Home > Education, Family, Parenting, Safety, Youth > “How are you raising him?!”

“How are you raising him?!”

My Friday evening took a scary, unexpected turn when a neighbor intercepted my son and me on our porch. “Come here,” he told my three-year-old son, Li’l D. Li’l D hid behind my legs.

Conversations with this neighbor had been friendly to date, so I smiled and said, “Nope. That’s not likely to happen. He saw a cricket on the door, and he’s convinced all bugs are out to get him!”

My neighbor ignored me, instead addressing my son again. “I told you to come here.” He held out his hand and said, “Come here and take my hand.”

Bemused by the weird turn of the conversation, I said, “No. I don’t believe in forcing kids to respond to adults, even close friends. It’s important training for them learning to trust their instincts.”

Again my neighbor ignored me and demanded my son respond to him. Li’l D planted himself more firmly behind my legs. Again, more vehemently, I said, “No.”

“How are you raising him?!” my neighbor demanded, finally addressing me.

“To trust his intuition,” I replied.

“You’re wrecking yourself, being like this. I can see it.”

“Wrecking myself?” My mellowness was starting to dissipate as I realized this conversation was going very unexpected, very wrong places. “What I’m doing is telling you why I’m not going to force my son to–”

Force? Why you afraid? You be tripping. You straight-up be tripping. You crazy.”

Li’l D scampered into the house as I began to reply. “Excuse me? You’re trying to override my directions for my son and you’re telling me I’m crazy?”

“I am trying to talk to your son–”

“No, what you just did was ignore me saying ‘no’ three separate times, which tells me that I have every reason to be scared right now.”

He started making increasingly aggressive statements. Still hoping there was a chance to salvage the conversation, I explained that it was Li’l D’s bedtime, and that my top priority was getting my little one dried off post-sprinkler and into bed. My neighbor replied with more expletives, at which point I said emphatically, “We are not having this conversation.”

I slammed and locked the door. My neighbor took the opportunity to pace the length of my house, calling me names through my open windows and trying to continue the rant at my other door. As I slammed that door, I said, “We are done.”

He continued to rail at me, calling me names as I made a few phone calls. In response to his shouting, my son asked, “Mommy, what’s a ‘bitch’?”

“We’ll talk about that later,” I replied. Thinking of the life-saving book The Gift of Fear, I murmured, “Thank you, neighbor, for proving I was right to be wary.”

In later postmortem with my fiancee, I was able to see what I’d done unskillfully–for example, saying “no” more than once–and what I’d done well, like finally saying a decisive “no” when I saw the situation not for what I’d expected but for what it actually was.

Thinking through it further on Saturday, I drew a surprising, uplifting likeness to a short post I wrote in December. In that post, I mentioned an encounter with a couple of racist individuals at Disneyland. Though their intent was hardly pleasant, their actual words were easy to interpret in a different light.

What am I teaching my son, neighbor? Why, thank you for asking! These are things I am teaching him:

  • No is no. It’s not “yes,” or “maybe,” or “there’s room for negotiation.” Anyone who takes it this way does not have your best interests at heart. You owe them nothing.
  • It’s OK to say no. Your safety is more important than someone else’s comfort.
  • Your body is your own. Teachers and doctors may help if there’s a problem, but no one else has any right to touch your body.
  • Trust your instincts. Trust them all the more when someone tries forcing you to believe those instincts are wrong; such a person has a vested interest that has nothing to do with your well being.
  • Not all strangers are bad. If you get lost, look for another mother to help you. There’s no certainty of safety, but the odds are much, much better this way.
  • You will face additional safety concerns because you are black. It doesn’t matter how light your skin. The same people that ask me “Black daddy?” now will still notice your mocha skin and broad nose when you are bigger; not all will be friendly. Please remain calm, understanding (a) you have a better chance of staying safe that way and (b) other peoples’ misbegotten beliefs about you say nothing about who you are.
  • Your mom has your back. I would much rather be called a “bitch” a million times over than do or contribute to a single thing that makes you genuinely uncomfortable. I will not force you to do things that make you uncomfortable unless they are necessary.
It's not just your mom who's got your back, either.

It’s not just your mom who’s got your back, either.

My neighbor tried implicating me with his aggressively asked question. Instead, his question helped me feel empowered. The lessons I learned from author Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift pointed me toward the path of safety, but thanks to my neighbor’s prompting, I learned I can actually walk that path by doing so. I was able to show my son that the things I tell him are not just things I say but ones I do.

