Saturday, May 1, 2010

Judge Not

I am writing this entirely out of personal experience, lest you think I am judging others for being judgmental.

Yesterday, as I was checking out at the grocery store, there came the sound of crying - tantruming, really. A young girl was sobbing and whining loudly that she wanted something her mother was not going to give her. And her cries persisted. She went on until I left the store, which was at least 10 minutes from when I first heard her.

But as I stood there in line for that entire 10 minutes, I felt sick with anxiety for the mother of that child. Because when you're the mom in that situation, you are absolutely certain that every eye is on you, wondering why you can't control your child. People look with disdain and others mutter under their breath. I know this because I used to be one of those people thinking that mother must be doing something wrong because this isn't the way children should act in public. And I sincerely, humbly apologize to anyone I ever passed judgment on, because my erroneous thinking came from the fact that I had never fully understood a 3-year-old child, who, at the end of the day, is overwhelmed with busyness and is hungry and tired and just wants some quiet and comfort.

I've been in that situation, like that young mom in the grocery store yesterday. I was in that stage for what seemed like endless years, when I would be forced to drag many young children to the grocery store; young children who would undoubtedly start fighting, playing tag in the aisles, or try to hide from me just for fun (and not realize that it caused me to have a full-blown panic attack). Those were the days that I promised little treats at the checkout for good behavior, and I was fully prepared to withhold the treats if their behavior didn't measure up. I was also fully prepared to leave my cart - half full of all the items I had searched for and price-checked and found coupons for - in the middle of Meijer and just walk out because of my children's negative behavior (which I did exactly one time.)

But my children were never perfect. And there were many moments when I was on the receiving end of the disdainful looks and judgmental muttering. I remember one time that I had a 3-year-old, a 1 1/2 year-old, and either I was hugely pregnant or I was carrying a baby on my back (my memory is fuzzy, probably because of all the brain cells killed by stress). The second child, who has consistently been the best tantrum-thrower I've ever known, was having a screaming fit about something and I had to keep buckling her back into the cart so that she wouldn't run away. Another mom, a kind soul, walked up to me and kindly said, "You're doing a great job."

Now, THAT is what every mom needs when they are dealing with children who exhibit less-than-perfect behavior in public. She doesn't need to look around at all the people who are showing their annoyance at her obvious lack of parenting skill, she doesn't need to hear people whispering, "my child will never act like that". She needs someone to look her in the eye and say, "hang in there, you're doing great." If you've never fought the battles of parenthood, you won't understand how huge such small words of encouragement are.


  1. What a great post!!! I had a later-in-life come-uppance when I adopted Anastasia and Ilya.

    Aidan and Lydia were tremendous in Mass from infancy. You'd swear that Aidan paid attention when he was a baby! Quiet; eyes on "the action". Lydia, too. As they got older they'd actually bring up quotes from the homily in conversation, "Mom it is just like Fr. Murphy said last Sunday..." Was I proud! Now, I knew they were "easy" - but I might have taken a little credit. Wrong!

    Sergei, too - from the beginning, when he didn't even know a word of English; he was there and feigning, at least, attentiveness. Zhenya - his first Mass was an Easter Vigil and he went on to behave perfectly nicely at every Sunday liturgy. Then comes Anastasia. She was 80% good, but if she wanted to talk to me during - let's say, the consecration - and I shushed her, she'd have no compunction about saying, out loud, "I hate you!" or hitting me or something else totally horrific. I began to doubt the value of sitting in my favored front row lest we cause scandal.

    But Ilya was my Waterloo. Second week we took him to church with us, as we were leaving Sergei exclaimed - "Mom, Ilya was turning around giving people the finger all through Mass!" The floor collapsed beneath my feet as I thought of all the worthy parishioners, and CCD families sitting behind us......

    OK. In the interest of promoting International Adoption, and maintining my position as DRE at the parish, we have to both - go to other parishes WHERE NO ONE KNOWS US (and I can withstand those "looks" without fearing for my job) and sit in the BACK ROW so there is no one behind us to be the unwilling recipient of Ilya's gestures.

    So, I've gone from proudly sitting in the front row of my parish with well-behaved children, to cowering in the back of strange churches with hellions (because, of course, none of the others are all that attentive or well-behaved in the back - that basic principle is right). So, yes - I am totally with you.

    I hope you saw the little set of videos on this theme that I posted a couple of days ago. I laughed until I cried.

  2. Katelin LeMahieuMay 1, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    Hi Jen!

    Your post caught my eye, because although I am not a mother... and a long ways from being ready to be one... I have experienced this many times. For the past 3 1/2 years of my life, I've developed a passion for helping children with special needs. My specialty especially being Autism and other developmental disorders.

    I experienced my first public temper tantrum in a busy store on a Saturday morning. The girl I was with was a 14 year old, non-verbal, autistic child who was also about the same size as me. Afraid for her safety, and the safety of myself and an employee of the store (who stupidly felt the need to get involved) I had to restrain her at the front of the store in front of several people in the check-out line. Once she had calmed a little I physically transported her out of the store.

    At first when these things would happen (which they did happened A LOT), and people would give me hard glares I would feel emabaressed. As I adjusted to these looks, I would shoot them back. I send a return look that said "I'd like to see you handle this better. I'd like to see you do what I'm doing." Because I've realized, that only the ignorant are the ones who judge about things like this. Although I've undergone lots of special trainings and certifications, it all comes done to the fact that I am still a person who loves these the kids. I've managed hundreds of tantrums over the last couple years, and never has a child gotten what they wanted by acting that way. And that's what's most important.

    It's important for people to remember, that kids tantrum because they're upset that you're denying them something they want. When you give-in to that behavior, you're rewarding it and sending the message that tantrums get them what they want... which will never end the behavior.

    I've never looked on a mother with a tantruming child in a judgmental way. All kids tantrum at some point and everyone should know that. What really bothers me is when I see a kid tantruming and the mom just says "Fine, you can have it... stop making a scene." When I see this, (and I have many times) I just shake my head to myself. But some people don't mind having their kids walk all over them. So to the parents of tantruming kids: tantrums are normal, you are not alone, but stand your ground if you want them to stop. Anyone who gives you looks for doing this, simply doesn't know any better.

  3. I've been there- it's so not fun, and you are so right- a kind word does wonders!


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