hour spent restraining her had used up the spare moments I might have had to grab a shower or even actually run a brush through my hair.

And yet, there you would have stood in judgment because that mama bear instinct is to protect the child…not the parent.

That’s why I struggle when I read posts like this one that Janna at The Adventure of Motherhood wrote on the BlogHer site.

I don’t condone the actions of the parent.  Did she cross over that invisible line of what is acceptable in private, never mind public?  Yes, probably.

But consider this, if you will.  Every mother out there has had one of those days where they’re at their wits end with their children.  Where they just want to escape and can’t handle one more second of the whining/fighting/arguing/tantrums/crying/insert your child’s favorite button-pushing behavior here.  Now imagine having those days EVERY DAY FOR MONTHS ON END.  That can be what having a special need child is like sometimes.  At some point, if you don’t have the supports in place to help you deal with this sort of stuff (like I’m lucky that we do), you will lose it.  And sometimes that happens in public.

I’m not saying the child in this story Janna wrote about was special needs.  I don’t know.  I have no idea what issues the mother might be dealing with.  Because Janna’s instinct was to protect the child and say “I can do this better”.

Rather than approach the mom with an accusatory sentence of “I don’t think you should talk that way to your son,”  as most of us (myself included) instinctually would, why not go up and say “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Find out what is going on that has brought them to the point that they have completely lost it in public.

And they may not want your help, and there may be nothing you can do.

But never think you can do it better until you know what’s really going on and have walked a mile in their shoes.

We are so quick to judge and hate each other.  Would it be so bad to hold out a hand instead and say “I understand.  Let me help”?

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33 Responses to Where’s The Line?

  • Heather says:

    Jack has had a horrible week and I have been bitten and hit more times than not.

    I get “the look” all the time when he’s screaming–and sometimes, just when we’re out and about.

    I cringe when I see mom’s taking their children for granted. Mostly, because I can’t have kids. But I would never be confrontational either. I would, just as you said, think that maybe that momma has a SN kid.

    Good job momma
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..What IF? =-.

    Jenn Reply:


    ‘The Look’. I love ‘The Look’. It makes me want to turn to people and ask them what their freakin problem is and if they think they can do better than have at it. *sigh*

    And I agree. A lot of parents take their children’s health and behaviour for granted.

    Hugs and bandaids


  • avasmommy says:

    Jenn, my SIL is special needs. She’s now 20 years old, but my MIL adopted her when she was a child. She first came to them as a baby. To look at her she appears normal. She “presents herself well”. But she has severe issues. Mentally, she’s never progressed beyond about 8 years old. She never will. People look at her and they don’t get it. They never will.

    It’s easy to make judgments from the outside. God knows we’ve all done it. But having Kay in my life has taught me that appearances aren’t always what they seem.

    I cannot imagine having to start my day the way you do. You’re a strong woman, mama.

    Jenn Reply:


    I’ve found a whole new appreciation for adults with disabilities since having V. There’s a special needs lady who comes to help out at V’s Wednesday physio group who is absolutely wonderful. But I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t have bothered to take the time to get to know her before having my own special needs child. I kind of wonder how many awesome people I’ve missed out on getting to know because of my own insecurities.

  • mel says:

    I just love you and this post. Really. I hate to say this, but it is the internet who taught me to take a look at myself before I judged another parent or human for that matter. When I started on twitter I hardly knew what a blog was. I had only been reading a few before I realized how much you can learn from people’s courage to put their stories out there. To share their experiences. I’m not saying I’ve always judged people, but of course there have been times where my mouth dropped after seeing someone snap at their child, snap at a stranger, speeding and cutting people off on the street. You have no clue what’s going on in their life. I think I’ll take your advice going forward and maybe ask if there is in fact anything I can do.
    .-= mel´s last blog ..Stuck =-.

    Jenn Reply:


    I think it’s so much easier to be reactive. Stopping and considering takes time and effort that most people just don’t want to expend on a complete stranger in this day and age.

