I watched a mom hit her kid in a thrift store tonight.

I watched a mom hit her kid in a thrift store tonight.

Not spank. Hit.

It was loud, and it was awful, and immediately there were like fifteen people on high alert, drawn to the sound of solid hand making contact, again and again, kid wailing and full-voiced Don’t you EVER do that EVER EVER EVER AGAIN, I swear to god, DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT EVER FUCKING AGAIN. Employees running, people noticing, no one intervening exactly, but positioning themselves strategically nearby. The girl couldn’t have been more than two, red-eyed and wailing, a bunch of tiny pink barrettes in her hair.

It felt like forever, but then it was over, the mother noticing the surge of people pushing shopping carts nearby, looking anywhere but at her directly. Get your ass up, she muttered, jerking the girl’s arms upwards and rolling the cart elsewhere.

I felt ashamed. I should have intervened. I should have said something. I am bigger than that little girl.

But that mother was bigger than I was.

And if I’m being honest, she scared me, too.

I said as much to the couple nearby. They were older, in their sixties. “Don’t beat yourself up,” said the man. “You have to be careful when you approach strangers. You never know what might escalate if you had confronted her.”

“That just ruined my day,” said the woman, adjusting her scarf. It was purple and silky and floral, a touch I found endearing in a way I can’t entirely explain. “I feel sick to my stomach.”

“You just never know. You never know what’s learned at home. You never know what people’s problems are. You just never know.”

“Still,” I said. “I wish I could have … I wish I had said something.”

The man looked at me for a moment. And then he said, “Excuse me. I’m going to go hug that little girl.”


Want to believe in humanity for a minute? Here is what happened. The couple waited another few minutes until the mother seemed to have calmed down.

And then I watched this older man approach the cart, and say, “What an absolutely beautiful little girl. Hi, little one. It’s so nice to meet you.” He turned to the mother and said, “She really is a beautiful child, you know?”

They talked, the mother and the couple. It wasn’t perfect. She was embarrassed and defensive and putting up walls and lukewarm in her reception of them. They kind of ran out of steam after a brief while. But they had enough time to say, your child is small and should be loved and what just happened was frightening and it was not okay. And she had enough time to say I’m just so tired and I saw her choking her baby brother and I know that’s not an excuse but I panicked I panicked I panicked.

They didn’t end this with a hug. No Kum-ba-ya, Nicholas Sparks shit. Nothing really happened except a brief moment of nonverbal Ok, I see you, thank you, now excuse me, as the mother made her way towards the register.

But damn if that man didn’t ask permission – and receive it – to pick up a stranger’s crying toddler and hug her and comfort her until the crying stopped.


I called friends immediately afterwards who live about five minutes away. I had some vague business that probably could have waited until later – Hey, can I get that thing out of your basement? I’m in your neighborhood, can I stop by? – but the truth is probably just that I wanted to pull into their driveway and hear the sound of their three-year-old say, “Daddy? Listen, listen! I think Auntie Fritzie is at the door.”

I wanted to snuggle the crap out of that kid, and I did – went right from “I’ll only be a minute,” to “I would love to stay for dinner,” to “Would you like me to read bedtime stories tonight?”

I wish I had a tidy conclusion to draw here, some larger insight to share. Some deep thoughts about how those two kids probably live near one another, might even go to school together someday, how you wonder what kinds of people they will become. How that little girl experiences her mother’s anger as a hit and a GET YOUR ASS UP, NOW. How my little buddy, all floppy limbs and sweet-smelling hair and high-pitched giggles, experiences his parents’ anger as GO SIT ON THE NAUGHTY STEP. NO, YOU MAY NOT HAVE DESSERT.

I don’t have a tidy conclusion because it’s not so easy as good parent / bad parent. It’s not so easy as, “When I have kids, I will never do that.” It’s not so easy as that.

But I can tell you that I wanted to hug that couple in the thrift store. For being brave in a way that I wasn’t tonight.

