I’ve had well-meaning members of the public offering (or sometimes jousting) their opinions about what my children need before. And I have had plenty of knowing, sympathetic words and glances when Tiny pulls a tantrum in the supermarket or Small just will not listen.
But I have never before experienced outright judgement of our children and parenting from a random person we have never met. We were on holiday for a few days at the seaside. After a long day playing on the beach we drove into town to a nice ice cream parlour. It was a small shop and the children were a little raucous, but everyone was friendly and all was fine.
We had to hang around a little longer than the kids had patience for as I needed a few minutes to sort my blood sugar out after a hypo. Small was wriggling around and getting a bit over-excited and Tiny decided to let out one of her newly discovered blood-curdling screams. It wasn’t nice for anyone, but we told them off and tried to gather our things to leave the cafe.
At this point, the woman sitting next to us turned round, looked at the children in disgust and asked, “Are your children always this badly behaved?” At first I thought she was joking, but then she spat out, “You should teach them some respect for other people!”
My husband and I had very different responses – his was to respond sarcastically to her clearly rhetorical question. My blood boiled and I leapt angrily to the defence of my amazing offspring.
Obviously embarrassed, the woman got up quickly and scuttled out of the shop, and we sat there a little shell shocked. The father of the well-behaved family at the next table turned round and very kindly told us that she was out of order and that they knew what it was like to have children being difficult in public. The waitress was also outraged and made it clear that we were welcome.
I wanted to share the experience as when we reflected on it later that night, we realised a few things:
- You never know what a family is going through and why the children (and the adults) might be acting a certain way. I know I have internally judged people in these situations, rather than looking for ways to support. There may be nothing practical you can do, but a sympathetic smile is always better than a scornful look.
In the situation we were in, the children were bored and acting up because of factors beyond our control.
- Stick up for your children! I felt it was really important that the children, particularly Small, heard me say the truth about them: that they are well-behaved children (who have their tricky moments). I don’t know how much on the interaction Small took in, but I want my words of affirmation to be the ones he remembers.
- Learn from the experience. I think we’d be better prepared to respond to a similar confrontation now. But I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to control myself if you diss my kids!
- We were so grateful for the kind words we received, so I’ll be much quicker to stand up for a struggling parent when I see one.
I don’t believe we are perfect parents, but we are doing everything we can to help our children be thoughtful, selfless and respectful. We need to remember that they are also two and five years old, and tantrums, rudeness and silliness are just what kids do sometimes!