All parents have been there…you’re running an errand, everything is going great, and life is smooth as silk. It’s at the exact moment you think, “Wow the kid(s) are being so good today. #motheroftheyear.” Then all hell breaks loose. In one brief moment your sweet, angelic child hits a wall of fatigue or their little tummy starts to rumble or they’ve spotted the latest life-size Elmo creation that is now on sale for only $80! It starts with some whining that can only be heard by those closest to you which then leads to an explanation of why mommy can’t just buy an $80 Elmo today. You start to push the cart in hopes that this will distract the child from their ailments but the whining gets louder and louder until flat out screaming has ensued. Now the whole store can hear your sweet angelic child who has now turned into the devil and you’re stuck in what happens to be the back corner of the store so can’t make any dignified escape at this point.
So what does one do? You start with trying to distract them. You start looking for lollipops in the pits of your purse while making goofy faces, dancing around, spinning in circles….anything to get them to stop crying. Then you get more stern, then you get really stern, then you start threatening their little lives in hopes something will stick. Funny thing about toddlers is they don’t really care too much about making a scene or public embarrassment. The stares they get from others only fuels the fire, cause hey, we are now receiving lots of attention for screaming like a chimpanzee who missed out on the last banana.
So why do I describe this scenario we have all seen or taken part in 100 times? Well, because the whole situation bothers me. I was at McCalisters the other day waiting for my food when a boy, probably 3, completely lost it while his mom was trying to order. They are standing at the counter and after requesting the child’s pizza he then changed his mind. She had already put in the order and all of a sudden he wanted grilled cheese. Now when I mean he lost it….I mean he really lost it. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, “I want grilled cheese!!!! I hate pizza!!!!” all the while he is hitting her legs, crying hysterically and causing the most epic scene in meltdown history. The poor mom is trying to find her card to pay and wait for their drinks before they can sit down. At the same time she is trying to get on to him and begging him to stop with her eyes all while trying to maintain very calm and soft-spoken.
While this is all happening, I’m sitting on a bench waiting for my to-go order and I start to observe everyone around this woman. There are looks of horror, shock, disapproval, annoyance, and then the whispers start. The “She clearly needs to discipline that child,” or “I can’t believe she would let him act like that,” or my personal favorite “If it were me and my child I would beat the crap out of him.” What struck me the most is that not a single person seemed to have the least bit of compassion for this women. Not a single person smiled at her in understanding, or said “Man, I know how she feels. I’ve been there.” Nope, it was easier and more productive to stare and talk about how they would be so much better in that situation.
That is what bothered me.
Yes, that kid was disturbing the piece and interrupting many people’s peaceful lunches. Yes, it was hard to maintain conversation when he is so loud and disruptive. Yes, perhaps she could have yelled and screamed and spanked him or slapped him or lost all control herself to placate all the customers and show them she was “mother of the year.” However, let’s back up. I wonder if these onlookers have any idea what it’s like to parent in the year 2015. This isn’t 1965 where we can publicly spank our kids, yell at them to “put the fear in their eyes” or shock them into good behavior. If I dare lay one finger on my kid in a public place there are about 10 people racing to call family services on me faster than you can remove that finger. If I raise my voice, I assure you someone will come over and say something about how I shouldn’t be yelling at a child. If someone walks into an aisle in the middle of my discipline it’s going to look strange and weird since they missed everything that happened leading up to that. Not to mention the public embarrassment of the kid and a whole host of other things. I AM NOT saying parenting in 1965 was easy I’m just saying it’s different now with different challenges.
We are expected to have kids who are quiet as church mice, sit gingerly in a cart for however long it takes to gather groceries, and then say please and thank you and okay whenever they ask for something. They are expected to not have meltdowns when they are tired or hungry or when their extremely small brains can’t comprehend why they don’t get the $80 Elmo. We are expected to cut off any type of meltdown with just a stare that doesn’t disturb the piece or involve any physical interaction. We are expected to do all of this while getting our errands ran in a timely fashion and keeping it all together.
Those expectations alone make every woman or man feel like a failure before they have even left the house. You can plan for disasters, you can pack snacks and toys and have a whole bag of “toddler meltdown ammunition” and there are still going to be times when things get out of control. We forget that children are not just children….they are HUMAN. They have emotions, and bad days, and they have brains that think in their own way. Yes, they need discipline and leadership and they need to be taught right from wrong and they need to know that screaming is never okay but then again sometimes there really is nothing you can do. Sometimes they are going to scream NO MATTER WHAT force or non-force you use. Heck, sometimes I want to scream at the top of my lungs but my stupid mature brain tells me I can’t do that. Their’s doesn’t.
Anyways, my whole point is that I was disappointed in these people that chose to add to this mother’s humiliation instead of alleviate it. I was disappointed in the fact that not one person seemed to giver her the credit that she is probably a great mom, who disciplines her kid and is raising him to be a great man. Not one person gave her the benefit of the doubt and thought that it might just be a really bad day for them.
I watched the mother slink off to their table, dragging the still screaming boy, while she was red in the face with embarrassment and trying hard to not make eye contact with anyone. I smiled at her, grabbed my food a few minutes later and walked over to her table. I just simply said, “I have 3 boys….a baby on the way and I just want to let you know I’ve been there a million times. From one mother to another I think you are doing an amazing job. Enjoy the rest of your day and your lunch.” She smiled and her eyes got teary and she just said, “Thank you.” That was it….nothing more to it.
I saw my own self in her that day. I have great kids but we have had our share of public humiliation and so I knew exactly how she felt. No one wants to feel humiliated and like a failure. You want the earth to swallow you whole and never come out. It really is a HORRIBLE feeling. She seemed appreciative of my comments and I hope it helped. I hope she realized that not everyone in that restaurant was judging her. I hope she will do the same for someone else in that situation and I hope more than anything everyone else saw it and realized that we aren’t monsters for supporting someone in that situation. Supporting the mother doesn’t mean we are condoning the child’s behavior.
We HAVE to stop being so hard on one another. We all have a responsibility to make the next generation great and it starts with supporting the people who have that really difficult job. Remember what it felt like when you had kids and that happened or when it does happen currently and don’t be afraid to empathize with someone. Next time….it might just be you.