Instead, I hugged the crap out of a tiny toddler in an astronaut onesie. And gave a silent offering of thanks to the world: for love and for bravery and for the good ones among us. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.


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244 thoughts on “I watched a mom hit her kid in a thrift store tonight.

  1. Perhaps you and that couple were there, together at the same time, to have your discussion. Your discussion led to the older gentleman stepping forward and making that moment end differently. Perhaps all who witnessed that incident left there and it changed their lives. We know that it changed yours, for that moment, for that evening, and it reached out and impacted others. Perhaps we can all learn on how to handle this type of thing by having this discussion. And hopefully, hopefully, that little girl is feeling the outpouring of love being sent her way, and perhaps….her mom is too.

    Thank you for sharing this difficult moment. We’ve all acted when we wished we hadn’t, and all stood inactive when we wish we would have.

  2. I have four year old, my little girl is two…I FELT sick reading this, I FELT sad, I FELT pity…I felt many things. Your words made me feel. Thank you.

  3. Reblogged this on mommybrain and commented:
    Ugh, this breaks my heart and gives me hope all at once. Stories of kids being harmed are always hard to hear, but ever since having Wyatt I seriously can’t handle them. Every bad story is happening to Wyatt in my mind, I can’t control it, my brain just goes there and imagines what if it was Wyatt? So now I can’t watch the news, can’t watch scary movies, and have to close my eyes during most of the Walking Dead. Anyway, this story makes me wonder what I would do in the same situation. I am unfortunately not as brave as my thoughts

  4. In the UK it’s a frequent occurrence to see those type of scenes. Full props to those who conversed with the mother especially with the manner in which they approached the situation. Not so sure it would work here as parents appear to lack rational.

  5. It not ok what happened. As a mother of a four year old some days u as a mother feel helpless because kids seem to forget their ears. Mother maybe going trough depression and needs help. But as society we brush off as a bad mother

  6. Hopefully, before that mother raises her hand to the child again she will remember the words of that elderly couple and remember how blessed she s and what a beautiful person her daughter is.

  7. Ok, I’m going to be that person. As much as i agree that couple did a great thing, next time call 911 immediately for any hitting of a child (spanking does not count as much I know that’s controversial). As an ER pediatric nurse and therefore mandated reporter, that would be an immediate social referral. At minimum the police will send a social worker into the home. It doesn’t mean automatically taking the child away from the mother. But as many of you pointed out, that mother probably needed support and social work is instrumental to getting that to a high risk family. And as others said, if that’s what’s happening in public, it’s almost always worse in the home. Non accidental trauma (ie. Child abuse) is the number one killer of children at my hospital right now. Choking of a baby is also NOT normal behavior for a child of 2. She saw that somewhere, or the mom was lying. I don’t post this to make you feel more terrible, but to PREVENT you from feeling terrible next time. If you have that bad gut feeling, it’s probably right and probably a lot of other people feel the same way. Please make the call for a child who can’t do anything about the situation. Thank you so much for bravely posting this experience that is more common than is talked about!

    • Good advice. If you panick and are too tired to deal with a 2-year old you probably do need help. Make the call to get that person the help they (probably) need.

      To respond to the original post – I think its a very wise thing to do to consider how your actions look from the child’s point of view. And food deprivation (NO DESSERT) is not a valid means of education, but that’s a different topic.

  8. Wow. Very touching, and makes you think. Parenting is not an easy thing, and sometimes it is all together too easy to just see another parent lose it, and cast judgement but no help. What an incredible person to have been able to confront the situation in a non-confrontational manner. Hopefully that will be a lesson in gentility for that Mother, and she learned from his example.

  9. I read this when you posted it and like but couldn’t find the words to make a comment! I remember thinking that you should get Freshly Pressed for this so Congrats and well deserved 🙂

  10. What an incredibly well told story. You have captured the emotion of the moment in such an accurate way… And you concluded it perfectly, too. Nobody knows the back story, and in hindsight of course you would want to intervien. But that’s not how life works. I’m so glad you presented it here though, because it gives people a chance to think about what they would do if they were to encounter something similar.

