Parenting is HARD, y’all. Especially when moms and dads go into the public sphere and strangers get a chance to rubberneck at how their kids behave. When my oldest child was a toddler, I flat-out refused to take him grocery shopping after one too many (embarrassing) meltdowns. But let’s be honest, we’ve all been there when it comes to dealing with the stress and subsequent humiliation of a public tantrum, and it’s never fun. Least of all when strangers make rude — and totally unwarranted — comments.
Take the story of Molly England, the Texas mom behind the blog Bluebonnet Babies. England took to Facebook June 13 to recount an uncomfortable experience at a local art museum, where she decided to take her kids — ages 3, 5, and 7 — for an enriching afternoon of fun and culture.
According to England, it all started off pretty well:
“On Sunday, I mustered the energy to drive almost an hour out of suburban boredom to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,” England’s post begins. “We were quickly growing weary of the long, hot days, and it was time to inject some culture and structured activities into our carefree summer.”
She goes on to describe a lovely, Instagram-worthy afternoon of exploration and fun. (You know, the kind parents dream of, but so rarely get.)
“I felt proud of their ability to act appropriately in such a demanding atmosphere,” she writes. “An atmosphere that requires them to speak softly, not touch anything and move with grace and awareness — all behaviors they don’t do at home.”
That is, until they decided to hit up the snack room before leaving the museum for the day.
“Things turned sour quickly,” England continues. “My 3-year-old refused to use a spoon to eat her lemon tart. Opting to use her unreliable, sticky fingers, she quickly dropped the tart on the floor and sobbed. Not a deep, low, sob, but a shrill sob. Even over the gush of the fountain, her crying pierced the other patrons’ ears.”
We all know how toddlers can get — especially when they’ve missed their nap. But unfortunately, England had to deal with the meltdown along with the cold stares of two strangers. And as England gathered up her kids to leave, one of the women dropped a particularly nasty remark:
“She looked me in the eye and said, ‘Oh, thank G-d you’re leaving,'” England wrote. “I moved past her and then paused. I doubled back, looked into her cold eyes, and then I looked at her friend as she shook her head. I looked back at her and quivered with rage, ‘Are you kidding me?!’ She simply replied, ‘No, I’m glad you’re leaving.'”
Yes — really.
England says she was stunned, and rushed her kids off to the car where they drove home in “eerie silence.” The experience was so upsetting, she found herself thinking about it all night.
“I went to bed Sunday night feeling guilty,” she shared. “Feeling like maybe the unkind lady was right. Who was I to think we could infiltrate the pristine museum environment.”
We’ve all heard about public tantrums — heck, most of us have even experienced them firsthand — but we rarely hear about is the aftermath. The uncomfortable moments that follow the cold stares or snarky comments from strangers. When moms and dads flee the scene in shame, and the judgments of those watching suddenly take their toll.
“I think when a parent sees another parent struggling with their kids in public, they’re generally compassionate and empathetic,” England tells Babble. “But some people (including parents) can be judgmental and rude. When my kids have been unruly or melted down in public, I’ve seen strangers give me looks of encouragement and solidarity, which is always helpful. Unfortunately, when bystanders decide to meddle and make matters worse, it’s unsettling, and it sticks with us.”
So why do parents often get the brunt of negativity from strangers in public? What is it about seeing a mom struggling with her kids that sets people off?
“Moms are expected to do it all,” says England. And while she admits that the tides are beginning to change, with moms and dads finally beginning to be treated as equals, “there’s still a heavy burden on moms to be the primary parent.”
“Moms can also be extra hard on themselves and can view their children’s behavior as a direct reflection of their ability as a parent,” she adds.
When England and her children were finally out of the museum and back in their car, she realized that her girls had definitely noticed the rudeness was directed at their mom.
“As much as I wanted to tell them how nasty the woman was, I knew I had to use this as a teaching opportunity,” England says. “We talked about why that lady may have said that to us. It was harder for me to process it all after my kids were asleep. That’s when I started to beat myself up about my parenting. Luckily, sharing the story, and processing it all with friends and family has helped me remember that we’re all doing the very best that we can.”
Kudos to England for handling the tantrum — and the subsequent fallout — as best she could, and for using it all as a teachable moment for her kids. Still, stories like these can’t help but make me think: Imagine how great our world could be if instead of judging moms and dads in some of their hardest moments, we supported them? No snooty retorts or unwelcome stares; just good old-fashioned compassion and kindness. We could all use some more of that.