From Powerless Observer to Empowered Game-Changer

It wasn’t until a few months ago that it really clicked in my head that I’ve been a victim of my past for pretty much all of my adult life. I had no idea. Me? A victim? Nah…. I had a decent childhood. I never went hungry or lived with horrible parents. Christmas was always happy, lots of gifts under the tree, treats on the coffee table, both of my parents and my brother, our cats and dogs around me. How can I call myself a victim?

I’ll back up just a smidge. In June of 2019 I began earning my Master’s degree in secondary education. This degree would give me the credentials I need to teach middle and high school. As I have progressed through my classes, I’ve become aware of particular aspects applied to victims of abuse and neglect. I’ve watched countless hours of teachers in classrooms all over the country. I’ve read multiple textbooks about students with disabilities and how to balance their needs with those of the other students. All of this is on top of my years as a substitute teacher and private school teacher in addition to my years of running a tutoring company. When I say I’ve seen all the classroom settings out there – know that I am not exaggerating.

I’ve witnessed amazing teachers really go beyond to meet the needs of their students. I’ve watched teachers destroy the beauty of learning. I’ve helped students find emotional support when they can’t turn to their parents. I’ve learned from students, been made to laugh by them, made them laugh in return…

All of these experiences seemed to run head-on into my degree courses at the same moment I was studying mental health and childhood trauma. Suddenly it all hit me. Pow! You don’t have to have been the child being abused to feel the impact of it. You don’t have to be a student at the mercy of a brutish teacher to experience the dread. It took a few days or so for the full weight of this realization to sink in for me. As the days went on, I started to realize just how often I observed harmful, abusive, or negligent behavior from adults toward children.

Sadly, I can name several instances just off the top of my head. For now, I’ll just mention one of them. I chose this particular experience in part because it so emotionally impacted me and because it is not an isolated occurrence. About a year ago I was in Walmart when I saw a woman with four children under the age of 6. The youngest was sitting in the top of the cart, the next youngest was in the main basket of the cart. The oldest was walking at the mother’s side. The second to oldest, a little girl with soft brown curly hair, maybe 4 years old, was trailing behind the mother. She was sobbing for her mother to wait for her. All of the children were dirty. All of the children were thin. The mother was quite overweight and not especially clean either. Though I cannot recall the exact words the mother used, she said something along the lines of threatening to leave the little girl there because she was tired of her attitude (or something to that effect). 

I do not presume to judge anyone for the weight or cleanliness of themselves or their children. My kids certainly do not wash their hair as often as they should. Sometimes they wear clothes over again and I don’t have the energy to make them pick out something else. I’ve been questioned about my kids being under-weight, when they just happen to be twiggy little kids that eat like crazy. It happens. This woman I observed though, was a great deal beyond what is safe or healthy. I could see she needed help and likely had none at all. I wanted to help her. I especially wanted to help her children. The daughter that was sobbing seemed like the only one of the kids that had any spark left. The others seemed vacant.

It crossed my mind to be furious with the woman. To call security, child services… something. I wanted to take the little girl home with me. I wanted to give her a big hug and tell her it would all be OK. But I stood there, silently, in awe at my powerlessness. What could I have done? Thoughts about that brief instance have plagued me ever since. Should I have done something? Called someone? Who was I to think I had any right to “fix” this woman or her children…. I felt overwhelmed with grief for those children, apathy because of my inability to help, and sick over the future of those kids.

I walked away from my cart. Left the store. I sat in my car as tears welled up in my eyes. Even now, recalling that moment, I’m choked-up. My eyes get wet just from the memory of it. Now imagine living it. I think of those four kids, and the millions of kids out there like them, and I become sick. Even as an observer, I am traumatized by the experience.

So, back to my original point, that feeling of powerlessness is not limited just to the people that experienced the incident. The observers unable to step-in can feel their own guilt, helplessness, and fear. When my classes touched on caring for children and how to help them become strong adults it all just sort of clicked in my head. I don’t want to feel powerless anymore. I want to help make some changes. The next time I witness a situation like the one at Walmart, I want to have the confidence, knowledge, and tools to go up to the person and the children and help. I may be naive, but at least it’s a starting point.

When I think about the young adults out there suffering from depression, broken relationships with their parents, inadequate reading levels, drug abuse…. I look back at the four children from that day. I hope that their futures are brighter than what I imagine them to be. I can’t help but think that all of this boils down to poor communication. I truly do not mean for that to sound like an oversimplification of a serious problem facing America. I am writing this with the utmost sincerity and respect.

Imagine the woman from Walmart. If she graduated high school, her reading level was likely at the fourth grade level. This will have negatively impacted her ability to earn a living. This makes her self-confidence low which attracts other people with low self worth. She begins having children she is not financially, emotionally, or psychologically ready to care for. She does not think she is “good enough” or able to leave her partner/spouse despite her own unhappiness. All of this builds into an immense frustration and sense of despair that explodes out of her and onto her children. The same is true of her partner. Neither have the skills to make the changes they need to make, and put food on the table, and pay the bills, and care for the children, and care for themselves — It just becomes too much. Sadly, if nothing changes, there is a high likelihood that the children will continue the cycle.

It is from this one example, and the countless others like it, that I discovered a way to help others and stop myself from feeling powerless. The little girl with soft brown curls should have her story heard. It is because of her that I am reminded of who needs the most help. Though my degree will allow me to teach in a classroom, I know that will not be where I stay. My goal with Whole Mindset is to shout to the world that we CAN help the kids of today become amazing adults of tomorrow. We CAN raise literacy levels. We CAN help parents survive better. We CAN make a dent on mental health, drug abuse, incarceration. We can. I know it.

I do not expect already overwhelmed parents to jump-in and take online parenting courses. I do believe though, that we can impact the lives of the children we want to help. If willing and able parents, conscientious teachers/educators, and communities take the time to learn how to teach with a growth mindset, fulfill the whole child (mind, body, and spirit), and get on the same page as one another; I truly do believe we WILL make a difference. We may not be able to help some parents, but we can help their children so the cycle is not perpetuated any longer. 

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