She once called the cops on a fellow parent. Here's why she wishes she hadn't.

Years ago, Megan Burnside saw a mother physically struggling with her son. The boy was screaming ... so she called the cops.

The mother, it seemed, was trying to get her 10-year-old son back in the car, and it looked like things were getting physical. Concerned for the kid, Burnside decided to call the police. Then she and her husband left.

When the police called her later to update her on the situation, she was horrified: The boy had autism, they told her, and was known to sometimes lash out physically. The mother was just doing her best to calm him down, as she had many times before.


Sadly, stories like this aren't rare. Well-meaning strangers are frequently quick to intervene by calling authorities, which can cause undue stress and trauma for both the child and parent when that person has read the situation wrong. It can even be extraordinarily dangerous for people with disabilities and families of color.

When she realized the situation hadn't been at all what it had seemed, Burnside was racked with guilt. In fact, she still is.

When a similar thing happened to a friend of hers, Burnside decided to share her shameful story on Facebook — and explain how she'd do it all over differently, given the chance.

"This has come up for me today because someone called DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services) on my dear friend," she wrote.

I have something weighing on my heart this morning. A few years ago I was in Tennessee with my husband at a training...

Posted by Megan Orr Burnside on Thursday, December 7, 2017

Burnside's friend, whom she called "the kind of mother I want to be like," was bedridden with a respiratory infection, when a person who probably thought they were "helping" called the authorities.

"I don't know what this person observed that they thought was a problem," she wrote. "Maybe her kids were running around without parental supervision? Maybe a parent wasn't feeding them so they were foraging for themselves?"

But there's a better way of doing things, Burnside says: actually offering to assist the struggling parent.

"I am sad that the person who called her in didn't ask how they could HELP HER," she wrote.

The post went viral and touched thousands and thousands of people who agree with her message.

Concern for the well-being of others is a good thing. But concern without empathy hurts everyone.

She wants to encourage people to reach out and help each other whenever possible, and not to assume the worst of our fellow parents and human beings.

"I really believe that the root of all judgement comes from self-judgement," she says in a Facebook message, noting that she developed more compassion for others by learning to have more compassion for herself and stop worrying about "messing up parenting."

"I think people want to live in a world where we help more and judge less, and all it takes is compassion," she says. "A lot of people have shared how this post will change the way they respond to struggling moms in the future, and I am really encouraged by that."

To be sure, at some point, you may actually witness abuse or neglect, and in those situations it's smart to get the right authorities involved. Burnside just wants to encourage all of us to think — and feel — before we act.

True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.