  • Ahh… it is so easy to judge others (especially other parents), because we are so constantly afraid that we ourselves are doing it wrong.
    .-= MommyNaniBooboo´s last blog ..My child’s a genius, that’s why he wears a leash. =-.

    Jenn Reply:


    Good point. Judge before others judge you syndrome?

  • Becky says:

    when i grow up i wanna be like you.


    i’ve not read those other posts yet but i will but i LOVE how you have the ability to always see the other side…even if you don’t agree. or bring the other side to light for those that might not have seen it.
    .-= Becky´s last blog ..All around me =-.

    Jenn Reply:


    You’re so sweet. Yeah, I do end up playing devils advocate a lot don’t I? lol. Bad habit of mine.

  • Carrie says:

    It’s definitely a tough call but I have to ask you this since you do have to deal with a “special needs” child and have the bruises and injuries to prove it: would YOU ever ever EVER speak to Vista that way in public? Would you Ever throw her down, scream at her, threaten to beat her because you had just dealt with the week from HELL where she constantly lashed out and had episodes like you mentioned every day, perhaps twice a day?

    We are quick to judge, and we are quick to hate but as you said, there is a line and I think Janna was right to say that it is not right to treat a child like that woman was treating her son. If she had asked the woman if she needed help I think she would have received the same response: “this is my child and I will deal with it. Do not interfere”
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..(not so) Wordless Wednesday: What the &*#^ were they thinking? =-.

    Jenn Reply:


    I would love to say that I’ve never been there, but I’d be lying. There was one time during an epic tantrum/attack in a mall that I grabbed her and marched out to the truck muttering “Just wait til we get to the vehicle”. The hike through the parking lot was enough to calm me down and let me regain my composure. But that was before I had the supports and resources in place that we do today. And that was before I had a better understanding of what was going on with V and what her triggers were.

    Do I agree with anything the parent in the post did? No, of course no child deserves to be treated like that. Do I understand how she could possibly get to that point? I do, unfortunately. In spades. When you’re dealing with this sort of thing day in and out the walk from sane to losing it can be shorter some days than others.

    I know it’s hard to understand. I could never have imagined myself reacting like that until I was put in those situations. Sometimes you really do just reach a breaking point when you’re dealing with behaviour / sensory / medical issues with a good dose of sleep deprivation (which most parents of special needs kids tend to suffer from).

    I’m not trying to excuse the mothers actions. I’m just asking people to pause before they’re reactive.

    And you’re quite probably right. The response could have been the same. But you never know. If it was me in the same situation and someone would have started telling me how to parent my child, it would have only escalated my mood and I probably would have lashed out too. Had she offered to help I probably would have burst into tears.

  • pgoodness says:

    I try to at least give a look or a smile when I see a parent struggling, to let them know that I’ve been there, done that. We ALL have. I don’t judge the parents so much anymore as think “Poor kid is having a rough day”. And I am proud to say that I have actually asked if a mom needed help when she looked to be struggling really bad.

    We have all been there, special needs or not, our kids can drive us to the very edge and we should be able to count on each other to pull us back. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile or a quick “Are you ok?” to get us back on solid ground.

    Great post.
    .-= pgoodness´s last blog ..Her =-.

  • Maria says:

    You’re so right. We can’t afford to make assumptions about kids/parents.
    .-= Maria´s last blog ..living things =-.

  • Diane says:

    I completely agree with you. We need to take a step back and realize that everyone has bad days. If I’m not always as kind to my children as I should be, why should I hold others to an unattainable standard of patience?

    That being said, there is a WORLD of difference between you snapping at V to get in the car and a woman shouting at her son in public and threatening him with a BEATING.
    .-= Diane´s last blog ..Girl Talk Thursday – Fashionista =-.

    Jenn Reply:


    I think we all say things when we’re exhausted and at our wits end that we don’t really mean. I have been known to say out loud to V that I was going to string her up by her toes or duct tape her to a wall if she didn’t knock it off. Would I really ever do anything like that? No of course not. It is hitting the wall and exasperation talking.

