Speak Up!

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It’s the kind of story that breaks your heart. Two boys, ages 2 1/2 and 5, starved and beaten to the point of malnutrition and dehydration. Cops investigated and removed the boys from the home after the landlord reported not seeing the boys outside for some time.

While every single aspect of this story makes my skin crawl — the guy was persuing a Master’s in teaching? — the most chilling line, in my opinion, comes at the end of the story. “I believe we’re also at fault,” a neighbor told the AP, ” ‘cuz we all saw something and nobody said anything.”

According to the neighbor, theirs was very much a mind-your-own-business neighborhood. So while the neighbors saw and discussed the boys’ absence, no one — but the landlord — did anything.

It’s sobering, really, the power that we have. With a word, we can improve someone’s day. With our silence, we can condemn a child to another day of starvation.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own families, our own jobs and our own lives But there are children and parents next to us, beside us, who need us.

Yes, we hesitate to interfere in others’ lives. Our is a very disconnected, independent society, and to comment on another’s parenting is often seen as an intrusion of personal privacy. But think about it. Remember how good you felt when the old lady at church commented positively on your boys’ behavior after Sunday services? Or how much you appreciated the sympathetic looks at the grocery store when your son melted down?

The truth is, raising children is a group endeavor. We all have a responsibility to the children of our community — to the children of the world. And while none of us can independently eradicate child abuse or world hunger, we can make a difference on the local level. Imagine if those neighbors had called the cops earlier, or if one had knocked on the door to offer a casserole.

Yesterday, I saw a woman sitting on the curb at WalMart. She was calm and peaceful. Her son was not. He was storming, pouting and otherwise whining. His mom just sat there, the wind blowing in her hair. I was curious, but didn’t say a word. Then her words floated through my open van window: “We’ll go in,” she said, “when you pull it together.” Instantly, I understood what was going on. I’d been there before, and I have to say that half the time, I don’t look nearly as self-composed as that mom did. I rolled down my window. “You’re doing a great job,” I told her. She smiled, and sat on the curb.

It was a moment, but a moment that may have been significant. Imagine how different the world would be if we spoke up, helped our neighbors and supported their parenting.

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