Shortly after Christmas, I found myself at an indoor play place trying to let my kids burn off some energy. It had been raining constantly for the past two weeks and we were utterly stir-crazy. I sent the kids off to play and sat down to drink a cup of tea, all the while keeping an eye on my little hooligans.
My younger son, Henry, just turned three and has always played very rough. He’s a physical kid whose first instinct when frustrated or upset is to throw something or sometimes, unfortunately, hit or push someone. My husband and I have been doing everything we can to discipline him and show him the right way to behave — talking about it ad nauseum, putting him in time out, demonstrating over and over how to nicely touch someone. But it’s been an up-and-down battle.
That day, he was in an especially aggressive mood. Whenever a kid got too close to a toy he was playing with, he would push them. I would jump up, intervene, apologize, and correct him. After having to do this several times, I was getting embarrassed and flustered and decided it was time to abort this outing. Unfortunately, we couldn’t just leave at that moment. I had to clean up our stuff and put the kids’ shoes and coats on. While I was in that process, Henry pushed another child. As I apologized (the kid wasn’t crying and appeared fine), his mother clutched him to her and gave me a look I’ll never forget.
It was a look of utter disdain, of disgust. Like I’d come here for the purpose of letting my kid push her kid. Like I was the worst mother ever.
The tears that had been hovering near the surface spilled over. It was pretty embarrassing — I don’t make a habit of crying in public. But it just happened, an honest, emotional moment.
I continued to try to get out of there as I cried quietly. I just couldn’t stop the tears. The mom who had given me the death stare ignored me. I knew she could see how upset I was. And I knew that she was right to be upset too — I don’t like anyone pushing my kids around either. But I was hurt and taken aback by what I perceived as an utter lack of compassion in her face. Maybe I wasn’t handling this the way she thought I should, but I was doing my best.
I was also sad because I felt like Henry was getting labeled as a “bad kid.” And he’s such a sweet and wonderful boy; I was upset that no one was seeing that side of him. This, the embarrassment, and probably some general exhaustion from the recent holidays all combined to turn me into a sniffling mess.
Fortunately, that compassion came flooding in from several moms around me. They brought me tissues, they made jokes about bad moments with their own kids, they whispered things like, “he’s a little kid — it’s okay!” And I was so grateful to those women. I thanked them and led my kids out the door.
So I don’t know when I’ll feel brave enough to revisit that particular play place, but I feel like I received an important reminder that day: most people — most parents — are doing their best. Kids aren’t robots and we can’t always control them. I hope that the next time I see a mom having a hard time, I’ll take a minute and remember this experience, and offer a hand or just an encouraging word. This is a tough job — be kind!