As parents we know firsthand that parenting is one of the hardest things we will ever do. It’s wonderful, and fulfilling, and full of love and laughter, and lots of snuggles and giggles, but it’s also full of crying, tantrums, picky eaters, nose picking, defiant toddlers, moody teenagers, and yeah, it’s really damn hard sometimes.
As parents we sometimes have a tendency to make this whole shared experience harder on our fellow moms and dads. We sometimes judge, stare too long at bad behavior, make “suggestions” for how it should be done, or worst of all openly criticize the parenting choices that others make.
Except in rare, extreme cases, I think it’s safe to assume that we are all doing the best we can.
I recently had a wonderful experience when I was out by myself with my three boys (ages 7, 4, and 2 years) and my niece (8 months) and my nephew (3 years). We went to feed the ducks and then I decided to go out to lunch with all of them (this may have been a brief lapse in judgment but, it turned out OK!!) As luck would have it, they were super well-behaved and I could not have been prouder of or more grateful for these 5 little people I adore. But, what made it even better was that another woman not only noticed this, but also told me. She said, “You’re amazing! Your kids are so well behaved and you have such a gentle way with them.” I’m sure I beamed from ear to ear. She made my day…no, she made my month. I nearly hugged her.
This got me thinking about creating a list of ways we as parents can actively seek to spread kindness towards other parents. I sought the help of some amazing moms who offered their input and suggestions.
A lot of the suggestions centered around helping out strangers we see struggling or succeeding at this parenting gig out in public.
Lauren said it means so much to her when people compliment her kids’ behavior unprompted. Julie said that hearing, “your kids are so well behaved!” is the best compliment she has ever been given. She remembers it meaning so much as a child herself, and now even more as a mom. “Yes,” she said, it means a lot “even if it’s only in the moment and your kids end up having a meltdown in the car immediately after (this may or may not have happened tonight with my 8 month old). It’s so nice to hear in the moment.”
Ronni explained how awful it can feel to be shamed for our parenting choices and she encouraged parents who see a struggling parent at a store to “stop and tell them they are doing a great job. Then hand them a coffee!” Who couldn’t use a free, unexpected coffee? Susie’s more of a chocolate person and she suggested giving chocolate. Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong.
Tricia, a mom of two young boys who are very close in age reminded us how much a simple reassuring comment can mean. “If I see a Mom with a tantrum-y child in public, ‘Oh I’ve been there! Hang in there! You’re doing great!’ A Sleepy mom with a newborn? ‘You’re doing great and trust me it gets easier and more fun!’ It’s so easy to do and I can always tell how appreciated it is.”
Some parents talked about how difficult it is to discipline a child in public. Shannon J acknowledged this and said that anytime she sees a parent being brave and disciplining in public she makes a point to commend them for doing a great job. Shannon’s right! We should thank these people! They are making sure their children grow up to be good people and that makes that world a better place for all of us!
Jennifer S, a mom of two amazing teenagers (she’s proof that all this hard work does pay off and result in awesome (almost) grown-ups!) reminded us that not only is it important to offer those encouraging words but to also offer to help when we are able. Jennifer S, Shannon K, and Elizabeth talked about how valuable a helping, and understanding hand can be in the airport when traveling with kids.
I mean, if you’ve ever been on a plane, with or without kids, you can practically feel the stress emanating from the parents traveling with kids. How great would it be if we all banded together to make traveling with kids less stressful?
Shannon K was recently at the airport traveling without her kids (cue the Alleluia chorus!!!!) and a mom with a 2 year old and a 2 month old was in front of her. She said, “How can I help you, Mama? Please let me help?” Shannon pointed out that so often we as parents are determined to do things on our own. We’re fiercely independent. And yet, Shannon said, as parents, “there is almost never a time when I couldn’t use an extra hand…Being a mom has forced me to accept help, and even ask for it!” But we’re not all good at accepting help. So, instead of asking a struggling parent “Do you need help?” Try to make it a point of saying, “How can I help?”
Elizabeth flew with her 2 year old while she was pregnant with her second. She said, “All the women who sat next to and around me on the plane helped me in a ton of ways ranging from picking up dropped items to letting me put my drink on their trays. When I was exiting the plane a dad came up to me and said I was doing a great job. Such a sweet thumbs up from the travel universe.”
I rarely travel these days, but my husband does a lot for work. I’ll be sure to make sure he reads this so that he can keep an eye out for those struggling parents while traveling for business. We always need to keep our eyes open for ways to spread kindness! And clearly, it’s IMMENSELY important, for the sanity of traveling parents everywhere, to have our eyes especially peeled for ways to help when in an airport or on a plane.
