That Crying Kid at Target

My snarky comment on an article Carolyn Hax posted on Facebook (note: Hax reposted it—she did not author it), in which I defended parents of loud and cranky toddlers at Target, got 52 “likes.” I’m sort of proud.

On Facebook, the “sharing” of the article generated a flood of commentary from parents and nonparents. I must admit that I added to this flood, after a woman bemoaned cranky toddlers at Target while she was trying to buy toothpaste in peace. Livid, I set out to prove her wrong, which garnered 51 “likes” within a few hours. I was rather proud. That was significantly more than any other comment, which told me I was either (a) right, (b) very clever with words, or (c) pandering to my peeps because people who read the article were mostly parents of small children—so OF COURSE they agreed with me.

However, the article and the resulting commentary actually raised some good points. The gist of the article is that a mom judged other parents—harshly—before becoming a mum herself. Now she knows better—parenting is hard. TV occupies her kids a lot, she ditched the organic homemade food, and sometimes—gasp!—SHE MAKES THE WRONG PARENTING DECISION.

I remember, a year or two ago pre-Charlotte, trying to pick something up at the Barnes and Noble near my work, and I could barely get into the store because a mom was blocking the entrance and corralling her multiple children in. This annoyed the crap out of me. Inside, aisles were blocked with strollers. This too annoyed the crap out of me. I vowed I’d NEVER be one of those mothers who never looks up, who’s so clueless about the people around me, who makes the rest of the world work around the fact that she decided to procreate.

Now, I’m the person that holds up traffic while I open the Barnes and Noble door to let Charlotte walk in, oh so slowly, as she observes everything around her. I’m also the person chasing her through the store and putting books back on the shelf that she pulled off. And I’m the person that slows down the line by letting Charlotte carry her book to the register herself, hoisting her up to the counter to temporarily part with it, and letting her put it in the bag after it gets paid for. Sure, some folks think she’s adorable. But there’s no way that at least one person doesn’t think we’re just another example of parents with young children who think the world revolves around us.

That said, I’m not one of those people who think small children should be welcome everywhere. Our wedding (admittedly, in our pre-kid days) was kids-free. Some brides welcome a screaming infant or toddler during their wedding vows. I wasn’t that sort of bride. I have been to many a wedding where parents just stay put in their pew with a screamer, which boggles my mind. Nice restaurants are another place children have no place, as they can ruin another couple’s rare kid-free evening (when those parents bothered to hire a babysitter) celebrating an anniversary or something. I guiltily type this knowing that we’ve brought Charlotte to a couple very nice restaurants (with Chris’s parents), thus debunking my own stance, but we’ve always been prepared to immediately remove her at the first sign of trouble. Fortunately, she has always been spectacular. Never underestimate the entertainment value of a roll.

I admit it. Little in this world irritates me more than listening to people without children vent about parenting practices, from what kids should be eating to discipline to school choices to breastfeeding. Because unless you’ve been there, you really can’t understand what it’s like to be on-call 24 hours a day while utterly sleep deprived, to leave your infant at daycare for the first time, to get a sick-kid call while at work on a busy day, to have to make quick decisions on the spot about discipline, to debate surgery for your kid’s ears and throat, to secretly hate breastfeeding because it’s so freaking painful and demanding and often rather gross, or to have the stomach flu while a toddler climbs all over you and cries for your attention that you just can’t give her.

But. We parents can sometimes get a tad sanctimonious with our worldly knowledge of child-rearing, can’t we? I mean, “You don’t understand—you don’t have kids” must sting, or at least irritate. People without children aren’t stupid. And surely they’re capable of detecting some wacked-out parenting practices. And frankly, perhaps they would give anything to have to stay up all night with a sick baby, or worry about speech development, or, well, to get offended when people without kids moan, “Can’t they make that child stop crying?!”

It seems to me that creating a little club of the parents against those without kids is rather . . . dumb. I stand by my comment on the article (though I could’ve made it less snarky), because folks without kids (whether by choice or not) need to accept that small children are simply a part of society. They need to realize that “ignoring” a child’s tantrum—even in a public place—is more appropriate than giving in just to shut him or her up. They need to realize that when the seatbelt sign is on during a flight and my kid wants to get up and cries because she can’t, even though “she’s old enough to walk and should know better,” she actually doesn’t. Flights are rare for her. And although it’s true we moms never look up, it’s because the second we do, our child has knocked over an entire shelf of shampoo bottles. We can only be aware of so much at once. Oh, and the annoying, not-paying-attention-to-the-shoppers-around-them antics that mommies have when we make faces with our kid in the cart, or talk to them about silly things? That’s greatly reducing the chances of a tantrum. So, pick your poison.

We don’t mean to inconvenience you. Really. And even if you didn’t have children and have thus not inflicted loud, cranky creatures on the rest of the world, you were a small child once yourself. And the more we let our little people out of the house and give them opportunities to learn how to function in public places, the less they’ll inconvenience you in the future.

Finally—and this goes for parents and nonparents alike—you really don’t know a situation just by passing it in a Target aisle. The 5-year-old freaking out (He’s too old! He should know better! Why doesn’t his mom DO something?!)? Maybe he has a developmental disability, or his dog got run over that morning, or he’s sick, or his daddy just left his mommy and he doesn’t know if he’s ever coming home, or maybe his house was foreclosed and he moved in with his grandparents and not the nice ones. You just don’t know.

I said something similar (I think) in my blog post about the irritating pitting of stay-at-home mums against working mums: In most cases (admittedly, not all), we’re just trying to do the best we can in our current situations. There is no one-size-fits-all for raising offspring.


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