This, too, is what I’m teaching my son: There is no name anyone can call me that will stop me from standing up for him as he learns the skills to do so himself.

  1. July 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

    This is incredible Deb!!! One of the most insightful articles about what we are doing as modern, pro-active parents teaching our kids to “think” for themselves! I love you and this article! Can’t wait to visit again! xoxo

  2. July 14, 2013 at 9:14 am

    What a scary encounter for you both. Glad you were able to see the lesson in it and pass it over to us and your adorable little boy. He’s fortunate you and his dad have his back.

    • July 14, 2013 at 9:58 am

      Looking through photos for a picture to use here showing Li’l D with some of our other loved ones, I felt so uplifted. Not only does he have his daddy and me, he has aunties and uncles galore (biological and lovalogical) who are committed to his safety and well being. Would that I could ensure every child had that!

  3. July 14, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Well done. You both, you and Li’l D, did the right thing. No is No and that’s one of the most important lessons to teach a child. Especially in a situation where there is potential danger.

    I don’t think you erred in your first gentle “no” at all. There was no reason to be unpleasant at that point. As parents, there are a zillion gentle “no”s to people all the time. I hope that this experience doesn’t change that for you. You can’t be — and you don’t want to be — a hard ass except when it is required (as it was here).

    • July 14, 2013 at 10:02 am

      A few folks on FB have indicated they would have been harsher, faster. There was a reason I wasn’t harsher faster. I grew up being both very harsh because it was the safest way for me. Over time, I have learned to temper that harshness and respond to situations with the degree of harshness required. I’m not always right, but I do get better and better with every new situation. What I took from this most immediately was an important reminder that it’s not always strangers we need be cautious of, and that–having now lived instead of read about such a non-stranger situation–one “no” will be all that I offer in the future, with no regard whatsoever to how any relationship is impacted. I need to stay safe and ensure my son stays safe to have more interactions!

      I love and thank you for this apt, thoughtful comment. Happy Sunday, Elyse. ♥

  4. July 14, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Incredible and powerful post. I am so proud you are my sister! More so, I am proud you are the mother to that amazing little boy. I know someone else would be proud of the Mama Lion her baby girl became. ❤

  5. July 14, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Perfect, I agree with Elyse in the first gentle no. I would have called the police though once I made my way to the house.

    I am now afraid for you.

    Thank you for showing the way. Thank you for your lessons learned.

    • July 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

      I am concerned but not afraid after A’s discussions with them Friday and Saturday. (While I am perfectly competent to have the conversations myself, of course, I don’t want to present the impression I welcome additional conversation. I don’t!) We’ve taken stock of our security measures and acquainted ourselves with various local resources.

      Thank you for your loving words and actions. You are a blessing.

  6. July 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Oh wow, that sounds very scary. I love that you turned such an unsettling situation into an opportunity to reflect on and post these teaching points! Thanks for the look-for-another mommy point, I had forgotten that. We’re just entering the stranger-danger education mode, so it’s very much on my mind.

    Your son is fortunate to have you for a mother. ❤ I hope whatever phone calls you made were effective in keeping this neighbor away from you in the future.

    • July 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

      I’d typed a long, thoughtful comment in response to your lovely one . . . then accidentally refreshed the page! D’oh!

      Thank you so much for this. There’s definitely a possibility for further explosions from this neighbor, so I’m going to continue exploring options to keep my family safe. We’ve taken stock of home security and local law enforcement numbers in the meantime.

      I’d never heard the look-for-mothers rule before reading Protecting the Gift! I was getting ready to instruct D to look for officers when I read de Becker’s compelling rationale for not doing so. So glad I found his life-changing books–much more than words can say!

      I hope you have a beautiful Sunday. ♥

      • July 14, 2013 at 11:01 am

        ugh – that’s so frustrating about the comment! I have been there.

        Thanks for the kind wishes – hoping your Sunday is lovely, too!

  7. July 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Your seven points are so inspirational, such good reminders, and just plain gratifying (knowing that a parent is trying so hard or as I described before, being very intentional). I love that who you are as a person (who you were/who you are becoming) lends so well to who you are as a parent. Life is funny like that. Truly, you embody being your best AND the boss. 😉

  8. July 14, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Nothing puts up my protective instinct faster than a person who ignores or ridicules boundaries set by others. Well done.

  9. July 14, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    That must have been a frightening encounter. Sounds like you have powerful mother instincts and you called upon them as you got yourself and Li’l D to safety. You followed your own advice and trusted your instincts. Good for you.

