I’m guilty of it.
I’m out and about in town, trying to accomplish my grocery shopping and in my own little world.
And then I see it.
Or worse, I hear it from several aisles over: a parent caught in the midst of their child’s meltdown.
You would think that as a mother, I would always be quick to show empathy and courtesy to a fellow mentally drained parent. Because I should get it. I have walked in their exhausted, frustrated shoes. I have cried after a trip to the grocery store from utter embarrassment.
Instead, I am just as guilty as the next person. Inwardly, I judge. I surreptitiously glance sideways at the unfolding situation. Worse, sometimes, I even try not to look at all.
Because it’s hard not to look, am I right? That’s like trying not to stare at a three-headed person or Miley Cyrus. There’s just no way you’re not going to stare.
When I see situations like this, and as my children get older, I must occasionally remind myself that a public meltdown is never as simple as a parent just needing to “get their child under control.” Quite a lot in private builds into those meltdown moments in public.
Here are a few things to consider and remember before you judge.
1.) More than meets the eye
Have you ever seen a frazzled parent out in public being snappy and short with their child who only seems to be mildly misbehaving? Or a mom who appears heartless as she ignores the crying, red-faced child in her cart?
Do you ever think that a parent is being too hard on a kid that only seems to be…acting like a kid?
What you may not realize is that there are discipline battles going on at home that spill over into public life. If mom seems overbearing, she could be simply reinforcing boundaries with her wee ones, in an effort to be consistent.
For a parent, it is a tremendously delicate balance between reinforcing a set standard of discipline while also not letting your child hold your errand-running efforts hostage. It is occasionally like trying to keep a hive of killer bees under control while at a carnival. No pressure.
And children, the magical little creatures they are, are more prone to test their boundaries while in public. The attention fuels them, and they like to up the ante with others present. Don’t ask me why they occasionally act like a badly behaved reality show celebrity, because I don’t have a reason for it.
On the flip side, if mom or dad seems a bit too relaxed over their child’s behavior, remember that what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. Most kids are awake 10-12+ hours a day, some even before the sun. 45 minutes in the grocery store is but a snap shot of a day in the life of a parent and child.
probably exhausted afterwards, but there are still miles to go before bed time, and she has even an ounce of quiet time. And she probably doesn’t even want to talk about the pains of getting her children into the car just to make it to the store.
Parents sometimes run very thin on patience (imagine that.) Don’t be shocked when you see someone looking like they are simply trying to survive while grabbing toilet paper and milk, and their child hangs off of the side of the cart yelling something about Goldfish crackers. Don’t assume that a parent is either “good or bad” based on what you see during one trip to the store. I promise, we can tell when we are being judged.
That quote about everyone fighting their own battle? Yea, sometimes, those battles are pint-sized and they like Lego’s and animal crackers, and they freak out over the sock on their foot being askew.
Bottom line: you don’t know the whole story.
2.) Every parent will be there/has been there. E-v-e-r-y parent.
All of us personally know at least one parent (excluding our own parents, obviously.)
A friend. A relative. A co-worker. We may even think the world of them and their children. We probably think that they have it all together, and these shopping horror stories don’t apply to them.
So, so not true.
Every parent has been there. Because public meltdowns, potty accidents and temper tantrums over Mickey Mouse are going to happen somewhere, somehow. It’s a rite of parenting passage that we all must go through, because we are teaching our tinies how to act in public, and that simply doesn’t happen without trial and error.
Yes, that’s right. Even your very best friend ever, who always seems to have it all together. Even the most pulled together fellow mom you know has been there. They too have been in a public setting when all of a sudden, their precious angels decide that THIS precise moment in time is the one to usurp all forms of authority and wreak havoc.
So, when you’re frustrated with the mom of two in line with you at the DMV, trying to keep her cool, think about your friends. Would you want someone to ridicule them? Think less of them? For something that is bound to happen at least once in their parenting journey?
You would probably sooner want to show them understanding and give them a hug in the midst of their troubles than wish to see them ridiculed.
Your friend and that mom you don’t even know – they’re both fighting the same good fight.
3.) Every one of us has been there. E-v-e-r-y single one.
I once hid from my mom at the grocery store. I climbed up on a shelf piled with thirty pound bags of dog food, and hid there quietly while my mother tried not to meltdown and the store locked itself down tighter than Fort Knox. It was hysterical to me and I was quite pleased with myself, thank you very much.
That wasn’t so much the case for my mother and the general manager of the store.
We have ALL done something like that to our moms/dads/caregivers. We once made their attempts to accomplish even the most basic of errands a total nightmare. Because we needed to learn.
We all had to learn not to run off and not tantrum and scream when they said “no” to our incessant requests for a box of Lucky Charms.
We have all put someone through the ringer at some point with our behavior.
Somehow, we got through it, our moms got through it, and now we are well-adjusted adults who know what the protocol for proper behavior in public is.