    There has been times where it’s taken every ounce of my self control not to be that mother shouting and threating their child. It’s never OK. Ever. But I do understand how someone could get to that point.

  • pgoodness says:

    Ok, I just read that article and I have to say that the mother in that situation was probably beyond asking if she needed help. Threatening to hit and swearing is not acceptable and to ask her if she needed a hand probably would have created a lot more drama. But obviously, that was a special situation.
    .-= pgoodness´s last blog ..Field trip! =-.

    Jenn Reply:


    Quite possibly. But sometimes just knowing theres someone who cares can really diffuse a situation like that.

    I came across a mom once. She was trying to get her two young kids from a building to the car across the street. Her son was having a complete meltdown screaming tantrum on the floor and her other child was clinging to her crying. She was obviously ANGRY and attempting to haul tantrum boy to his feet and regain control. I walked over to her and said “I totally understand. What can I do to help you get the kids to the car?” She started crying and thanked me over and over for offering to help rather than walking past glaring at her like everyone else had. Turns out her son has severe Autism. She was exhausted and had hit that wall. She’s now a good friend and her kids are playmates for V. I can tell you that she’s an awesome mom and usually the calmest, mellowest person going. But she was having the worst of worst days when I met her. It happens.

    nic @mybottlesup Reply:

    @Jenn, WOW… i’m so glad you shared that story. there have been times when i have witnessed situations similar to this one you mention and have wanted to offer to help, but have been afraid to offend the parent.

    once again, going back to the fantastic title of this post… it is such a fine line.

    but because you shared this, i may try to cross it and offer help next time.
    .-= nic @mybottlesup´s last blog ..on your second birthday =-.

  • Sigh. You know I can relate to your situation, because mine is SO close. I spent more mornings/afternoon/evenings than I can count, restraining Noah, while singing, whispering, rubbing his hair to calm the storm he was going through. I would remain calm through that only to snap in the Target parking lot, “get in the *&&^%$# van. I have had to try to drag an 8 yo boy out of a store while he kicked and screamed, only to listen to gasps and comments about my lack of parenting skills. Those bitchy comments would send me home, into tears, questioning my own parenting prowess. Now? I send them a big FUCK YOU. It makes my skill crawl to hear people judge others parenting.

    THAT SAID there is a line…

    I once saw a visibly drunk “mother” SMACK her baby (7 or 8 months max) across the face in a grocery store. I said something. I could not fathom there is a time, place, bad day, or behavior that would call for that. The baby was defenseless sitting buckled into a cart.

    I haven’t read the other post, debating if I want to.
    .-= Jenni Williams´s last blog ..Wake Me When It Is Time =-.

  • Jenn, this post brings me to tears.

    Over the weekend, my husband, kids, and I took a car, a bus, and two planes across the country (and back) with my dad, whom I love beyond measure, but OH. MY. GAH. He has never spent so much time with Blythe, and he was so freaking judgmental, and since he’s my dad, he was very vocal about voicing his opinion. At one point, he called her “a bratty 2 year old” and I just about lost it. If someone who KNOWS about her issues forms such an opinion, I can’t imagine what someone who has no clue about them thinks.

    At the end of one of the flights, when we were getting ready to land and I’m sure Blythe’s ears were hurting from the pressure (if they are uncomfortable to a “regular” kid, I can’t imagine how painful it was for my SPD kid) and I had to restrain Blythe on my lap since she wouldn’t stay buckled in her seat. She was screaming that she had to go potty (not the truth – she’s just learned that I’ll usually let her up if she has to go) and hitting, kicking, biting, screaming her flipping head off. As soon as we touched down, the flight attendand came over and said I could take her to the bathroom (because everyone else on the plane assumed she just HAD TO GO) and when my husband carried her to the bathroom, the ENTIRE PLANE APPLAUDED.

    I have never been so…. ugh. I can’t even describe my emotions. I did manage to keep it together, and remain calm, but probably only because it was at the very beginning of our trip. If this had happend on the third day? I don’t even know. I just don’t.

