Mom confession: I avoid taking my 4-year-old twins grocery shopping whenever humanly possible. That might seem totally ridiculous, and before I had kids I probably would have judged people like me as needing to get a grip and deal with their children's bad behavior. But the truth is that trying to get through a shopping trip with both of them is exhausting, and honestly, trying to navigate their potential public meltdowns is really, really difficult, even under the best of circumstances. Under not-so-great circumstances, however? Well, one mom's post about being shamed for her child's tantrum is a perfect example of how other people's parenting judgment can feel totally crushing — and why it's also entirely unfair.
In a Facebook post that has since gone viral, single mom-of-two Taylor Myers wrote about how she recently brought her kids to Walmart to run some errands and buy some groceries, when, like many 4-year-olds, her daughter Sophie began to act up as they were waiting to pay. Myers wrote that she decided to ignore Sophie's behavior, which makes total sense — it's either that or leaving, and who wants to abandon their cart once they've made it as far as the checkout? But it turns out her choice didn't exactly sit well with another stranger waiting in line. According to Myers, the woman behind her snapped, "oh, for Christ's sake give her a cookie so she'll shut up!"
The stranger's startling comment caught Myers — who was likely already stressed out and trying her best to hold it together — totally off-guard. Sure, she could have calmly explained that she was just trying to ignore her daughter's outburst so that she could get her damn groceries, and that her daughter has "pretty severe ADHD" in addition to the fact that 4-year-olds also just have meltdowns sometimes. But Myers wrote that what came out of her mouth was something else entirely:
I could've responded in a nicer way. I could've explained to her that my four year old has pretty severe ADHD, I raise both my children alone, I'm doing my best, and had no choice but to wait it out for the groceries. Instead, I heard 'she's four years old and you need to mind your own f***ing business' come out of my mouth.
Myers said she managed to hold herself together long enough to move over to the self-checkout, but when she got there, she promptly burst into tears. Part of it, she explained, was knowing the way she must have looked to everyone else, and about feeling like she wasn't living up to expectations about what a "good mom" is supposed to act:
...[I] walked to self check out so I could avoid facing anyone else as 'that person.' The person with the misbehaving child. The person who seems lazy because they're ignoring the behavior. The person who knows doing anything but ignoring it is only going to make it worse.
But she also admitted that the whole experience also just really hurt:
I've lost it. I'm angry, my feelings are hurt, I'm offended, and I'm just freakin' sad that I can't have one good experience in a store with my children.
Thankfully, Myers' story doesn't actually end there: she revealed that another woman came up to her and Sophie in the self-checkout to chat with the little girl and help distract her so that Myers could pay for her items. And although it may have seemed like a small gesture, it had a huge impact: Myers wrote that she "had more appreciation for her kindness and compassion than I have for anyone else I've ever encountered."
As heartbreaking as Myers story was though — it could have easily been me, or any stressed out, just-trying-their-best-but-sometimes-kids-are-awful parent — it also raises a much bigger point about parenting and expectations and about showing a little compassion. The woman who made the mean comment clearly didn't know, for example, that Myers raises two kids by herself, and struggles to help her 4-year-old with ADHD. But even if that weren't the case, the fact remains that parenting also happens to be universally hard for everyone at least some of the time.
That reality, Myers said, is we should reach out to help and to support one another through these challenging parenting moments that can feel so full of shame and sadness and embarrassment. She wrote,
It only takes one comment to break someone down. You never know what someone's going through. You never know the problems a child has that causes them to misbehave and unless you know the struggle of being a parent to a child like mine, you cannot judge me. But it also takes one small act of kindness to make a mama feel comfort and validation.
Stories like Myers' are part of the reason why I try to avoid bring my kids to the store if I can avoid it: it's hard enough to try to do your shopping with two energetic kids who might have a freakout over the fact that you said no to buying them a chocolate bar, but having to deal with that while knowing that people are likely watching and judging is so much worse.
But the fact that Myers was able to at least find some relief in the second stranger's kindness is an important reminder that being a parent really is full of difficult moments, and that being understanding and offering the benefit of the doubt can make a world of difference. Many of us know, after all, what it's like to endure a public tantrum — and that in that moment, the last thing we need is to feel any worse than we already do.