Too often parenting in public situations leaves one vulnerable to disapproving looks, head shakes, eye rolls, and from the most bold-faced of strangers, a scathing comment that makes you feel like absolute shit regarding your parenting inabilities.
I’m not sure why strangers think that these comments are remotely helpful. You know what’s helpful? Keeping your mouth shut, Karen. Or maybe just volunteer to babysit my kid for me while I finish up my grocery shopping in peace and quiet. So, to anyone who might be confused on this point, just STFU if you ever feel inclined to comment on the oversized lollipop a desperate mother threw her kid in the middle of the grocery store at 8:00am in order to grab supplies to survive the next two days. Survival mode is real and if you can’t respect it, then do every parent out there a service and look the other way.
It’s for this reason that I’m taking a stand atop my blog turned soap box to encourage everyone everywhere to speak kindly to the parents of the world. Because one minute you’re a mom pushing a grocery cart with a happy toddler that’s chattering away in a normal tone of voice content with not eating the entire Nabisco line of snacks and the next you’re cutting your shopping trip short because of the screeching banshee attempting to climb out of the cart which forces you to double down in the wine aisle before you make your getaway. Both those moms need encouragement and kind words. You never know. Your comment may be the only kernel of hope that they cling on to on those days when she feels like she’s screwing it up. Not like I’m speaking from experience or anything. Oh wait…I am.
Last week I took AJR and Olivia to meet up with some friends for pizza one Friday night. A little background info about me, taking my kids out to eat in public launches me into a constant sweaty state of anxiety. My backpack contains no less than five different activities per kid to keep them occupied as the comment thread on articles titled “Control Your Kid Or Get Them Out Of My Restaurant” scroll on loop in my brain. Despite this seeming to be a very unpleasant experience, There are two things that keep me dragging them to restaurants: 1. The desperate need for social interaction and 2. My desire to take a break from preparing and cleaning up at least one meal.
The boys, five in total, were having a good time with each other and being loud in the way that I might be if I were out to dinner with a group of my girlfriends. It just doesn’t help that my son has a voice that can only be described as size 72 BOLDED font coupled with the fact that he is currently honing his stand-up routine, which leans heavily in the bathroom humor department. Throughout the entire meal I was constantly leaving my conversation with my friends to go over and ask him to be quiet. By the fifth time, I was communicating in low, menacing hisses reminiscent of Parseltongue.
I kept shooting glances at the other restaurant patrons, trying to send them telepathic messages of apology for disturbing their pepperoni pizza consumption. However, it turns out that my stress and anxiety were unwarranted as something amazingly awesome happened. On the way out of the restaurant, a table with two older women thanked me for the glimpse back in time. I was certain that the entire time AJR sprinkled egregious amounts of parm on his pizza and yelled “butt” that these women were on the verge of giving ME a spanking for not better controlling my kid. Instead, they had viewed the scene much differently than I had. One with kinder, gentler, more understanding eyes, and certainly a heavy dose of nostalgia. Then, much to my surprise, another older couple at the next table over made a similar comment and clucked sympathetically at the energetic boys we had to wrangle.
These comments, at a time when I was frazzled and stressed out, meant so much to me. I looked back at the evening and realized that yes, AJR was loud, but he wasn’t running around the restaurant or throwing anything. He was having a few laughs with his friends and being silly. Is that really something to get so stressed out over? It’s not like I need validation from strangers, but it did help me to cut the kids and more importantly, myself some much-needed slack.
Because of that I’m taking it upon myself to pay it forward and urge everyone to do the same. This may come easily to me because I have no problem being awkwardly friendly with strangers. But just do it! A kind word goes a long way to make someone’s day. Compliment someone on what a good baby they have. Comment on the great use of manners their toddler has. You may cringe on a plane when you’re next to a baby or kids, but if they do well on the flight, then TELL THE PARENTS. Especially in that situation because traveling with kids is Threat Level Midnight anxiety. If you’re shopping solo and the mom behind you has a kid that is losing.their.shit. then let her go in front of you and tell her that you’ve been there. Offer an understanding smile. Throw in a story about a similar situation. Anything and everything to help combat the deluge of information telling us how inadequate we are and precisely how that’s going to screw our kids up in the future. Build a parent up ; help them see what they themselves can’t always see. Parents are so deep in the weeds that they’re blind to the fact that they may actually be doing a pretty bang up job and that sometimes kids are just going to be kids. An understanding word or moment of praise from an unbiased outsider might just be the shift your perspective needs in order to be kinder to yourself. Because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to do what’s best for our kids and that needs to be seen.