  10. July 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Wow, how scary! Good for you for standing your ground, trusting your instincts, and teaching Li’l D an important life lesson.

  11. July 14, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve never forced my children to be “friendly”, complacent, etc. for the comfort of stranger or family, alike, when their intuition tells them otherwise. Last summer, during a visit to CA to address some family estate issues, neither of my daughters was particularly pleased with the grabby hugs from their dad’s sisters. They hadn’t seen them in several years so, in many ways, they were strangers. I assured both of them that I was fine with them saying they were not comfortable hugging and even told the aunts myself. I know the aunts were offended and I did my best to explain that, whereas I won’t/don’t allow rudeness, I have never forced my children to allow physical (or other) contact with anyone (family or not), let alone ignore their intuition. I really don’t care who calls me a bitch, just as I never have when I’m taking care of my girls and teaching them how to take care of themselves.

    Good job, Deborah! You showed lil’D just how fierce a mama lion can be!

  12. July 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    I don’t really have the words right now. But, yes. 😦

  13. July 15, 2013 at 12:39 am

    Wow. Seeing the details of that encounter only makes it freakier, and I was already assuming from your Facebook post that it was pretty freaky to begin with. I can’t imagine the kind of mindset that makes anybody think that that behavior toward a kid is okay, but his behavior when being told no is like a freaking hurricane warning going off. Not even remotely the behavior of a rational person.

    I know there’s a certain idea, and I think it’s largely generational at this point, that kids should follow certain rules like always respecting their elders (I’ve never seen how being older makes somebody wise or trustworthy), not talking back, doing what they’re told… and that was also a time when kids were essentially treated like property, and their own parents abusing them was treated like a right. I don’t think the gradual death of that culture has to mean that kids become spoiled brats at the other end of the spectrum… IMO the best thing parents can do for their kids is teach them how to respect themselves and other people, how to be comfortable with themselves, and how to look out for and think for themselves. With the kind of lessons you’re teaching him, your kid’s going to turn out SO GREAT. He already is, and you guys are doing a seriously amazing job.

    • July 15, 2013 at 9:27 am

      Mackenzie: I was thinking the same thing about “children as property” only in my head it was more “automaton.” Seen and not heard. Blindly obedient. I agree whole-heartedly with your thoughts on this.

      • July 15, 2013 at 5:03 pm

        Yeah, exactly. Expecting blind obedience to directions from a neighborhood kid — and with their parent right there! — is just beyond creepy. Honestly if a kid these days DID obey that kind of directive I’d be super worried about how things were for them at home. Can you imagine some random dude walking up and demanding a little kid just take his hand, and the kid actually doing it? Like their idea of normal behavior is to do whatever somebody else tells them to do? JFC. Scares the shit out of me. I think people go overboard these days with being terrified of child abduction 24/7 but there’s a difference between paranoia and common sense. The fact that the guy followed it up by continuing to harass them through the windows of their own home freaks me right the fuck out. Euuuugh.

  14. July 15, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Wow, what a terrifying encounter! And a great lesson. I have a little boy too and know that uncomfortable feeling, and of being judged by friends and family on some of my decisions….it’s tough, but essential. We know our kids best and need to do whatever we can to make sure they are safe and secure, whatever others think. You are doing great…..

  15. July 15, 2013 at 4:49 am

    Trust your instincts. KEY. Good mama 🙂

  16. July 15, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Scary but sobering. L’il D saw you stand your ground and not necessarily acquiesce to another adult. We always need our antennae up…even when you least expect it.
    With GS visiting this summer and a scary news story of some boys lured away from a mall, I’ve done a bit of role playing.
    Me: If someone comes up to you and says they have a smartphone to show you for $25, would you go with them to see it?
    GS: Hey, smartphones aren’t $25.
    I’ve also watched him play with other kids in the park. One child was a bit aggressive. I didn’t care for his language or his tone of voice…no parent around. GS kept playing focused on his play and couldn’t be engaged. The little “bully” lost interest when GS wouldn’t respond.

  17. July 15, 2013 at 6:38 am

    That sounds scary. Be careful!

  18. July 15, 2013 at 9:15 am

    I hope one of the phone calls you made was to the police. That’s harassment.

  19. July 15, 2013 at 11:30 am

    fantastic. I want my babies to learn this too. I will follow your lead, beautiful heart.

