Minding our Business or Butting in?

I was at the mall last weekend and was appalled and saddened at what I witnessed that day.  I took my son, who is 4, to buy some silly bands and we stopped at a dress store on the way out.  As we were laughing, having fun and picking out dresses, I heard this woman screaming at her child.  I looked over and saw an adorable little girl, who I am guessing was 15-18 months old.  The mother was pretty much dragging her through the store while the baby was wailing.  I of course was wondering what was going on so my son and I turned their way and heard the mom yelling in the child’s face, “Shut up…you hear me…shut the hell up, or I will smack you in your face…”.

I was speechless, couldn’t believe my ears, and then had to explain to my son what had just happened.  I felt so terrible for the baby because if that is how the mother acts in public, who knows what she does in the privacy of her own home.  Needless to say, the child’s cries only got louder of course and so did the mother’s voice.
Do I say something?  Alert someone? What do I do?  Do I do anything?  My first reaction was to run over, comfort the child with hugs and kisses, and give the mother a piece of my mind. Reality sets in though and I knew that was not realistic. I also thought that if I approached the mother, who was clearly enraged, she would only take it out on the child later, so I decided to sort of mind my business and say my comments to myself out loud in an exaggerated tone.  My hopes were that the mother would hear me and stop, but she continued on and it was very sad to watch.  I think about this precious little girl often, and hope that she is okay.
So when is it okay to get involved and when should we mind our own business?  Parents handle situations differently and there are moments we all know we’ve had, where we get frustrated and wouldn’t be winning any parenting awards, am I right?  That aside, abusing a child, either verbally or physically is just not acceptable, no matter what.  I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer but what matters is the safety of the child.
The woman in my story above was clearly out of her mind and who knows, she could have had a gun in her purse and I could have ended up seriously hurt or worse.  I know that is a drastic example but seriously, you never know who you are confronting and you have to be very careful.  Here is another situation that I witnessed and in this case, I did decide to get involved, since what I saw was too painful not to tell someone.
My husband and I were driving down a busy two lane suburban street when the minivan in front of us started swerving.  I didn’t think much of it until my husband told me the woman behind the wheel was hitting her child in the back seat.  I quickly accelerated and within seconds, found our car in the lane next to her.  We turned her way and saw that she was now hitting both the child in the front seat and the younger sibling in the back.  We rolled down the window and asked what the hell she thought she was doing.  We got a glance of the child in the front seat, who I am guessing was 7 or 8, and he was crying, covering his face with his arms to protect himself.  The woman was enraged and said, “Mind your own business.  You have no idea what is going on in this car”, and sped off.
I couldn’t believe her blue minivan continued to swerve, even after she was confronted by us.  My husband and I were completely in shock and rather disturbed, so we dialed 911. Luckily my husband grabbed her license plate number and was able to give that information to the police.  We don’t know what became of this woman or her children but hopefully our call made a difference.  I hope those kids are safe and the mother is getting help!
I say use your judgment, be smart, and write down any relevant information that might be helpful to you.  Your involvement just might save a child’s life.
Thank you for reading,
Ellie Hirsch