When strangers judge your parenting

She says:                                                                            

I thought the days of being embarrassed by my children out in public were long gone, adrift among my memories of toddler fits on the grocery store floor because I wouldn’t let them have a cookie. Part of the pleasure of having older kids is that those kinds of scenes are over and therefore mortification in public on a regular basis is also cut to a minimum. Or so I thought…

Recently we were in Boulder on a family outing at a mega hardware store. The kids were drawn to an office supply section of the hardware(?) store when Grant, the 12-year-old, fixated on a laser pointer/pen. It was a cool gadget to be sure, until he started pointing it willy-nilly and inadvertently beaming the eyes of passersby. Repeatedly, and with increasing intensity, I told him to stop, explaining that it really hurts people’s eyes. But to no avail; he kept on flashing away until he got tired of that and proceeded to handle just about every awesome pen and uniquely shaped eraser up and down the aisle.

Looking back on it now, it may not sound like a big deal but he was just into everything and not listening and people were staring – it wasn’t a good scene. When Thomas came from another section of the store completely unaware of the stress I was experiencing, he saw my frazzled look and whisked the kids off to look at something less touchable like drawer liners. That’s when a woman came up to me who had been observing us. I’d been aware of her and had wondered if she was thinking I was a terrible, overreactive mother or if I was to be pitied for having such an obstinate kid. Turns out, neither. She put her hand on my arm and said, “He’s gifted, you know.”

Huh? I didn’t see that one coming. She proceeded to tell me that she is a teacher of gifted and talented high school students and that children who are very tactile are very bright and very creative. We ended up talking a long time and I ended up telling her things I never thought I’d tell a stranger – frustrations I have as a parent, among them.

In her very zen (aka Boulder) way, she explained what a delight middle schoolers and high schoolers are, just discovering who they are as people in the world. She told me tales of how she’d handled her troubled sons, removing the internet and all computers from the house years ago when she could see it was interfering with the important aspects of their lives. I was in awe. This woman felt about kids the way I had always hoped I would, but don’t. This woman had been through tough stuff with her kids yet still had a peace about her, which I don’t. This woman had the guts to do things in parenting that I don’t. All this, in a hardware store. We actually hugged goodbye. It was bizarre and wonderful and just what I needed.

The encounter with this woman, which could have been nasty and judgemental, was instead a message from the universe for me to stop trying to fit my children into what’s supposed to be and instead acknowledge who they are. Grant had seen me talking to this woman from afar and when she left, asked me what she’d said.

“She says you are amazing and gifted.”

His response? “Oh I knew that.”

One thought on “When strangers judge your parenting

  1. When my son was two, we went on a plane ride. My son’s ears must have hurt him for he started crying and didn’t stop the entire trip. Being acutely aware of how disturbing to the passengers he was, I did everything I could to try and quiet him. My husband tried too, but to no avail. When I had to go to the bathroom, I wearily waited in line. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a middle aged woman smiled at me. She told me every mother on the plane was sympathetic to my plight and not to feel bad. They’d all had their experiences, too. I don’t remember the rest of the trip, except the sense of relief that woman’s kind words brought to my frazzled soul. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” That’s Psalm 25:10-12, and it’s sure true!

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