Thursday, March 12, 2009

When do you help someone else's child?

At Boston.coms Child Caring blog and over at Larger Families, I'm asking readers what they'd do if they saw someone else's child in trouble.

At Child Caring, we're talking about scenarios like the one described in gut-wrenching detail in a recent Washington Post story and about how men sometimes feel like they can't help a crying child because people will assume they're causing the problem, rather than trying to help:
Before I became a parent, I was a nanny, but even as a kid I was never able to walk past a child who seemed to need help. My litmus test: If it's a situation in which I'd want someone to help my child, I step in and help theirs. I've grabbed other people's kids as they sprinted out an open department store door and into a busy parking lot; I've let frazzled-looking parents know that the child they're calling is playing hide-and-seek in the cereal aisle. I've asked crying kids if they're lost. And I've had irritated parents glare at me for it, but I'm OK with that. ... [More]
At Larger Families, I share the reasons why I always, always butt in if I notice a child in trouble:

We’ve all experienced the Mommy Drive-By — unsolicited advice (or assvice, as the case may be) given by people who are positive they can parent your child better than you. But is there ever a time when butting in is the right thing to do?I think so.
ABC News has a segment called “What Would You Do?” and this week’s installment was on a topic most parents couldn’t ignore: Leaving a baby alone in a locked car.

The clip on the website is a little inflammatory, with passers-by confronting the actress who is pretending to be the mom of the baby (a very life-like doll). But what really infuriating is the way people respond — or don’t — to what appears to be a distressed baby trapped in a parked car on a hot day.

What would you do in that situation?

Me, I’d probably try the doors to see if they’re locked, scan the area looking for the parent, and then call the police. I don’t think I could just keep on walking by.

What would you do if you came across a child who seemed to be lost? Would you stop and try to help him? Locate an official or an officer and point the child out to her? Keep walking?

A few months ago, I was visiting a museum with four of our kids in tow. My husband and our oldest daughter were out shopping — it was just me and the rest of our crew. Our youngest, then about 1 1/2, was strapped into his stroller and very pissed off about it. Our 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son were paired up, experimenting with a hands-on exhibit in an adjoining room. Our 4-year-old was sitting just a few feet away from me — or so I thought, until I looked over at her and, all of a sudden, she was gone.

My heart stopped.

I called her name. No answer. I looked around — couldn’t see her at all in the suddenly way-too-crowded room. I pushed the stroller closer to where my older kids were, just in case she had wandered over to her siblings. She hadn’t.

Just as I was looking around for someone — anyone — who looked like the worked there, I heard my name being called, loudly and by a strange voice. An adult’s voice. And there was my girl, holding a young woman’s hand. The woman was calling my name, and she looked furious. Like I’d left my child alone on purpose.

My little girl had the presence of mind to look for “another mommy” and ask her to help find me, using my “grown-up name.” Yell “Mama!” in a crowded museum and at least half of the room turns around, but there aren’t very many “Lylah”s out there.

The whole episode lasted, at most, for about three minutes. But it was long enough to see the merit in those baby leashes. And to promise that I’d always, always butt in.

When is it OK to intervene with someone else's child? When is helping out of the question?

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