    Sorry for such a long comment, sheesh.
    .-= Andrea’s Sweet Life´s last blog ..Little by Little =-.

  • I said it over there (because I couldn’t resist), but if someone is being abusive and angry in public, confronting them is not going to be helpful. What she did was pretty much poke the bear and run, leaving that poor kid to deal with a now even angrier parent.
    .-= thepsychobabble´s last blog ..This Week in Psychoville =-.

    thepsychobabble Reply:

    @thepsychobabble, just to clarify (because I don’t always explain myself well) I’m by NO MEANS suggesting CPS/cops should be called every time someone is spotted yelling at their child. I meant that if after you step back and think about it for a minute and consider all the points/possibilities that Jenn made above, and still come to the conclusion that the parent is being abusive, THEN, instead of yelling from across the road, and potentially escalating the situation, calling the authorities would be a better option.

    And now I’m going to cross the fingers that this came out clearer than my last comment. lol
    .-= thepsychobabble´s last blog ..This Week in Psychoville =-.

  • Lu says:

    I have learned more about NOT being judgmental from you than anyone else. I go out of my way now to try and help, or just give a little “I’ve been there” shout out. In this situation, although no matter what the mother crossed the line, but offering help could have sent things in a whole other direction, or shed some light on the situation. And guess what? People cuss. They cuss at their kids. It is not our proudest moments, and I am always thankful for tomorrow when I have one of those days, and my kid is “normal”. Whatever the fuck that is.
    Also, sometimes being a parent is harder for some people. Maybe SHE has special needs, or say, a bum ankle…and is on a lot of meds that makes her a bit snappy…that doesn’t make her a bad mother. It certainly doesn’t call for the police coming.
    I guess there is a fine line between abuse and discipline, but I TRULY believe it is different for every child.
    Some kids crumble with a stern look, or a deep voice with a full name used…other kids need more than just a “no”. *Some people* don’t have to lock every cabinet in their house including the FREAKING refrigerator. But some of my friends haven’t had to lock a single cabinet, because their kids just don’t go there.
    My point is, I agree with you as usual and I kind of love your brain as much as I love your bewbs.
    .-= Lu´s last blog ..Just whatever. =-.

  • Duchess says:

    I haven’t read the other article yet. that being said i have been on the receiving end of quite a few looks lately. The first look is “don’t you know about birth control” and the other is “why the hell is your 18 month old screaming at the top of her lungs and you are doing nothing about it”

    I had one ONE woman in Target ask me if I was okay or needed anything,if I could have granted her sainthood on the spot I would have.

    Sasha has been whining/crying/screaming since 7am. When she stops Claire starts. rinse and repeat. I have no reinforcements (thanks for nothing in-laws) It’s taking everything I have not to look at her and yell WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT (sasha not Claire)but I don’t because it isn’t her fault she can’t communicate it and in the end it isn’t my fault that I can’t fix it.

    There is this great old commercial where a mom is walking through a grocery store her child screaming at the top of her lungs and the mom is saying over and over, “calm down Jessica, stay calm Jessica, it will be okay Jessica, take a deep breath Jessica” a woman comes up to the mom and compliments her on staying so cool and even-tempered with her daughter, Jessica. The mom looks confused for a second and then says to the woman, “I’m Jessica”
    nuff said.

  • jenn, i am unbelievably grateful for our organic relationship and the honesty behind it all. i am grateful for simply knowing you and having you in my life.

    and reading this post of yours, caused me to find a whole new respect for you that i did not even realize existed.

    you truly are an amazing mother who gives not only motherhood, but womanhood a good name.

    i’m proud to be your friend.
    .-= nic @mybottlesup´s last blog ..on your second birthday =-.

  • I am just now reading this and I am in tears because I could have written this post so easily. I can honestly understand.

    I have been there with my normal looking child. I’ve had people call the cops on me and threaten to report me for “child abuse” or something they perceived as wrong with my parenting. Not only do we have the crap we have to deal with at home, but then we get more judgment and accusations heaped upon us by strangers.

