No matter where the pain falls on the parental spectrum - from Michael Brown’s mother publicly coping with the shooting of her son by a police officer, to the mom of a teen who had his head publicly shaved by his assistant principal last month – parents sometimes have to fight the very nature of being a good parent in times of crisis.
Let me be clear, the death of a son is not comparable to a shaved-head shaming.
But my point is that a good, caring parent realizes that from the moment our baby is placed in our arms for the first time – to protect and defend our child are fundamentals. In times when we have been unable to fulfill those tenants, our emotions can often be our enemy.
While we know that logic and the social compact each tell us that you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, keeping a mom or dad calm can be incredibly difficult in the face of seeing your child harmed by an authority figure.
The most recognizable mom in the media right now is Leslie McSpadden, mom of Michael Brown, the teenager from Ferguson, Mo., who was 18 when he was shot to death during an altercation with a police officer. Many have seen the videos of Ms. McSpadden crying out in anguish following the announcement that a grand jury would not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of her son.
Ms. McSpadden managed press conference after press conference and dozens of interviews with a mask of reasonability over her pain, until the verdict was read and then it all came pouring out for the world to see.
In a very different, but still traumatic case, Denise Hull is dealing with the pain caused to her son Lucas, 17, when the assistant principal at Notre Dame High School shaved the boy’s head in front of his classmates.
The assistant principal buzzed off his hair in the middle of the cafeteria in response to his haircut – an alleged dress code violation. Now his mother is concerned about her son’s emotional wellbeing and self-esteem as a result of an act by an authority figure who had other options, such as calling the parents.
Ms. Hull said in her interview with WHAM-TV that the assistant principal at Notre Dame High School in Batavia, N.Y. did not call her before taking the electric clippers to her son’s head.
Seeing the video of Ms. Hall speaking calmly as her eyes welled with tears, I wonder how moms find the courage and determination to hold it together at any point when their anger or grief is made public.
“My son was bullied into being humiliated in front of his classmates,” Denise Hull told local television reporters.
Lucas told reporters, “Just having people watch and have that done to you," the boy said before pausing as he started to get emotional. "It kind of felt humiliating and inhumane and you know, it kind of crushed my spirits for the day." The 17-year-old had just gotten a haircut the day before, trimmed short on the sides with a little bit of length left on top, for the look known as a "faux hawk."
Watching this family interviewed is enough to make my temper flare in empathy.
Part of the frustration that can make a parent’s patience evaporate comes after we have tried hard to work within the system and head-off potential issues by asking for help or permission in advance.
According to news reports a standard mohawk haircut violates the school's dress code policy, but Hull’s family told media they had asked permission beforehand to get the less dramatic faux hawk style.
Sadly, when the teenager arrived at school he said the assistant principal did not like his hair.
"He just said you have the choice to either go home or get it cut." Hull said didn't feel like he had much of a choice, so the assistant principal went and got clippers from his office. "I thought it looked good and I felt good about it and then he started cutting and it felt really bad," Hull said.
According to media reports, the school has since amended its policy to require that a parent be called before an action such as this is taken and the assistant principal has issued a public apology for what the school called bad judgment.
Sadly, an apology made under the duress of public attention is not always effective with an angry parent.
Many times parents are on the receiving end of an apology that either doesn’t feel genuine or is perceived as too little too late.
While I can’t really compare the upset over a traumatized teen to the loss of a child to violence, perhaps we can find common ground where healing is concerned, and focus on helping to heal pain when it comes to the surface for others to see.