Well, hopefully, anyway.
It seems ridiculous to have to remind people that they were once small, too. And that they had to learn the ropes. So remember, people, you were once small, too. And you had to learn the ropes.
So show some grace and understanding. Because someone once showed it to you
4.) They have as much right to be out in public as anybody.
We are not living in as child-friendly a culture as we may have used to, or that other countries have . People have seem to less and less patience for the antics of small children while out in public as the years tick by.
While on the flip-side, there are kiddos out there who especially need discipline and direction, and have parents who are reluctant to give it to them.
I. Get. It.
The fact is, though, while it might not always be convenient for YOU, parents and their children have as much right to be out in public as anybody else. Let that sink in. Go ahead and let it ferment for a while so that you truly grasp what I’m saying.
This means that in your travels, you WILL encounter crying children. You WILL see children having temper tantrums. You will come across parents trying to do their best, and sometimes failing. You will encounter children. Not all of them will be well-behaved or super cute like the Olsen twins. Because children are not mannequins. Children are not objects that are only for seeing and not hearing. Children are PEOPLE.
No, I don’t think that children who are destructive, disruptive and overly obnoxious are fun to be around. BUT, that’s ultimately their parent’s business, isn’t it?
I see WAY more adults on a daily basis who are rude – drivers who text and drive while cutting you off, people talking loudly on their cell phones in public, people who are rude to their servers at a restaurant, people who bump into you and don’t excuse themselves, people who talk during a movie, people who abandon their shopping cart in the middle of the grocery store parking lot, people who are just plain grumpy and unpleasant– than I do children.
And you know who has more of an excuse? The child, not the grown person.
While sometimes it isn’t pleasant, it’s an unavoidable part of life. It’s part of sharing the planet with seven billion other people, and part of its population is still in diapers. It’s gonna happen. This world doesn’t cater to you, it doesn’t cater to me. <Deep soothing breath>
Take it from someone who at times is well-versed in what it means to live with crying children: Your life will still go on if you encounter a crying child a restaurant. I promise. Mine has gone on after having liquid dumped down the front of her in public.
You can make it.
5.) You never know if there is a disability involved
We live in an entirely different world than we did thirty or even ten years ago. So much has changed, and we should be more aware than any generation before us of the emotional, physical and developmental handicaps that affect so many people.
The key word there is “should.”
When a child is lashing out, loud or overly playful out in public, we should resign ourselves to accepting that we don’t really ever know the full story. Judging a child by their size and appearance, and ascribing to them behaviors that they “should” be capable of without personally knowing that child or family is incredibly arrogant.
Autism. Aspergers syndrome. These are just a few disorders that can effect the way a child behaves while out in public, and you may never know someone has them just by looking at them.
If a child is lashing out or over reacting around you, be the person willing to walk over to the parents to see if you can actually do something to help them. Be the person who teaches their children what it really means to love their neighbors and to never be afraid of or nervous about loving others. Be the friendly smile to exhausted parent or the stressed child in the grocery store check out line.
All we need is love. The Beatles got it. Now we should, too.
6.) Don’t dispense “advice”.
Don’t nitpick. Don’t make snarky comments. Don’t tell a parent how to parent. ESPECIALLY if you are not a parent (I cannot stress this fact enough. If you do not want a Starbucks drink dumped over your head, just don’t do it.)
I know that existing around children can be tricky. Here is my personal motto: if a child in my bubble may potentially hurt themselves or someone else, or destroy something, I calmly quell the issue as best as I can.
Even still, it isn’t my place to berate their parent. I have had a child teeter off while in the store, if only for a bit. I have had a child break glass in a store. It wasn’t because I wasn’t being careful. It wasn’t because I left them unattended while I got crunk. These things happened because the sky is blue, and that’s the way it always will be.
Do you know what made some of those moments all the worse for me? People cutting glances at me or making comments to me.
You know what I wanted to say to them? Thanks for nothing.
I can assure you, my idea of a good time is not chasing after my disobedient child in a grocery store. I can assure someone that bad things sometimes happen when I’m in public no matter what I do, and that I also don’t want them to happen as much the next person.
Condescending advice is literally good for nothing. It is the currency of the prideful and self-righteousness. Can you tell now how much parents do not like biting comments from strangers??
Someone helping me clean up while I am trying to put a grocery store shelf back together? Someone being honest about the fact that they too have been humiliated in public when with their children? That says something.
Parenting is hard. Parenting is far from always being pleasant. But, in those moments, you know the ones I’m talking about, a parent has to parent anyway. They take their licks, earn their parenting bruises, deal and move on.
You choose to parent even when it’s you that has to be paged to the front of the store because the manager found your child wandering down the cereal aisle.
We hold our head high as we are doing the best that we can.
And the best comeback to any unwanted advice or unwanted attention from any of these scenarios: if you think you can do a better job, you can start right now.
Amazing how that usually works.