My role as a child and youth worker often involves lengthy outings with Mum and kids to Centrelink, childcare centres, medical centres and counsellors.
In many of these trips, children get bored, upset or unsettled during the wait time to see a worker. When mum is trying to manage her children, the lens through which I perceive her and the lens through which others perceive her can be quite different. I see Mum’s pain and frustration in trying to provide care, love and support for her children, in very difficult circumstances. Situations that if I were in, I know I would be struggling just the same. I have seen nurses, receptionists, Centrelink workers and other customers look over to Mum with rolled eyes or a scoff of annoyance, as her children run and scream around the centre.
What others do not see in that moment, is the years of physical, verbal, emotional and sometimes sexual abuse that children have witnessed or experienced themselves. When they arrive at Bonnie’s many children have been moved around from home to home. They are hyper-vigilant, perhaps unsure of where their father is and whether he will return and most of all, traumatised by being an unvoiced result of parent conflict. Behind children’s misbehaviour is a cry for attention, love and certainty in their lives. Children being overly active in public places often leads to Mum trying the quickest and easiest forms of discipline (e.g. hitting, screaming, forcing children to sit down). If you have ever tried this with a child you would know that it only makes things worse. It is a tug-of-war between Mum and child. The cycle of judgment from others and Mum’s desperation, both continue.
Thankfully, it only takes one person to offer Mum a look of understanding or take it upon themselves to interact with the children in a positive way to reduce Mum’s stress. Some people encourage their children to share their toys to include Mum’s kids. Others have begun conversations with Mum to share their similar experiences and empathise. Sometimes all it can take is a sincere smile. I have seen Mums immediately relax in their chair and feel as though they are not alone in their struggles. All thanks to a stranger’s kindness.
Leaving a partner because of domestic violence is extremely difficult for both Mum and children. Not only when they leave, but also the aftermath, having to piece together scattered lives for themselves. When we see someone in public struggling with their children, we should take a moment not to judge but to reflect on what may be going on for that family. And more importantly, share a little kindness.
Written by Ranjani who enjoys working with children because of their curious and unbiased perspective on the world. She hopes to support families to improve children’s lifestyles, so they can reach their highest potentials.