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. And if child protective services get involved which might be appropriate for the situation.What about the effects it has on the children to be taken, tossed around.gives them a feeling of insecurity and more of the feeling of being unloved.The younger children think they did something wrong and thats why they getvtaken away from the home.They are more aware of things and there memories at an older age.There should be more support&help for women&children.just saying.

  2. This was a good story and well written. I can’t stop thinking about the reality of it though. Parent’s get frustrated and lash out at their kids. And it seems this woman was pushed to the edge by one of her kids trying to choke the other! It happens, but children are resilient. I doubt the little girl will even remember the event and life will go on as normal. I feel worse for the adults who’ll actually remember and have to live with themselves.

    • I’m sorry, but children do not forget. My take is, you should ask the adult if it’s okay for you to slap the crap out of them if they make a mistake. Maybe the little girl saw violence in her own home and was reacting to her brother the same way. Just think if the mother responded by quietly but firmly telling her tiny little girl that it’s not okay to be violent. My guess is that the mother was raised that way. When adults hit each other we call it violence. Right?

      • Hitting kids is wrong. But your example about hitting adults doesn’t parallel unless the adult you have the urge to hit is an obnoxious, self-harming disabled person in a wheelchair and you provide 24/7 care at the expense of your own life and identity lost beneath a sea of vomit, piss, and shitty diapers.

        Hitting anyone is wrong. Some people shouldn’t have kids or invalid old parents to take care of…. but shit happens. Some people are mentally ill and uneducated and never asked for a kid. Some people should have aborted, should have closed their legs, should have kissed a gun. Maybe. But here we all are, barely hanging on.

        For every poor kid getting slapped like that in public, there’s another one being raped or starved. All the things we don’t see, don’t think about.

    • Don’t you think there’s some chance that the reason the little girl tried to choke their sibling is that that level of violence is something she see’s in her house?

      • Theres a chance she’s seen violence at home. There’s a chance she’s seen it on TV. There’s a chance she’s seen it at school/ nursery. Kids pick up behaviour from everywhere and anywhere. My cousin held my head under water for so long that I nearly drowned when I was young. That doesn’t mean he grew up in a violent home. Children just do things without thinking.

  3. What a great story. I would bet that your speaking to that man helped him find the courage to speak to that mother, and his approach was just brilliant. Hopefully it will make the mother think twice the next time this kind of thing happens, realizing that hitting her kids is not just her own, private affair.

  4. I must say I understand your frustration and I’m not giving the woman an excuse however as you said you do not have children and she may be a single mother with 1 or more jobs. Raising children is trying and can be extremely frustrating especially when you have more than one. The way that man handled the situation was perfect. Attacking her could have made her beat her daughter later because she may have thought it was the little girls fault for chocking her baby brother or she may not have learned not to do that again. Like she said it scared her and she’s tired. It takes a lot to raise a child, I’m blessed to have people in my life help me to understand how to approach young children when they do something so bad that you’re unsure how to express how wrong there action was to get the point across Don’t feel bad for not approaching the mother but learn from the man so you yourself can help the next time you see a situation as you saw that day. Stay strong, God Bless You, have a great day.

    • I was a single mom with three children and I never hit them out of rage or cursed at them. Yes, I hope the mother gets help. What if an adult is frustrated, does that give them license to hit whoever they’re frustrated with or curse them out? Not in a civil society it shouldn’t, but we’re not always civil are we? The mother should have been offered a resource to get help because you know she’s not going to change her patterns on her own.

  5. You did well. It made an impression on you. Someone with more experience stood up. You learnt. The next time may still not be your time to be the one to talk and hug but it will come, believe me. We don’t know what other families are dealing with and I think you read it correctly. “I see you, I hear you.” An example to follow. Thank you for sharing this story.

  6. Wow! Then I think she’s a black American if not then I will have to think of another culture that can do that… Africa we used to it all d time.. its part of a way to bring up a child

  7. Im sorry but I’ve babysat some scary kids. If my brother or sister was choking another one of my siblingr, I would hit him or do anything to let him know that it’s never allowed. I guess what runs through my mind is the mental health of the girl in your story. What made her choke her brother and will she do it or something else when moms not looking

    • 2 year olds do that shit, if she were five, I’d be concerned, but 2? She might just have thought it was playing. My niece almost killed my newborn throwing a soft ball in the house. (It bounced off of the coffee table, inches from his head and landed in his lap) The reaction was a little bit extreme, I mean, he was 3 weeks old and screaming and I wasn’t looking and the noise was SO loud right before he started screaming. But she’s never done it again.

  8. What a wonderful post, a lot of people would not have had the guts to stand up to the mom politely. Even I would have been torn as to what should have been done. Thank you for sharing this saddening, but also heartwarming post.

