I’ve got involved in a mentoring program for refugees. Today I met my mentee, a 20-year-old woman with two kids, who fled war by way of jumping in a rubber boat and walking with her family to Germany. She asked me if she could bring a friend along and I agreed, I had nothing to object. We met in a park with a lovely playground. All our kids ran to the swings, the slides, the what-have-yous. The kids were in sight. The two women set down and had all kinds of questions about the immense paper work and bureaucratic regime they were subjected to. We did not even talk for two minutes,then the friend said “your son just fell down the slide!” We ran to the slide and there was my mentee’s 3-year-old son with a bruise on his forehead crying, being held by another woman, who passed the crying boy to the mother. The mother/my mentee who hardly speaks any German said shyly “Danke” and was comforting her son. At the scene another couple and two other kids plus my own daughter. The woman who handed the child over was indignant and said “tolle Mutter!” which basically means “great (job) mom!!” (ironically speaking or used as a curse). I looked at the lady and said “beg your pardon, what did you just say?” The woman bursted in anger, and said “this woman should better take care of her kids! She needs to be here, she cannot just neglect her own child!”
“Great (job) mom!”
Given the conversation I just had with the mothers, who seemed to have risked their lives to save their children’s, I was furious. I attacked the lady by saying that she has no clue what she is talking about, that we sat by the playground, that she has no right to judge the mother and that I find her moralizing voice patronizing But the lady did not keep quite and threatened that if the mother would continue child neglect, the child would be better off taken into state custody. The Syrian moms did not understand a word of course, but were just surprised some problem had come out of the scene that they could not categorize. I told the lady that her tone and her statements were unacceptable and judgmental, that I thank her for having helped and picked up the boy but that she had absolutely no right to give any other statements about the mother and how the child was reared. The woman left the playground with her own son, who seemed really perplexed and sad (I have to admit that I was emotional and angry about this whole thing). After the lady left, the other couple, told me that they were all just really afraid when the boy fell down and that they could not identify the mother. The mother and her friend in turn said, that they saw the little boy climbing on the slide and they noticed three adults around him. They thought he is safe. As they told me “in Syria, if a child cries or falls down, you go there and pick up the child, the mother will come for sure. You do not look away or wait for someone else to intervene. When I saw the adults, I thought, ok I can sit down and ask about the paperwork.”
Did she discipline us, because we’re visibly non-Europeans?
I had to think about this fight all evening. Both Syrian moms were veiled and I was wondering if the other lady (who was ethnically German, tall and blonde) assumed she can downtalk them- two Muslim women- by disciplining them and threatening with state custody. I am really upset about this. I have other ethnic German friends who had their kids’ bones broken on playgrounds, while they chatted with friends sitting on playground benches and NO ONE ever told them to be bad parents/moms. Another piece of information: Until my daughter was 4 we lived in the US and I would play with my daughter -as everyone else did- on the playground by being a “helicopter mom.” When I came to Germany, I noticed that the mothers mostly sat on the benches and drank their organic fruit juice while the kids strolled around. It felt like child neglect to me, but I have never felt entitled to go up to someone and teach her about how unfit she is for her motherly job.
Will we lose our children now, because Germans think we’re bad moms?
The Syrian moms kept asking for two hours if the police would come now and cause them trouble. The friend of my mentee said, “I came here with my daughter and left my husband and son behind. I am not sure, if I will see them again and now I realize I could also lose my daughter in this country.” My mentee said, “people in Syria had warned me, that the Europeans will just want to take away our kids to have their social welfare taxes paid, but they will treat us as shit. Now, I see that there’s a grain of truth to that. What did we come here for, when we lose all that we have left: our children!” I am not sure what to do with this story, but I feel that I should ask you, if you can relate to any of this at all? I kept asking myself if we would have been treated differently, if the women weren’t veiled and if I looked more like a tall-blonde German and not the brownish-mediterranean woman that I am. In all of this I am still proud I stood up to the lady and told her that she had no right to speak this way. I am not sure, however, if she had any empathy towards the mother. I also ask myself, if she cared for the child or if she was just interested in the principle: “the mom has to pick up the child, not me!” Was this the lesson the Syrian (refugee) moms learned? I wonder.