  11. It’s said but I agree with the Author sometimes you don’t know the parents story or what they are going thru….not to say it’s right by no means. But as a single parent of a 7 and 8 year old I have had my moments where I wanted to shake some sense into mine but I would never ever cause bodily harm to my two. You just never know what marks you will leave on them not to mention the emotional damage it will cause. The only thing you can really do in a situation like that is either what the couple did or pray for the individual. The older couple probably left an impression on the mother that will change her life….hopefully!

  12. I would have pretended to be from Child Protective Services. Nothing makes a “stressed” parent think more about their actions than the possibility of a federal crime. It would have been considered child abuse and endangerment, well at least in Arizona that is…

  13. It’s so hard to know when to intervene…it’s good the man could and I think addressing the child first was a good move. It’s hard to think fast in those moments and know what to do.

  14. Reblogged this on Breathe This Life and commented:
    Let me preface my comment by saying that I’m NOT a parent. Ironically, I have been writing a book on “how to be a good parent” through my own reflections and observations of other parents.

    1st: This is a VERY well written post, organized, vivid and thought-pravocing.

    2. My 2 cents is that most physical pain inflicted on kids is unjustified. Discounting child psychopaths (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thinking-about-kids/201205/psychopaths-children-and-evil), no child deserves to be hurt.

    And HURT is the key word. Up to a point where rational, cognitive thinking develops, a light, quick spanking may be the only “reminder” that a child’s actions are inappropriate and will not be tolorated. As a kid, my brother and I had levels of punishment. Most disciplining resulted in a “time out,” cooling off in our rooms or standing in a corner until mom let us out. Then there was a “weak” spanking; mom swat us with her hand or, if she meant business, a thin, wooden spoon. If my brother and I STILL misbehaved, mom would alert my dad when he came home from work…..THEN WE WOULD GET IT! Dad’s hand spanking was waaay worse than mom’s with a big wooden spoon. Knowing this, I would fake cry and moan so mom would think her punishment was enough. The difference between the two types of spankings is that mom used them sparingly to remind us who had authority and deserved respect. The woman in the store seems like she lashed out of frustration from lack of control.

    Pondering this article, her problem is a plagued through society. Fear. The woman hit her kid from fear of loosing control. She lost control out of fear of loosing her child’s honor and respect; That she was a bad parent.

    Like most reactions of anger and/or violence, the problem lies in our own self-perception. Assume the child was yelling, crying and acting up in the store; making a scene. Who cares? Why are we concerned with the possiblity that strangers may secretly think we are loosing control of our kids? (At least we are not hitting them!)
    Assume we want to quickly shop and get on with our day and the kid is making the same scene. BE PATIENT. That’s the nature of raising a child….so plan your day accordingly. As someone who wares oxygen, I must plan my outings with 2-hour tank intervals. It takes more time to plan and carry but that’s the nature of life. No use wining about it.

    Your post has lead me to write this response through stream of consciousness. Wooo…..thank you for the inspiration!

  15. Yes, the reaching out was admirable, but as one who experienced an abusive parent when I brought her toddler child to her after she left him to walk out of the store himself because she was angry, and she ended up screaming and swearing at me, Chris Dahl has it right: call the police. I wish I had, and will never forgive myself.

  16. I have two small children and I’ve lost my temper a time or two, but this made me wonder and pray for the little girl because I couldn’t do that to my own. Writing about it helps other children, it helps us parents put things into perspective when we hear or read other’s thoughts on the subject. This is you doing your part.