  9. Yes, this is hard to stomach. Watching abuse or disregard of children – especially in public places – is heart wrenching. For me to interject in the moment of high emotion feels uncomfortable and perhaps judgmental. I felt I, too, was in a difficult situation (although different from yours) this summer while in a liquor store. The abuse was more from society generally than the specific backhand or scathing tongue from a parent. (If you’re interested in reading it, check out my WordPress website – mikeandberg.com – and the June 20 post entitled “The Sweet, Sweet, Sweet Temptation of Alcohol.”) The more people bring light to the issues of abuse and implementing the practice of compassion instead makes a better world. And social media can help in that effort. A very meaningful post! Thanks, Outoffishbowlintoocean.

  10. Hitting your kids is so stupid I believe in talking and punishment because once you punish your kids they will always know there most precious freedom will be taking away because of bad behavior. Great post

  11. I love the way you wrote that. I love that despite that mother’s dreadful actions, you didn’t judge her and call her names. Even though what she did was just awful. I love the way you brought out the good that’s left in the world through a horrible incident. This is beautiful. And you are brave for having written it the way you did.

  12. I think I’ve just read one of the most profoundly heart-breaking yet beautiful posts… EVER! I’m too in shock to say more, but thank you.

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  14. I posted this as a reply to another comment by mistake, so reposting my $.02 as a regular comment! Thanks

    Hitting kids is wrong. But your example about hitting adults doesn’t parallel unless the adult you have the urge to hit is an obnoxious, self-harming disabled person in a wheelchair and you provide 24/7 care at the expense of your own life and identity lost beneath a sea of vomit, piss, and shitty diapers.

    Hitting anyone is wrong. Some people shouldn’t have kids or invalid old parents to take care of…. but shit happens. Some people are mentally ill and uneducated and never asked for a kid. Some people should have aborted, should have closed their legs, should have kissed a gun. Maybe. But here we all are, barely hanging on.

    For every poor kid getting slapped like that in public, there’s another one being raped or starved. All the things we don’t see, don’t think about.

  15. Wow! Well written and very touching. I know the feeling of feeling powerless and apprehensive in such situations and.I feel the couple were moved to do something especially due to your concern. Don’t beat yourself up, you DID do something; you spoke to the couple and you brought an awareness through this post. ❤

  16. If you had a cellphone capable of recording video you could have recorded the incident and turned it in to the police. You could have also discreetly followed them out of the store and written down the licence plate of their care the mother drove then given a report to the police and their licence plate number.

    In case you ever see something like that again.
    It does not take being a ‘hero’ to make a difference.

  17. I can imagine how helpless you must have felt. It is hard to tell people how to raise and discipline their children. It can get touchy. Think about this. How would you expect a stranger to handle it if you or someone you know lost your temper in public? Like you, I’d like to think that I’d have enough temperance to take my child into a private location to discipline him or her to preserve both of our dignity, but the bottom line is you never know until you’re in that situation. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  18. Oh man – I can identify with that panic when one of your children tries to kill the other one, doing something that you have TOLD THEM A HUNDRED TIMES not to do, but THIS time if you had been 10 seconds later you would have had a dead child on your hands. I remember vividly that sick-to-my-stomach oh-my-God-my-baby-is-going-to-die feeling when you just lose all rational thought.

    The difference is, I had my ugly moments of panic in the privacy of my home with no one watching. Not that it was okay, but everyone has a breaking point, and that was mine.

    For the record, BOTH kids are thankfully alive and well today, and I even managed to have a third a few years later.

  19. Really liked your bravery in telling of our own responses to witnessing violence. How we can address it in our own ways.

  20. I read your blog and then I read the comments, and what hit me was a nearly universal, unequivocal sentiment of resentment toward the mother and ‘tender loving care’ for the child. This was actually sad to read (for me personally). No, I don’t approve of violence toward children, I don’t approve of any form of violence, as a matter of fact. But how are we supposed to eradicate the violence if we thoroughly lack empathy for anything or anyone who doesn’t fall under “cute/helpless/baby/panda” epithet? Fast forward 14 years, and we’ll see this cute little girl with tattoos and piercing hitting her new born baby, and no one will have sympathy for her or her story.

    This woman was failing as a mother. When somebody fails, they need support, not judgment. The case needs involvement, not advice. Did they really think that their comments will change her behavior? No, she snapped because there are reasons in her life that caused it to happen. If you do not remove the reasons, it’s going to happen again. This toddler may or may not remember this moment, but her mother certainly will. She’ll be careful not to do it in public next time (unless she’s so choleric that she can’t control herself) and will be harder to engage.

    I think we need to put more value in adults as a society. We give up on them too easy, because they are not cute and they can hit you back. Healthy and happy parents will have happy kids. Hugging that woman would have a more powerful impact than hugging the child.

    • I’ve commented urging to get help for that woman. A hug is a start, but it only deals with symptoms, not causes, and its impact is limited in scope and time. Professional help is best, and has more chances to make a lasting impact. That’s why I think its best to report such incidents and get the right kind of professionals involved, for meaningful support.

