We’ve all seen her. Many of us have even been her. The woman whose kids make you feel just that little better about your own spawn, who, thank Christ, seem to be behaving themselves. For once.
I’ve seen her myself. Maybe that was you. I was the one who offered a sympathetic smile as your toddler thrashed around on the floor because you’d just refused to buy him a chocolate bar. Did it help? Maybe not. Sometimes at times like that, you just want to disappear. When you’re on edge, even a smile from a sympathetic stranger can feel like judgement.
For what it’s worth, I hope it did help.
And of course not everybody is sympathetic. Maybe you’re not. Maybe you tut and roll your eyes, because how hard is it to keep your kids under control really? And if that woman can’t manage that, then maybe she should keep them at home, rather than subject innocent passers by to their brattish behaviour? Maybe you have kids and maybe you don’t, Maybe your children have grown up and you’ve forgotten what it was like to be that woman. Maybe you have never been that woman.
In our case, it’s the cafe. Every time.
I was that woman this Sunday. A quick trip to the supermarket after the weekly swimming session. We knew it was going to happen. We went in and straight away she was tugging on our arms, trying to guide us in the direction of the lifts. The cafe is on the 1st floor. We moved away from the lifts, and the crying started. We want to the checkouts without going to the cafe, and oh dear god the tantrum began. Tugging on my arm, trying to drop to the floor, crying like the world was ending because we had forgotten to go to the cafe.
How much of it is down to Wee Girl’s autism and her need for routine, and how much of it is just your everyday toddler strop? I have no idea. I do know that once we were out of the supermarket, it didn’t take long before she got over it and she was back to her happy self again. But those moments of standing at the checkout, trying to parent while feeling that everyone is staring at us, knowing that I am that woman?
Yeah, that wasn’t fun.
So the next time you see that woman, try to remember that you’re only seeing a snapshot in her life. You don’t know anything about her or her children. Her children may be screaming, but that is not a reflection on her parenting skills. She may be tired, or angry, or impatient, but you don’t know what else is going on in her life to make her feel that way. Maybe she’s been dealing with an attack of the Whinge Monster for the last few days. Maybe she has a pounding headache, or is worried about money. Maybe her children have sensory issues that make visits to the supermarket incredibly hard. Whatever. You don’t know anything about her, and neither do I, but I do know that judging her parenting skills, tutting and rolling your eyes, will not help.
And if you are that woman, then know this; I understand.