  17. It’s a shame that you only read about this type of stuff. I’m curious of how long will children get abused in public before people start stepping up. The only reason people hold their selves back from taking up for some one in public is fear. But honestly when do we say ENOUGH ?? Great post by the way, thanks for sharing: )

  18. I really liked the part where you mentioned we don’t know what are people’s problems . What the woman did was shocking but many of us parents slip when we can’t take it anymore. The pressures of life get to us. But every parent in this world knows after we have reacted there is this sick feeling inside and you loath yourself for having behaved this way. That couple did the right thing by intervening in a gentle manner. Do we realize that sometimes the parents need a hug too to assure them that. everything is going to be okay.

  19. Reblogged this on Eliza Worner and commented:
    Wow. A powerfully written piece. I’m in awe of the actions and words of the man who approached the woman and child and did so out of love, patience and understanding. I feel I have much to learn from that interaction, because if it had been me I would have been scathing, hateful and brutal in words which, I see, teaches our children nothing better than violence.

    Love to that man, and love to the author who shared this story.

  20. Thank you for your courage in posting this! I love it and it has challenged me to consider a reaction when a situation like this presents itself. It’s not easy, it’s awkward but it tears my heart & conscience when I am double minded.

  21. I can understand your shock and confusion at seeing such an incident. Clearly, many people in the store reacted the same way. It’s very normal to be shocked into inactivity when we see things so far out of our normal course of the day.

    One question comes to mind, though. Why didn’t anyone call Social Services? They exist specifically for these moments.

    I have kids. No one has wanted to smack their kids more than I have wanted to smack mine at times. It’s totally normal to want to smack the crap out of your kids. It’s not totally normal to do it, under any circumstances. What you’re describing MIGHT be an isolated incident, but that extreme reaction is more likely an indication of a pattern. I’m not big on calling in the government for any reason, but this sounds like one of those times when it would have been appropriate.

  22. My heart is cracked wide open. So beautifully written. I’m guessing we have all seen or done something similar-ish. May I be brave enough and wise enough to bring such love into a fear-filled space.

  23. Wow. Talking to the mother took nerve, but it proved to be what the older couple should have done. Maybe she would receive them because they were older. Maybe she will get help for her anger.

  24. I think it was really nice of the couple to go do that to the little girl. It shows that where we can’t do some things, there are other people who are brave and courageous enough to do the right thing. Thanks for posting this. 🙂

  25. The little girl was me…that was what my childhood was like all the time. I understand the importance of receiving the comfort and compliments, so hats off to the couple who approached the lady and the child. My inner child thanks them 🙂

  26. That was a touchy blog..!!
    I mean, beating the shit out of your child just because she choked your kid?
    Yeah every mother on this planet would have panicked at that move but, hitting is no solution.!! Thats pure exageration…..Moreover, he was her younger brother, she didn’t do it intentionally…!
    Grow up the protagnist of this incident.!! That was a sick reaction..!!

  27. It’s all well and good to hug your kids and say “this kind of thing should not happen”, etc., after reading this, but there is only one takeaway here. That couple found a way to reach out to the mother, which is the only sufficient response to this type of situation. Now all of us know what to do if we witness anything similar. Shame on us if we turn away and do nothing.

  28. I am so sorry you witnessed that and so sorry that it happened in public view… Things happen when you least expect it. You did however, in your conversation with the older couple, give courage to someone to do something and THAT is something to be proud of. Sometimes it is the smallest accomplishments that make it big and is remembered.

  29. Im a mother of two.The mother im sure was stressed.Especially if she is a single mother.You have no time for much.To stress constantly is not good for any parent or any child.Children become emotionally unstable and disattached.With a younger sibling comes jealousy and im almost positive she didnt learn violence in the home.when children are distressed its natural response for them to act out, due to the fact they cant self regulate.Theres no support system for stressed mothers anymore than a mental health system.The only support system is child protective services. im old school I believe in spanking not beating.theres a difference.Im not sure if this mother intentionally did this or not.Everybody has a story.As for the child she needs to be corrected but also she needs to know shes loved.I dont know if I would say anything to that mother.I feel her stress.Even tho I dont act on it.

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