    Some people just have no idea.

  • Laura says:

    Wow. First off, I read the story, and wow, all I can say is I agree with you, I have been to “that wall” several times before, but growing up with a father with anger issues I have learned that when it gets to that point, you put the child somewhere safe and walk away. It’s the only way I know how to do it without doing something I know I will regreat, at least until I am able to compose myself. That said, I would never have my child on the ground, kick at them with my foot, but I would threaten a spanking, or “you wait until we get home”.
    I have a child with ADHD, not as bad as some, but there are days where I just want to ring his neck, or scream WTF Why us, but you know what, I love that kid with all my might, and I know he didn’t chose it, just like everyone else who has “situations or SN” didn’t chose theirs either. We as parents are here to support and love our children, but we also need help ourselves when times get tough.
    Sorry to go on and on, but I have to say, as always, thank you for putting something so honest out there.
    And mama, you are such an inspiration, so full of strength and love. Hugs to you.

  • Mandi Bone says:

    I want to kiss you for this post. Watch out at Blogher :)
    .-= Mandi Bone´s last blog ..Trip Report =-.

  • ally says:

    I get this.

    I remember the first time I heard of Shaking Baby Syndrome. It was well before I had children of my own and I remember thinking “How could anyone do that?”

    Then I had a baby with severe colic. Who screamed in my face for 14 weeks, up to 20 hours a day.

    While I don’t condone SBS obviously…I do now understand how people reach that breaking point.
    .-= ally´s last blog ..My Kind Of Day =-.

  • Aunt Becky says:

    My first kid is autistic and I got more than my fair share of “WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT MOTHER???” looks from strangers, then comments from people who knew me about his behavior. It’s been a ridiculously hard road. It continues to be a hard road. There’s no end in sight and you know what? When I see someone out with a child who is being awful, I just give them a knowing smile. They appreciate it.

    .-= Aunt Becky´s last blog ..Aunt Becky, The Lost Years =-.

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  • Jenn,
    Hi, I’m am the the Janna you speak of and I am so glad I found your post.

    It was hard to post my article b/c I knew there were probably better ways to handle it, but at the same time it started a needed discussion. I’m glad you extended this discussion the way you did and incorporated the element of special needs children and the parents who work so tirelessly to care for them.

    Your suggestion to ask them “May I help you?” is a good one and might just be something I use later on. I welcome you thoughts b/c no I don’t know it all. She was past the “May I help you?” moment. YOu’ll have to take my word on that one.

    The big diff. I see btwn what you describe and what I saw is this. You are trying to restrain an aggressive outburst- That I understand and would seek to help. The mother I saw was threatening and being physically abusive to a cowering, silent, fearful child.

    He first cowered on the ground with his arms blocking her. After her side kick he scrambled to the fence where she put him in an arm lock and he covered his head with his other hand. He obviously thought she was going to do what she said and was responding in fear. He fled to the safety of another in the group once I spoke and she released her grasp on him.

    I wanted him to know that while he may have acted wrongly it was still not okay or deserved to be treated like that. So many abused children really believe it is all their fault when they are abused.

    Women who commented ran the spectrum of you should have called the police, do nothing, to great job. Honestly, I’m not sure I like any of those answers, but these things confront us when we are not expecting it and so I started a discussion.

    Many comments have stung but I know being stung can make me wiser in the future. It’s something we should think about before we find ourselves witnessing it and not knowing what to do as I did.

    Let’s say she was having a really bad day and that normally she never acts like that. And truly we all have the potential to act that same way including ME given the right circumstances. If I were the one in her spot, I would (maybe not right away) but later be thankful for someone’s intervention to save me from my self and keep me from lashing out like this at my child.

    I didn’t call the police b/c I wanted to believe it was just that- a really bad day. I didn’t want to go to far in my judgement of the situation, but silence didn’t seem to be an option either.

    I’m still not convinced of the perfect reaction to what I witnessed but the discussion has been worthwhile. It’s obvious through the comments section that you encouraged many with your extension to the conversation.

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