  20. July 15, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Very creepy and scary encounter for sure. Trusting our insticts is indeed key, and passing that lesson on to our kids: crucial. Glad you guys are okay. What a weirdo!! Quick story: when Maycee was a baby, and I was looking for daycare for her, I took her to one home that when we walked in was a total disaster. There were teenagers lounging on the couches, the floors and home, itself, were filthy, and the daycare provider took us into the “room” in which she said the kids mostly played, and it was an outdoor patio, with no ventilation or AC, and I wouldn’t have let my dogs eat off the carpet. When the lady asked if she could hold Maycee, I said, “No, we’re okay.” as Maycee was already crying. It was unbelievable that this woman held a license to watch children in her home, and my daughter at 8 months of age, knew she was unsafe! Thanks for sharing your experience, Deb! XOXO-Kasey

  21. July 16, 2013 at 6:32 am

    Came here from your Facebook page, and again I say well done! I agree with Valentine in that I would have made a report at least, so it’s on file. As he’s a neighbour, it’s a little too close for comfort for that kind of behaviour. Either way you sound like you’d kick is ass one way or another which in itself is awesome :).

    Very impressed with your son as well, he’s showing that you’re bringing him up right by not running to the neighbour and following your ‘no’ without question.

    Finally (as I’m typing alot) being a bitch for no reason is one thing, being a ‘bitch’ to protect yourself or others is another. I always remember that line from the movie ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, when Martin Vanger says: “Why don’t people trust their instincts? They sense something is wrong, someone is walking too close behind them… You knew something was wrong but you came back into the house. Did I force you, did I drag you in? No. All I had to do was offer you a drink. It’s hard to believe that the fear of offending can be stronger than the fear of pain. But you know what? It is. And they always come willingly.”

  22. July 21, 2013 at 6:29 am

    As a person who hasn’t always been the greatest at setting boundaries, I’m learning to say no — finally. Great post, Deb. Your son is so lucky to have you in his life.

  23. July 30, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    I remember that the first time I saw this, I wanted to pull on my mud-hole stomping boots (I’m the protective sort. I have a younger sister, and I’m physically the largest and most aggressive of my siblings. Not that that’s too aggressive or large :P). Second thought was that someone doing that around here could very likely find themselves shot. I think you handled it better than both alternatives 😀

    • July 30, 2013 at 9:10 pm

      It is my firm conviction that if Great Gramma had heard about this exchange, my neighbor would have lasted about 19 minutes beyond that! (Gramma and A agree, hence Great Gramma still does not know!)

  24. maurnas
    February 13, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    This is so important to teach children! Mine, unfortunately taught me to obey adults. And that my feelings were stupid and untrustworthy. Luckily I have learned it now as an adult, but I had to learn it the hard way. Good for you for standing up for your son. I hope your lessons will teach him well. The ‘no means no’ one is the most important thing of all and nothing will take me from zero to bitch faster.

    • February 22, 2014 at 6:59 am

      I agree about no meaning no being the most important. Looking back over the years, I see that has been the clearest indicator of something amiss: When someone wouldn’t hear no.

      I’m still so thankful for Gavin de Becker, turning vague senses into clarity about why certain things have felt wrong, and–better still–lending guidance about how to respond when situations like these arise.

  25. February 16, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    the good from this is that your son learned to trust his instincts in a situation with you around. with hindsight we can all look back and wish we had handled things differently but honestly you did just fine, you acted with dignity, your son saw you in such a strong protective role and that can only make the bonds you share stonger still.

    • February 22, 2014 at 7:02 am

      Thank you. I have these moments with Li’l D where I think, “Well, I wish I’d done that differently!” But then I look back at things I learned from my mom. Some of what I learned from her were from things she told me, but much of it was from things I witnessed . . . including her mistakes and how she handled them. I was talking with my youngest sister recently, and she talked about how Mom’s willingness to apologize–even to kids–was a powerful example. It took me a little longer to get the groove of, but I did pick it up eventually. These memories remind me that there are powerful examples in what I do, including the things I don’t do perfectly the first time around. It’s a soothing thing to hold close to heart. 🙂

  1. July 21, 2013 at 11:57 am
  2. October 13, 2013 at 7:49 am
  3. November 30, 2013 at 1:23 am
  4. December 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm
  5. December 30, 2013 at 3:26 am
  6. February 9, 2014 at 8:04 am
  7. February 13, 2014 at 5:50 am
  8. February 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm
  9. September 10, 2014 at 8:16 pm
  10. September 19, 2014 at 5:28 am
  11. October 1, 2014 at 8:40 pm
  12. May 1, 2015 at 2:05 am
  13. May 8, 2015 at 7:49 pm
  14. March 29, 2016 at 4:44 am
  15. January 22, 2017 at 7:00 am

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