Heroic, ordinary mom

The volatile situation in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray has certainly given talk show hosts, elected officials and just about anyone concerned with the state of our cities and neighborhoods a lot to think and talk about. Racial tensions, unemployment rates, violent crime and the lack of intact marriages top the list of social issues that need to be addressed now that the Baltimore story is no longer front-page news. In addition to these problems, the need for something else worthy of long-term examination, discussion and eventual practical application emerged from the Baltimore unrest: the need to understand the importance of good-old-fashioned parental discipline.

Baltimore mom Toya Graham has been called “mom of the year,” all because she did what she had to do. She didn’t care what her son’s friends or the public might think. She did care that her son was about to get himself into a heap of trouble by joining in on the looting and rioting. She was the mom who didn’t run from the messiness of child rearing. She walked right in front of the cameras during the height of the unrest, and she took control. So she went after her son, gave him a piece of her mind and then, practically in front of the entire world, literally grabbed him by the collar and pulled him off the streets.

Since the incident that was caught on video went viral, we have learned a few things about Toya Graham. She is a single mom with six children. She is a strong Christian woman and, as she said during interviews with CBS News, she is trying to protect her only son from a troubled life.

“I don’t feel like a hero. My intention was to get my son and have him be safe. I knew the whole thing was not safe.”

To me, the bigger story here is that a mom being a mom is actually a story. And not just any story. Graham’s actions made international headlines and were the topic of discussion on social media for days on end. Not everyone agrees with Toya Graham’s approach. Some critics accused her of being over the top, even borderline abusive, in her efforts to remove her son from the riots. Whatever one’s opinion, it’s obvious from the amount of chatter this has produced that we’re just not used to parents actually being parents. The Baltimore police commissioner told reporters he wished he had more moms and dads who actually took charge of their children. Graham’s pastor said the world needs more family leaders who aren’t afraid of tough love, referring to his parishioner in an interview as “mom of the century.”

“I wish all the parents of Baltimore would take on her spirit and go pull your children out of the streets.”

In some ways, Graham is just being a mom. In other ways, she is also heroic. She is standing up against an idea that has become too common: that a person really has no choice but to be controlled by his or her environment — or the idea that “kids will be kids,” even if being a kid means engaging in criminal activity. Graham insists she has seen too much of both in her neighborhood and demands more for her children. She believes stronger parents could do a lot more to stop the violence in her city.

“I don’t want to lose my son to the streets. Is he a perfect boy? No. But he is mine.”

The time has certainly come for more Toya Grahams of the world; a time to return to more parental involvement, control and discipline. And not just for single moms who fight the odds and do whatever it takes while raising their children in dire circumstances. It’s time for discipline not to be the exception in households across the board but to be the rule.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.