How Far Should a Mother Go?
by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 04/30/15
Much has been said in recent days about the mother caught on video in Baltimore, grabbing her son, smacking him in the head, and yelling at him when she caught him protesting and throwing rocks at police officers. Some people have called her a "hero." A few have said that what she did was abusive. Some called her a bad mother for not being able to keep her son from protesting--she should have known where he was at all times. The New York Post put them on the cover with the caption, "Forget the National Guard, Bring in the Moms."
I have no idea if she is a good mother or not. I have no idea if she smacks her kid around on a regular basis and should be reported for abuse. I have no idea if she's attentive or neglectful. What I do know is that at that moment she was a mother afraid for her child. Much like the parent who spanks her toddler who wanders in the street, even though she thought she would never spank him, this mother saw her child going down a dangerous road. She stated outright that she didn't want him to end up dead like the person who was killed in police custody, prompting the protests and riots (Freddie Gray). She knew or wanted to believe that she had raised him better than this (again, we don't know the history, so I'll assume she's done her best to raise him better than this) and when she saw him joining in with those who were throwing rocks at police, not only being disrespectful, but putting themselves in grave danger, my guess is that she panicked.
Did she do the right thing? Who knows. She did get her son into the house where he would be safe. Should she have known where he was and what he was doing? He's a teenager--we all pulled the wool over our parents' eyes at that time in our lives. Usually it was just childish mischief and not being where we said we'd be, but sometimes the consequences are deadly because the teenager makes a stupid, split-second decision that changes everything, such as getting into a car with a drunk peer or throwing rocks at a police officer. Assaulting a police officer can get you killed. Mom knew that and freaked out when she saw her son involved in such behavior.
I understand the rage, confusion, and frustration in these communities. I may not agree with throwing things at police or rioting in the streets, but I can understand the human desire to act out what you feel. Our poor, often minority, communities are feeling the rumble of many years of inequality, unrest, and fear. Two wrongs don't make a right, and throwing rocks at people will surely get you into more trouble than peacefully protesting. I can also understand the fear and anger of a mother who sees her son doing something extremely dangerous and simply reacts without thinking. There have been stories of mothers lifting cars or other heavy objects off their children because the rush of adrenaline gave them superhuman strength. A good mother protects her child, even if she's caught on tape looking like a lunatic in the process (although most people excused her behavior as a necessary reaction under the circumstances). We are human and our emotions sometimes get the better of us. Like the parent who spanks that toddler for running into traffic, parents of teenagers often feel they are dealing with toddlers again--albeit with more language, louder music, and often, bigger risks. Bravo to those who get out there and parent, even when it's not easy.