Dear Toya Graham, aka the Mom who was videotaped losing it on her son in Baltimore,
You’re about to hear from the world. Everybody is going to want to weigh in on your parenting skills. It’s not every day that we see a woman really lay into her almost full grown son in public, whacking him on the head, chasing him down the street and shouting curses at him for his misdeeds.
I do not know exactly what set of circumstances led you to march down to the part of Baltimore where the unrest was erupting, possibly putting yourself in danger, and then popping open a can of maternal whupass on your child.
I know that you found him, wearing a mask, at protests which had turned ugly, with people burning shops and cars and throwing rocks at the cops. I know you told CBS that you “just lost it,” that you were “shocked” and “angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.” I know that you said you wanted to prevent him from becoming another Freddie Gray, whose unexplained death in police custody sparked these scenes in Baltimore.
But what nobody knows is what you had taught Michael in the 16 years you have spent raising him, whether he had been in trouble before, what other disciplinary methods you have tried or if people were relying on him to be somewhere else. We don’t know if other events that had nothing to do with him escalated your anger. And neither does anyone else, except you and him.
Many people are going to want to give you advice.
I am not in their number.
Anyone can recognize that you love your son, and you wanted him to be better than he was being at that moment. He never raised a hand to you in the video; so clearly he’s not someone whose go-to solution is violence. You must have taught him that. Reportedly, you are raising Michael and five daughters on your own. That’s enough to push anybody over the edge. I just want to go have a lie-down at the thought of it.
Mostly you reminded me of Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, where she marches into the alien’s den. And not just because she’s also wearing yellow and employing curses to make her point. It’s how ferociously she wants to protect the child in her care.
In all honesty, I think he’s going to hate the fact that he’s on a viral video getting the real life equivalent of a Hogwarts Howler more than the fact you slapped him. My wish is that this contretemps will not drive a wedge between you but that it will help you and he to understand each other a little better.
It’s true that most studies suggest that hitting your kid is not the most effective form of discipline. This is maybe not your finest parental hour. But many, many mothers are going to look at that video and see all the frustrations and anguish and fear they have about their sons reflected in your words and actions. Not all of them are going to agree with the way you handled it, but you are not the only mother to have been pushed to her wit’s end, I assure you. And nobody can claim that you don’t care about your son’s fate or what kind of human he grows up to be.
I said I wasn’t going to give you advice, but I have three tips. (1) Don’t read the comments. (2) You may want to retire that yellow shirt. It’s a great color, but way too recognizable now. And (3) Breathe. This too will pass.