September 9, 2014

My Child is a Person, Not an Inconvenience

Last night, I (very unwisely) commented on the Facebook status of a friend who posted something that basically said, "I'm really glad school is back in session so that I can run my errands in peace and quiet. I'm sure YOUR child would NEVER behave poorly but I'm glad to not have to be around those that do."  The mama bear claws came out and I snarked back, "Well make sure you get them all done before the weekend, because we have to run our errands some time, and we'd hate for our brats to ruin your Saturday!"

In retrospect, I should have kept my mouth shut.  I've never been known to be someone who thinks before she types/speaks in every situation.  I couldn't help but get defensive, though.

Listen, I get it.  Kids aren't for everybody. Not everybody likes kids. Some parents only like their own kids.  Sometimes kids can be jerks (I've called mine a punk before; I admit it), and some parents are negligent, choosing to scroll through their Instagram feed in the supermarket while their child empties a box of Lucky Charms onto the ground and stops all over the spilled cereal while singing some atrocity from a Bubble Guppies episode at top volume.

But I am so weary of my child-free/childless (which is PC these days?) friends complaining about children on social media sites.  From the ever-popular "stuck on an airplane with a crying baby; great. #FML" to the more malicious and, in my opinion, unnecessary posts such as the one I saw last night.

I'll be the first one to like or comment on a post complaining about an incident such as the Lucky Charms one above.  Get your face out of your phone and pay attention, ya know?  But in most cases, I think we could all stand to show a little more compassion and understanding to two main truths:

1. A child is a person.
2. A parent is just trying to survive.

Your judgmental glares and rolled eyes and heavy sighs do nothing but exacerbate the problem and, more importantly, make the parents feel terrible and self-conscious.  (Let me let you in on a little secret: we already feel self-conscious and think we're terrible!)

This past Saturday, I took my 14-month-old son with me to a brand new donut shop in town.  I was carrying him in Fiona while I waited in a line that went out the door and almost to the street.  The place was filled with families, hip-looking couples, and bleary-eyed college students  grabbing a delicious box of snacks before heading to the morning football game. It was already a little noisy in there, but somehow (I mean I don't know from WHICH parent he gets this...::shifts in chair::) he managed to be louder than everyone. Not screaming. Not pitching a fit.  Just saying "da DA! da DA! da! DA DA DA DA DAAAAAAAAAAAAA! da DA!" over and over again (and with great breath support and placement, if I may add) with a very serious and focused look in his eyes.

I tensed up automatically, bracing myself for the withering looks of other parents or rolled eyes of the way-cooler-than-me couple behind me, when the guy smiled at Z and started talking BACK to him.  "No way!? Dude that's awesome. I KNOW RIGHT?" Z smiled and continued his chatter with a bit more gusto.

I caught the eye of the guy's lady-friend, and she smiled at me.  I smiled back, my eyes saying a silent "thank you" to them both for understanding that he's just a kid, just figuring out his voice and his vocal abilities. Eventually he'll learn "inside voice," but for now he's just kind of exploring what he can do.

When a child is screaming on an airplane, I promise they aren't doing it to annoy you. How do you feel when you travel coach?  I'll tell you how I feel: Uncomfortable. Tired. Grumpy. Hungry. My ears hurt during takeoff and landing.  Guess what?  That baby feels all those things, too.  And the parents are feeling all of those things AND the panic and stress of flying with a small child.

When you're in the grocery store, thinking to yourself, "Those kids are crazy. They shouldn't have that many kids if they can't handle them," I promise you that the parents are doing the best they can to grab a few things for dinner or a school supply that one of them lost or forgot and probably mentally adding up everything they put into their basket, hoping they can afford it, while their tired, overstimulated and hungry children (who are not emotionally mature enough yet to just grit their teeth and bear it) slowly melt down.

Ask yourself -- how often have you, an adult, wanted to just sit in the middle of a grocery aisle and cry?  How often have you wanted to throw your coffee cup on the ground in the middle of a meeting when you get upset? We don't because we're adults and we know that we have to act better, but at some point we, too, gave into those instincts as younger people.

Maybe you're reading this and shaking your head, thinking "teach them early!" But I want my child to be a child while he still can. I already feel my heart breaking when he bumps his head and I see him struggle with the decision on whether or not to cry.  Even at 14 months old, some instinct is telling him not to show emotion and to just deal with it. Some day, he'll find himself in situations where he does need to tamp down his emotions until he's in an appropriate time and place to release them.  But not now.  Not yet.

Please be aware that I'm not just going to let my child throw tantrums and brush it off with an "Oh, isn't he precious?" smile.  No. I'm going to be embarrassed and wondering what everyone is thinking about me and my parenting skills, and I'm going to mentally calculate whether or not he or I can both handle the extra 10 minutes it will take us to just FINISH the shopping trip or if it's best if I just leave the grocery cart on whichever aisle we're on and just get outta there.

But I am also not going to tell my child he should be seen and not heard. I want him to squeal with delight. I want him to sing the songs he learned that day at school. I want him to point and call out when he recognizes things.  Your thoughts may not be heard, but your feelings are seen in every glare and every roll of your eyes and in every put-upon sigh.

I will do my best to comfort and discipline him when he inevitably melts down in public.  But you know what would help me more than a judgmental look or whispered admonition? An offer to help me load my groceries into the trunk. A smile that says "It's okay, that's just babies being babies."  Or, if kids really aren't your thing and you just don't get it and don't want to?  Just put your headphones in and please stifle your sneering as best you can until I can get to my destination and out of your way.

I can promise that you and I BOTH are thinking about the glass of wine we'll pour as soon as we get home and get the chance to sit still. In the meantime, please give me (and my child) a little grace. I'm not asking you to love kids (or even like them) or have a few of your own. I just am asking for some grace.


  1. I didn't understand this before I had children. Now I totally do. I have been very thankful for parents who give me understanding looks when I am feeling embarrassed about my child's normal behavior. Now when I hear a baby cry I feel bad for the mom instead of annoyed. I think it's all about experience.

  2. Amen! One of the best posts I've read in a long time.