Today I had to tell my boys something important. It was important, but it bothered me saying it. I don’t know how to explain it really, but I felt like I was telling my own children to do something that could put them in harms way, but I couldn’t not tell them to do it. It goes against every protective instinct I have as a mother, but every other part of me knows it’s right.
In a matter of just a few months, I have TWICE found myself in a public shopping centre car park, surrounded by other people, witnessing a domestic dispute between a man and a woman.
The first I was pulling into a car park entry and thought I could hear a woman’s voice calling out. I wound down my window but heard nothing. I found a park and as I got out I could hear the voice again. This time I could distinctly make out the words;
“Someone, please help me!”
I looked back to the entry to the car park and could see about a hundred metres away a white car with the drivers door open and a man blocking the door so it couldn’t be shut. I heard the woman’s voice repeat her call for help. I looked around and saw no fewer than a dozen people looking on, several of them men who were much larger than I am.
Before I knew it, I was walking towards the car. I walked past everyone watching, but didn’t really think much of it because all that was in my head was the realisation I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to the car, but I knew I had to pretend not to be scared.
When I got closer, I could see a woman sittings in the drivers seat, looking terrified and tears covering her face. She was trying to shut the door but whoever the man was, he was yelling at her and trying to drag her from the car. In the back seat I spotted a toddler in their car seat.
Once close enough I called out;
“Excuse me, are you ok? Can I help you?”
The man turned and in some colourful language told me to go away and mind my own business. I told him this is a public car park and when I hear someone call for help, of course I’m going to see what’s going on.
He blocked me from being able to see the woman, and again told me to leave. I took a few steps closer and told him I’m not talking to him, I was asking the woman calling for help. She was shaking and said;
“I just want him to leave me alone and let me go.”
I help up my phone and said;
“Here, let me call the police for you.”
The man again told me to leave but by now any fear had left me and I was able to tell him;
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on but I have children and there is a child in the back of that car and I’m not going anywhere. If you let her drive away, we don’t have a problem, but if you don’t back off right now I will call the police immediately.”
He leant into the car and with his face just centimetres from hers, left her with some final nasty threats and then took a step back. I asked her again if I can call the police for her, but she declined saying she just desperately wanted to get away. I wanted to call the police anyway, but didn’t want to violate her wishes. This man was already doing that.
So I stood awkwardly next to this horrible man as she reversed and drove away. I waited til she was well and truly out of sight, then gave him one final look before turning and heading into the shops, desperately hoping he didn’t follow me.
Fast forward a few months to today, I was walking to our car with my boys after taking them to get their hair cuts. Completely different shopping centre, but as I loaded up our boot, across from our car, I hear yelling and can see a scuffle going on between another man and woman.
The man pushed her, and she then pushed him back. She yelled at him;
“What are you going to do? Hit me again? Right here?”
He shoved her and she ran around to the other side of the car and opened to the back door and 2 girls got out. They both started crying and begging the couple to stop. The woman tried to take the girls towards the entry doors of the shop, but he grabbed them before she could leave. The yelling continued so I told my boys to get in and stay in the car. Whilst I knew this wasn’t a good situation, the woman didn’t seem terrified, more angry and upset. She was still standing up to him.
By now the man had noticed I was watching him and so I took 2 steps closer and folded my arms and continued to stare (whilst feeling super awkward of course). A few more terse words were exchanged from both parties, and then whilst he got his cigarettes out his picked, the woman hurried inside the shop and he got in the car and sped off.
When I got in the car, the boys had lots of questions. One of the first being;
“Mum, what would you do if they started getting angry at you?”
My honest answer was that I didn’t know. In that situation my brain doesn’t seem to think that far ahead. Maybe I’m not good under pressure.
As we spoke on the way home, we discussed how horrible it is to see behaviour like that, and how if people behave that way in public, it’s likely even worse at home behind closed doors.
We then got to talking about the other experience I had had months earlier and how both times there were other people who were standing by watching. How people now seem worried about butting in to other people’s business, whether it’s out of fear, not knowing what to do, or getting their head bitten off for interfering - who knows. They are all very possible and real reactions. It’s definitely scary involving yourself in any situation where there is violence and hostility.
But it was at this point that I had to tell me boys;
“When you see someone in trouble, please don’t just stand by and watch it happen. You might be just like me and not know what to do, and you will probably be scared like me, but please do something, anything to try and help. I want you to grow up to be men who’s instinct is to help. Don’t let being scared ever stop you from doing the right thing.”