      • The right kind of professionals involved? I’m sure you mean well, but CPS workers are overburdened, inadequate and sometimes corrupt. The foster system leaves much to be desired. They need to focus more on rescuing crack house babies and child sex slaves than a mother who slaps a kid in the store. The right kind of help for the mother here would be community support and education. Free public daycare would bless so many families, especially those with a single parent struggling to get by (not that we know her situation, but there are many many single parents out there).

        • I’m not talking about specifics here. But my point is that society needs to be aware of such cases and whether support comes from government offices or cumminty-run structures is not relevant. Making sure the parent gets the help he or she obviously needs is the objective, and I doubt many abusive parents go and get help on their own. As you no doubt are aware, domestic violence can and often does lead to long-term psychological damage, eventually resulting in those crack house babies and child sex slaves. Stopping domestic violence is a first step in preventing that from happening.

  21. Situations like this are best managed through peer modeling. You watched that couple; next time, it can be you approaching the mother after she’s taken a breather. There’s always debates: should you intervene? Should you ignore? I think they took the right approach: neither. The girl wasn’t in life threatening danger, and nobody knows what’s going on in the life of the mother. Was it ok to hit her child? No. But approaching the mother and hugging the girl until she was ok? Probably the best way to handle a situation like that in the future. And now, we all know, don’t we? At least, I do.

  22. I saw this kind of situation last week, happened in front of me too. The mother slapped her 5 year old son really hard across his cheek because he had fallen down on an escalator. I looked at her in horror and she turned to me and said “Oh, look, another one of THOSE kind of people…” I said yes, I was one of those, that didn’t believe in hitting defenceless children. She then kissed him and asked if he hurt himself…from falling down or getting hit by you???

  23. im told that if you cannot solve the problem when it happen. you can write about it so that it can stop that way. also, i loved your post. and i think that the mother should not have curse when talking to her daughter and when near her.

  24. Thank you for writing this. I have also witnessed abusive behavior in public, and sometimes, it is very difficult to know how and when to step in safely. Sounds like you witnessed a fantastic example of compassionate behavior. Thanks for sharing!

  25. The feeling you had upon not acting, is the feeling I get all the time. I work in retail, and see this kind of behavior more than I believe is necessary. At the other end of the spectrum, I see children who deserve a spanking, get bribed not to throw a tantrum with whatever candy and/or toys are at hand.
    To be honest, if it’s true that the little girl was actively choking her brother, I couldn’t say that I wouldn’t react the same way. Think about it: she was *choking* him. A parent has to teach her child SOMEhow, what is and is not acceptable. Choking someone is pretty high up there on the list of NOT acceptable.

    • Yes, but hitting a child is not going to teach them anything except to choke the sibling out of sight next time. Violence is not a very effective means of educating children. If the mother is unable to convene the “though shall not choke” message without violence, she has a serious problem. And probably needs help to deal with it. What is the best way to get her help? I don’t know. Anything but ignoring the situation. Writing a post about it, like this one, that generates a serious discussion is a great start.

  26. I took a Rape Crisis Counseling course once, and we addressed child violence like this. Our teacher taught us that if only for a moment, if we could get an angry parent’s attention off their kid and onto us, we are helping a small bit. With empathy, looking straight into the parent’s eyes and conveying understanding of overwhelm, sometimes that’s all it takes to give a kid a moment to breathe and know that someone is sticking up for them.

    I adore how you wrote about this. I want to hug that couple too. The world is sometimes too much. I always end up wanting to hug my kids longer and warmer when the world has delivered up another horrific story about children being damaged.

    You wrote this just perfect!

  27. What a sad and beautiful story! We’ve all been there, all seen something we didn’t like and stood frozen not knowing what to do, except for that amazing couple who stepped in with kindness, couldn’t we all use a little more kindness sometimes. One of the biggest lessons I learned after becoming a parent was, Do Not Judge what other parents do, of course not saying that I never judge, because I’m human and of course I do…but, it’s important to always remember, there is more to the story, the life, the person that we as observers will never know. Parents, people in all walks of life have troubles we’ll never know, lack sleep, feel overwhelmed, react badly. It’s easy to judge others, but maybe it would be better if we all tried to have a little more understanding of the fact that we really don’t understand what may be behind it all.

  28. I read the post and was really upset. I have seen children being hit and believe that adults have taken it too far when it comes to that type discipline especially at ages where children can not comprehend ,like age 2 or just overboard in disciplining. However, my parents did spank me , I was raise in the spare not the rod type household. No, my household was not evil and my parents didnt curse us out or call us names . People, today are using that type of discipline as bully technique and in that sense, its not right

  29. Oh my goodness. I am crying as I read this. It is so heartbreaking. I am a mother too. And it’s not easy to be one. Sometimes it challenges your patience. But still I can’t imagine hurting them like that. Hugs to the little angels! (sniff sniff!)

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