I’m guilty of it.
I’m out in town, trying to accomplish my grocery shopping and laundry list of errands, meandering about 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.
As a parent, you would probably assume I would be quick to show empath to a fellow mentally-drained mom in leggings. Because I should get it.
I have walked the same long, frustrating miles in their exhausted shoes. I have cried after a trip to the grocery store from utter embarrassment. I have been the woman with half a dozen people boring holes into her while her octopus armed children rearrange aisle seven.
Instead, I am at times just as guilty as the next needlessly judgmental person.
I surreptitiously glance sideways to take in the unfolding situation. Worse, sometimes, I try not to even look at all. It’s a dumpster fire I can’t take my eyes off of.
Even though I am a mother, I still have to occasionally remind myself that a public meltdown or mishap is never as simple as a parent just needing to “get their child under control.”
Here are a few things to consider and remember before you judge the parent who is just trying their best:
1.) There is always more than meets the eye.
Have you ever seen a frazzled parent out in public, being short-tempered with their child who only seems to be mildly misbehaving? Or a mom who appears heartless as she ignores the wailing, red-faced child in her cart?
Do you ever think that a parent is being way too hard on a kid that only seems to be…well, acting like a kid?
What you may not realize is that there are (always) ongoing discipline battles at home that spill over into public life. It’s kind of like we parents live in our own 24/7 soap operas. Plot twist! Your child has disappeared in the shoe department at Wal-Mart!! Plot twist! Your daughter is going to faint if you don’t let her buy one more Paw Patrol toy!
If mom or dad seem overbearing, it could come down to them simply reinforcing boundaries with their wee ones in an effort to be consistent. It is a tremendously delicate balance between enforcing a standard of discipline while also not letting your child hold your errand-running efforts hostage.
It’s like trying to control a hive of killer bees at a carnival.
And children, 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 (potential witnesses?) present. Don’t ask me why they occasionally act like a badly behaved reality show celebrity in front of an entire restaurant filled with people, because I have no 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 a blip in a family’s every day life. Most kids are awake 10-12+ hours a day. Some are even awake long before the sun and also, God. The day can seem long before 10 a.m. rolls around.
Forty-five minutes in the grocery store is only a snapshot during a day in the life of a parent and child.
Mom or dad is
probably exhausted after nearly every task they must complete with children in tow, but there are still miles to go before bed time where they will have even an ounce of quiet time.
Parents sometimes run very thin on patience. Shocking, I know. Don’t be shocked when you see someone looking like they are simply trying to survive while grabbing toilet paper and milk as their child hangs off of the side of the shopping 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.
And I promise, we can tell when we are being judged.
2.) Every parent will be there/has been there. E-v-e-r-y parent.
Before I became a parent, the only parent I knew, I mean really knew, was my own mother.
You’re probably thinking that sentence sounds stupid, but what I mean is, the only parent I CARED about was my own mother. And that was only because I needed a ride to town and twenty bucks for snacks at the movies.
All of us personally know at least one parent in our social orbit.
A friend. A relative. A co-worker. We may think the world of them and their children and their parenting skills. We probably think that they have it all together, and it’s very hard to picture them having to forcibly remove their child from the swings at the park.
But it does happen.
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 (no, you can’t pee all over the toilet seat, child), and that simply doesn’t happen without trial and error.
So, when you’re frustrated with the mom of two in line behind you at the DMV, trying to keep her cool, think about that person you love. Think about your own mother. 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 understanding and give them a hug in the midst of their troubles than see an old lady shake her cane at them in disgust.
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 another box of Lucky Charms and blue finger paint and glitter.
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 is present in other countries. People seem to have less and less patience for the antics of small children while out in public now a days.
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 for whatever reason.
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. Actually, go ahead and let it stew 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 and not all of them will be well-behaved or super cute like Michelle Tanner. 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 it isn’t always pleasant, it is an unavoidable part of life. It’s part of sharing the planet with seven billion other people when 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. Such is life.
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 Sprite down the front of her shirt 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 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. ADHD. Social anxiety. 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 the exhausted parent or stressed child in the grocery store checkout 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 SERIOUSLY 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 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. 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 yakked on my phone.
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, no matter how many ground rules I lay out before we get out of the van. I don’t want them to happen as much the next person.
Condescending advice is literally good for nothing. It is the currency of prideful and self-righteousness uppity people. 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 have also been humiliated in public by their three year old? 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.