In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to share a story that happened to me a few weeks ago. It’s a reminder that we always have choices, but the choice to do nothing isn’t one of them; indifference never made a difference.
I moved into a new place just over a year ago. It was an older building that had been newly renovated and much closer to my youngest son’s high school. I quickly discovered that the walls between the units weren’t very soundproof. Lying in bed, I could hear that my neighbours had a newborn that would wake up and start screaming in the middle of the night. Occasionally, the baby’s crying would wake me up, but I’d put on my sleeping app and fall back to sleep.
I could tell that my neighbours had another child. I’d guessed that he was around three.
I remembered those years of having three kids under the age of five. It could be stressful, hectic and sleep-deprived. When I heard the father periodically raise his voice, I empathized and said I didn’t entirely miss that stage of parenting.
As the months went by, the baby’s screaming lessened at night, but the father’s yelling became more evident. I said to myself, being a young parent during a pandemic must be so difficult.
More months went by, the father’s screaming became more apparent, and it seemed directed at the kids. I’d hear the baby and the youngster start to cry as a consequence. I wonder if they’re experiencing financial difficulties or if he’s lost his job, I thought to myself.
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading in bed on a Saturday morning. I heard the father screaming at the child through the walls, “Do you want me to hit you again?” I could no longer be a passive participant. Rationalizing his behaviour made me realize that I no longer, in good conscience, could do nothing.
I thought about my options for a few minutes. I could call the police, but the consequences could be dire for that young family. I could go over and bang on his door and tell the father that I could hear all the yelling that was going on directed at his kids, but I was afraid I might lose it on him. Or I could do nothing, but that no longer was an option for me.
Instead, I decided to write him a note.
I told him that I was the neighbour who shared our apartment’s north wall, and I was a father of three kids. I understood how stressful being a parent of small kids can be, let alone during a pandemic. I don’t know what your backstory is, but I won’t, in good conscience, allow someone to threaten to hit their kid. In the letter, I also said that resources are available to help, or I’d be happy to talk if you’d like. I said that if I ever heard a threat again, I would call the police, but I didn’t want that to be an option.
I quietly slipped the note under my neighbour’s door.
Some people will likely criticize me for not acting earlier or choosing a different way of handling it. I elected to use empathy, compassion and offer a helping hand if they wanted one. They also understood there would be consequences to their actions in the future.
I was guilty of rationalizing the father’s behaviour, which helped justify my indifference. I never felt the child was in any imminent danger but understood that these issues tend to escalate if not addressed.
So how have my neighbours been over the past number of weeks? I’m happy to report that the only loud noises I’ve heard coming from next door have been ones of boisterous laughter, and that laughter can be as loud as they’d like.
“To openly communicate the lessons learned from my past so that others will thrive in their lives, minimize their setbacks and leave a positive and lasting legacy.”