But we must keep our eyes peeled everyday at home for other opportunities to commit random acts of kindness for parents we know and those we don’t. Here are some additional simple suggestions:
Aimee S: “I love when other parents do little things like just give a knowing glance or smile. I have had a mom notice that I was struggling while in a store and get me a cart; I also had a mom tell me about the free fruit in target while my daughter was whining about wanting a banana. Things like that remind me that we are all bonded together in some way.” I seriously was unaware of this free fruit in Target thing. Now, if my two youngest kids would just eat fruit that’s not in sauce or smoothie form. Sigh…
Paula C: “For no reason at all take over a dish or offer to watch a friend’s children.” What a fantastic idea! We all do this when a new baby is born or when we know a parent is suffering from an illness. But wouldn’t it be amazing to just have dinner randomly show up at your door one night? I mean seriously, A-MAAAAAA-ZING!
Jennifer B: “We bring bakery treats to sick mom friends.” I mean, when I’m sick my kids will probably end up eating them before I’m well enough. But my kids eating the treats means they might be letting me sleep off whatever it is that is ailing me. It’s a win-win!
Brooke D: “I had a mom give me advice on how to wear my son properly. It was the kindest thing a stranger has ever done for me as a mom!” We’ve all struggled with a wrap, a ring sling, or carrier. Sometimes those YouTube videos are not as easy to follow as one might like. I could have totally used this kind of assistance from a stranger when I was in the early days of baby wearing.
Megan C: “I pay it forward in Starbucks when I see a minivan behind me!” Once again, free coffee. It’s helping to keep us all sane!
Nicole B: “When you see a post from a friend about their sick child, offer to have the healthy sibling over for a play date.” This is true selflessness here: risking exposing your own kids to an illness?!?! But man, we’ve all been here. It’s so, so hard to keep your healthy kids busy and thus maintain your own sanity when you have one sick kid and can’t leave the house. This would be such a life saver!
Samantha W: “Hold/open the door for parents pushing strollers/ dealing with multiple kids. And I always let a parent and child go in front of me when in line for the bathroom!” I recently had someone let me and my “doing the potty dance” son go in front of them in the bathroom and it was so, so appreciated. Karla M. made the point that really any line in which you can let a parent and child go ahead of you can have a huge impact.
Sarah H: “A Simple compliment to another person goes a long way. I’ve started telling people when an outfit or color looks nice on them and their face lights up with a smile.” This idea really speaks to me. So much of our identity is focused on our role as parents. When people notice and acknowledge parts of me that have nothing to do with my role as a parent it means so much. It grounds me and reminds me that yes; I am more than a boogie wiping, argument referee, who shuttles my children from activity to activity. We all need to remember that we are people with skills, and unique abilities that make us more than just “Mom” or “Dad.”
And yet, so much of who we are is wrapped up in our role as parents. Being a parent is to have your heart go walking around outside your body. And so sometimes, the best thing we can do to support parents, is to support their kids.
Jennifer R., another one of those awesome moms with grown kids talked about being able to help a friend with a young child who was in a child care jam. Jennifer was taking her friend’s son to the movies and said, “I haven’t seen power rangers in ages! I’m looking forward to a fun evening and giving her peace of mind.”
We all want peace of mind don’t we? We want to know that our kids are ok, that they are appreciated for who they are, and that they aren’t judged too harshly for their mistakes. Dorothy F said, “I have a sweet almost 12 y/o boy with ADHD who is so kind, but because of his impulsivity, can get into trouble. I got an email from another 6th grade mom at my boy’s school about how kind my son has been to him. It made my week. We often only hear when things are not great. Taking the time to point out the good is worth a million bucks (well almost).” I’ve met Dorothy’s son and I know firsthand how sweet he is. I’m glad others not only notice, but make a point to tell his mom and dad.
I mean, we’re all in this together, right? We’ve all had our kids make mistakes. And we’ve all made mistakes as parents. There is truly something to be said for feeling like we are a part of a community of people doing the best we can as parents, and trying to help other parents do the same. Jen S. talked about how important it is to be real. She said, “I feel like there is a lot of comparing going on. Especially with social media these days, so letting other parents know that you also don’t have your shit together [helps to] create community and that goes a long way.”
Stephanie G. said that compliments when things are good and encouragement in difficult times make her “feel like part of a sisterhood.”
So, fellow Moms and Dads, go out there, and look for ways to be kind, understanding, and helpful to your fellow parents. And please, while you’re at it, never, ever, say to me or anyone else “Gee, you’ve got your hands full!” Instead, please say something like, “Wow! You’re doing a great job!” But if you do, beware: I might just spontaneously hug you.
Note: If you like what you read here find our group on Facebook, Crofton is Kind and ask to join. You don’t have to live in Crofton, MD to join our group, you just have to support KINDNESS.