My knee-jerk reaction was "yeah, some people just aren't cut out for this parenting thing"... and then I caught myself...
You see, I've been THAT MOM in Target where everything was going along fine and then out of nowhere my infant son starts screaming at the top of his lungs. I quickly did a sniff test of the diaper which came back clean, nothing was pinching or hurting him, taking him out of the car seat and holding him didn't help, he ate just 45 minutes ago but even so, offering the spare bottle I brought wasn't cutting it. Nothing from my bag of tricks was working. So there I was, trying to walk and bounce my one-month old son in the middle of Target while softly singing his favorite songs, desperately trying to grab the items I needed so I could make my quick exit. Onlookers scowled at me, others watched with pity as I struggled to balance my screaming baby, push the cart, and grab the items I needed. But nobody offered help. I'm sure judgement was passed on me but what those people didn't know is that nobody wanted my son to stop crying more than I did. What they didn't know was that I was out of diapers and wipes and some essential food items and I figured that Target could be my one-stop-shop to get everything I needed and go back home as quickly as possible. What they didn't know was that it took me three days to muster up the courage to leave the house with my baby who needed constant attention from me for fear of this situation happening. What they didn't know was that it took me all day to try to schedule his feeding and nap times around showering, gathering items for the diaper bag, and loading the car. What they didn't know is that I was crying on the inside wishing that this trip would just end.
Even though the parent mentioned int he Facebook comment should have been giving more attention to the fact that their child was in a potentially dangerous situation, I quickly had a change of heart about my friend's post. All of a sudden I was fired up and angry at how quickly they passed judgement on this parent, and I was ashamed I had initially done the same.
When you see a parent struggling you don't know if they have had a rough day/week/month/year and their kid's behavior has left them challenged, frazzled, overwhelmed, frustrated or exhausted. Kids can be energetic and loud and are great at testing their boundaries - especially in public. And we have to take them out in public to apply the behavioral lessons learned at home. Not doing so is like assuming your degree alone will get you a job and real-life experience doesn't count. And Lord knows that you can't really control children, only teach them as they grow. My goodness, if we could so easily control our children this parenting thing would be a breeze! And let's not forget that if the child has a learning or developmental disability (autism, anyone?) then there is sometimes little the parent can do to predict, advert, or manage their child's actions.
I've seen it time and time again on social media, blogs and in real life. Observing a person's one action leads to judgement of their entire life. "That mom is letting their child throw a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. They're a bad parent!" How unfair and how selfish of us to assume we know everything about a person in just a moment of observation. How awful of us to stand there and watch parents struggle and not offer assistance. I was ready to take action!
In my frustration I wrote this response to the Facebook post:
While there is no excuse for letting a toddler loose in a parking lot, the parent was probably overwhelmed and exhausted trying to wrangle a high energy toddler all day and probably could have used your helping hand to guide their child back near the car. Instead, you stood idly by and now mock them on Facebook. Good for you.But I didn't hit post. It's not really my thing to get into discussions or arguments on Facebook and I wasn't looking to start an argument. Plus, I didn't want to come off all high and mighty because I am certainly not winning any parent-of-the-year awards over here. But I have re-channeled my frustration and resolve to make a change in 2014: I want to be an example of Jesus' love for us, and follow his calling for us to love one another. And I think I'll start with parents.
I believe that we all do our best and that we operate with the best of intentions. Some people only see a blip of our lives and that blip certainly doesn't tell the whole story... where some see a moment of weakness or oversight, God sees the whole picture of who we are. While others may look at a dandelion and see a weed, God looks at the same dandelion and sees a flower blooming. I want to see the flowers, too.
It's time we supported each other in this parenting journey, even if you don't have kids. We're all in this together. Everyone's children will inherit the world we leave them, so why not make it a better place to be?
So next time I see a parent struggling with a tantrum-throwing toddler in the store, a back-talking pre-teen at Starbucks, or a child running loose in a parking lot I will do what I can to be a help and support, not be just an observer. Whether it be a smile and nod letting them know "I feel your pain, hang in there" or physically helping a child make their way back to their parent, I want to be genuinely helpful (and hopefully not creepy).
Maybe you'll join me, maybe you won't. But in all sincerity, if you have some ways that I (or anyone) can be a help and support to other parents in a non-creepy way leave your thoughts in the comments. I'd love to hear them.
Here's to a great 2014 and to making our community a better place for parents & kids, and all who encounter them along the way. Cheers!