Don’t Stare Without a Smile – The Easiest Way to Encourage Parents

Anyone who is a parent has been there: at the grocery store somewhere around lunch time and nap time. You just need a few things and are trying to make fast decisions, but then your kid, for no reason or for every reason, loses it. The meltdown has happened. In the next moments you are trying to finish your thoughts about what to get and get out of the store. And in the meantime, you know, all eyes are upon you.

Of course it’s human nature to put our gaze on something that’s loud or disruptive. And sometimes it’s hard to look away. Depending on your personality and personal experience, I have a few bits of advice on how to be a help in these moments.

The first option if you see a parent with a crying child is just to look away and go about your shopping. There’s no need to stare, roll your eyes, internally compare your child (real or imaginary) to theirs, or to mumble about anyone’s behavior to anyone else. One of the worst feelings is when you think your child is disrupting other people. The truth is they may be disrupting your grocery store zen, but they don’t need to know that or have your glares make them feel even worse.

However, if in your glance at the loud commotion, you catch the eye of the mom or dad with the sad child, just smile. Not a jolly smile, but a compassionate “you’re going to make it” smile. It shouldn’t be long, but it should be sincere.

If you are seasoned, older parent, don’t offer advice; give encouragement. I have two wonderful memories of seasoned parents, total strangers, who made me feel that parenting out in the world wasn’t going to be so bad.

The very first time my husband and I went out to eat with our daughter, she was about 6 weeks old, and we went to Torchy’s Tacos. Torchy’s isn’t fancy, but that didn’t matter. She started getting fussy, and I nervously looked around the restaurant to see who we were disturbing with our crying baby. It was winter and too cold to go outside, so my husband and I took turns rocking and bouncing and soothing while the other took quick bites of tacos.

The first person we apologized to was a man sitting solo at the table next to us. His response, “I’m traveling for work and I have 3 kids at home. This makes me feel like I’m right at home. I’m happy here; your baby isn’t going to bother me at all.” And he stayed at the table. He could have been lying through his face, but his kindness fell so gently on us as new parents.

Then along came an older couple and they intentionally sat at the other table next to us. The elderly lady put her hand on my shoulder and said, “We’re going to sit right here, and your baby isn’t going to bother us at all. You just keep right on eating. We’ve all been there.” She must have overheard our apology to the man and preemptively assured us that we were going to be just fine.

In that one meal, I felt so encouraged by how gracious people could be about crying kids.

Fast forward a year and a half to the grocery store. I was very pregnant with our 2nd kid, and my daughter was refusing to get into the shopping cart. While I worked to get her bucked up, a lady runs over to me and said, “We’ve all been there. It gets better. You’re doing a great job.” And then she jets out to the parking lot. That was it, but I walked into that store with such assurance. I relished in the stranger’s words for the rest of the day.

I still do.

Extending grace to people, parents or not, should be common practice, and the more you do it, the easier it will be. There is also a chance the stranger you showed a small kindness to will write about you in her blog post because it was one of the most encouraging moments of her life.

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