In the Parenthood

What if a stranger slapped your child?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  September 3, 2009 12:35 PM

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This article had me seeing red: A 61-year-old man in Stone Mountain, Georgia, slapped someone else's 2-year-old because she was crying at Walmart.

Violence isn't the answer, but I think if a strange man slapped my toddler the police would have to carry him out of the store on a stretcher.

According to the police report, Robert Stephens had warned the girlís mother, Sonya Mathews, that if she didnít quiet her child, he would "do it for her." He slapped the toddler "four or five times across the face," and then told the mother, "See, I told you I would shut her up."

Another shopper restrained Stephens until the police arrived; he was arrested and charged with cruelty to children in the first degree. He's being held without bond.

Unbelievably, some of the comments I've seen online skew towards congratulating the man for hitting the 2-year-old girl, or suggest that he should have slapped the mom instead. "Good for him. I wished I slap a couple of the kids I have been around." one commenter posted. "What he should have done is slap the mother since she is being the crappy parent not teaching or paying attention to her kid," wrote another.

While people -- often people without children -- tend to blame the parents, there could be any number of reasons why a toddler is crying at a store. Sure, the mom could be over-indulgent, or simply ignoring her kid. Sure, the kid could just be pitching a fit. But it's just as likely that the child could be sick, over-tired, uncomfortable, frustrated, hungry, overwhelmed, or have autism. The mom could be a single parent without childcare, who doesn't have the option of leaving her 2-year-old at home while she runs errands.

Now, we've all had to deal with crying kids on airplanes, or toddlers having tantrums near us in public. And we've all seethed and gritted our teeth or sympathized with the parents and dealt with it. Because while the screaming child may be annoying, we're the adults and we're supposed to practice restraint and self control. Slapping someone else's child goes way beyond a Mommy Drive-By or discipline or corporal punishment. It's assault.

Sonya Mathews told CBS Atlanta yesterday that she forgives Stephens, adding that she thinks he must have mental issues.

I don't think that I could be so forgiving.

Read the (245!!!) earlier comments on this post here, and then continue the discussion below: What would you do if a stranger slapped your child?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at or follow her on Twitter: @WriteEditRepeat

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Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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