A vent on the (mis) treatment of children

9 Sep

What bothers me the most in this city – aside from the crazy people and the subway in the height of summer – is the way some parents treat their children. I can’t say it’s unique to New York City, that would be an awful generalization, but I’ve had many a chance to observe it in the  hours I have accumulated gratuitously “people-watching” on the subway, as they call it here (voyeurism by any other name …)

The words that I have heard parents spit at their their children at times feel like venom, dripping with hate and frustration at young innocents who somehow intentionally ruined their parents lives by virtue of their birth. A week ago I watched appalled as a young mother, walking with her son and daughter on the Upper East Side, turned to her son and said, as if to an adult: “You know what your problem is? You have a big mouth. You talk too much.” Not once, or twice, but three times she said it as the little boy circled her nervously, not wanting to stray too far from the only center he had on the busy street.

Sometimes the parents do not even care to listen or respond – however bitterly – to their kids, as if the act of birth awakened no primal energy in them, liberated no parental pride or innate love. Today on the F train, coming from Jamaica in Queens, I watched as a young boy, clutching his grandmother’s hand, pointed excitedly at a bright sign on the wall of the subway and shouted, “Daddy, Daddy, look up there!” By the third or fourth call his father – an extremely young-looking man – nodded slightly at his son as he leant against the subway door, mouthing the words to the song blaring out of his inadequate earphones. The boy looked down at the floor, shook it off and beamed at his grandmother. This is not the first time I’ve seen a parent block out their child with the ever-handy, ever-present portable music device. Somehow its popularity makes it OK to only half-heartedly participate in the world.

I judge incessantly, I know I do. Maybe I should give these parents a chance. Their treatment of their children is probably a result of ill-treatment by their parents, and their parents’ parents before them. But isn’t one of humanity’s redeeming characteristics the ability to learn from the mistakes of our forebearers? History tells me that this is something we strive for, but often fail to achieve.

A while back in Spring, while waiting for a subway at the 96th Street station on the Upper West Side, I watched as a harassed mother stood with her two hot and bothered young children while struggling to carry, or fold, a complicated pushchair. Above the sounds of the rumbling screeching trains and the constant chatter of waiting passengers, I heard her scream at the children to “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Asking them over again: “What is wrong with you?” Boring into them how little worth they had in her life with her words. It’s not just the words, bad enough as they are, it’s just as much the way they’re said that crushes my heart and wipes away my sympathy for the parent. Minutes later, I turned again to see the mother berate her son for some irritance and watched – almost in slow motion – as his older sister, who must’ve been around 8 years old, took a hold of his hand, pulled him towards her, spread his fingers and smacked his hand three or four times. The sound of the smacks reverberated in the echo of the subway station, followed by a second of silence and then his shrill wail.

It’s what it does to them that drives me crazy. The way they start off life excited and curious and they slowly become apathetic and mean, because where has curiousity led them to, other than a harsh word or a smack? How do you learn kindness and fairness when you’ve never known it?

And these are the wanted children, there existence chosen. Sometimes I feel like that choice is made in an attempt to fix something else, to fill some void. And when the children fail to solve the problem, it’s on them.

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One Response to “A vent on the (mis) treatment of children”

  1. Michelle October 15, 2009 at 11:43 am #

    Interesting… you call this miss treatment, and a cycle that perpetuates bad parenting skills.
    Not excusing the negative affect that this type of treatment and attitude has on a child- But being a parent, i feel it’s called multi tasking, living fast, swamped, chaotic lives, where one feels frustrated and irritated, guilt and shame, all at the same time as your beautiful child is looking up lovingly, admiring you, only wanting your love and attention.
    But sometimes, like the moments that you have witnesses, it’s just next to impossible to give it, as the selfishness of being a human being before a parent takes over!

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