See that toddler freaking out over there? Yeah, the one that makes you think “Oh dear God,” and all sorts of thoughts run through your head? Or the child who begs for chocolate at the checkout line and you watch in horror as mommy or daddy cave? That used to be me watching and wondering.
When I sat on my childless perch, I could solve any parenting problem at a glance. With ease, I could be your executioner in the parenting battlefield. And then I had a child. Yes, you can snicker. Because no other singular act teaches you that you know absolutely nothing than the arrival of a child.
I walked through the grocery store yesterday afternoon, with my 5-year-old preschooler sitting in the shopping cart wearing her cupcake pajamas. My 3-year-old was manically running through the store. I’m now at the point where I don’t care about the looks I get. I accept now that these people, whom I will never see again, don’t understand that it was Pajama Day in school or that they both had really long days the day before so they are both cranky and tired. However, I needed to get milk. I ignore the looks I get because even if these other people are put out by my kids’ behaviors, I don’t have the effort within me to care what they think. I couldn’t even be bothered to explain. Most of the time when I snap at my children, it’s because I’m the one stressed out. I’m panicking about what other people think. If I take away the fear of other people’s thoughts or reactions, things become a lot less stressful.
Most of the time, when you see a parent that seems like they’re out of their depth, they probably are. That doesn’t mean they are incompetent. It may just be that they’re having a really bad day. You don’t know if a loved one passed away. You don’t know if someone else lost their job. Perhaps the rent is overdue or the mortgage is defaulting. You could be looking at a mother who hasn’t had any sleep for five years. Perhaps a growth spurt is to blame (my two turn into unholy terrors during growth spurts). That possessed devil you see running amok may have been an angel just an hour ago. Maybe it’s a simple as a missed nap. Maybe, just maybe, what you are seeing is someone who is doing their best, but needs help, or it’s a child who has just reached their limit on what they can absorb and contain.
Sometimes, very small gestures of kindness can turn a day around. When you see that baby freaking out in front of you, start a game of peek-a-boo. Begin a conversation with the preschooler to distract him/her just long enough that mommy can swipe her debit card and get everyone out the door. A little nod of understanding or a smile also can go a long way. A look of disdain or disapproval does nothing but aggravate an already stressful situation. When we choose to be nicer to each other, everyone wins.
Something else happens when you do this. Your day gets brighter too.