Originally Published: September 29, 2017 5:59 a.m.
Dear Annie: My husband and I are retired. We are in our 70s, and he is in poor health. He has cancer. But the problem I’m writing to you about is that he does not get visits or calls from his family on a regular basis unless he’s in the hospital. They live in the same town as we do. When I was younger, my parents shamed me into visiting twice a month. I didn’t mind, because it was the right thing to do. How do we approach this problem. Shame them? — Looking for the Right Words
Dear Looking: Don’t play the shame game. Be direct. It’s possible his family members don’t realize no one’s calling or visiting; everyone may just assume another member of the family is staying in close touch. Tell them how much it would mean to your husband if they visited more often and not only when he’s in the hospital. They’re not just your husband’s family; they’re your family, too. And we all sometimes need family to remind us of what’s important.
Dear Annie: My daughter and I had lunch today at a very nice pizza cafe we frequent. Three booths away were a couple and a boy of about 8 or 9. The woman started to berate the child. Apparently, she asked him to get a plate, and the plate was too small. She very loudly screamed, “How can you be so stupid to get such a small plate!” She went on and on. I walked by the booth, and both the boy and the man were staring silently at their plates. The woman continued for at least 15 minutes. She told him she was going to shave his head! The child began crying. It was such verbal abuse that I couldn’t eat my food. Then the boy yelled, “I don’t even want to be in this family!” Other diners began to notice. She finally left the restaurant, with the man and the boy trailing behind. What must this kid’s life be like behind closed doors? I wanted to do something. I wanted to call the police; it was so horrible. Should I have spoken to her? — Wish I Were With Child Protective Services
Dear WIWWCPS: It’s difficult to know what to do when witnessing such situations unfolding. The best course depends on the scenario. If it’s merely an exasperated mom raising her voice at her child in the grocery, try to empathize. Every parent has been there, and in such moments of frustration, support can go much further than judgment. That might mean offering assistance (carrying groceries, cleaning up a spill, etc.) or just a sympathetic smile.
In more extreme situations, use caution. Experts recommend not confronting the parent yourself if you can avoid it. Instead, seek out a security guard or, in cases of physical abuse, call 911 and try to monitor the situation from a distance until authorities arrive. Take down the license plate number or other relevant information. If you find that you must intervene in the moment to protect the child’s safety, proceed as gingerly as possible and try to be kind to the parent. That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s the best way to de-escalate the situation.
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