With 4 little girls aged 5 and under, it’s safe to say that I get plenty of reactions when we are all out together. Just walking through a store with my 4 children (aged 5, 4, 2, and 7 months) will inevitably illicit a variety of comments and stares, sprinkled with the occasional bewildered head shake or muttering under one’s breath. I readily admit we are a bit of a spectacle–4 spunky little girls with unique senses of fashion (3 of the four dress themselves and generally refuse any intervention with their hair and I that is a battle I do not fight).
Any parent with small kids knows that outings can be incredibly stressful, despite the best laid plans and preparations. I can make sure everyone is fed, napped, diapers changed, but inevitably something will go terribly awry. For my kids, whether my kids will behave and be pleasant is about as predictable as a coin flip. But a difficult situation with kids can be made much worse or much better depending on the reactions of strangers.
I generally try to lift up the people around me–even strangers–because by doing so, I am so much happier and my days go better. Basically, lifting up others lifts me up too. To help your days go better by lifting up the people around you, here are some suggestions about how you can respond and not respond to a parent you may encounter.
UNHELPFUL STATEMENT #1: “You sure have your hands full!”
I’ll admit that, on most days, this one does not bother me, however I know A LOT of parents who do get very hot and bothered by this comment. It’s just a bit like gazing up in amazement at a Harlem Globetrotter and exclaiming “Wow, you sure are tall!”* or better yet passing someone who is frantically running around screaming as their body is engulfed in flames and cheerily exclaiming “Gee mister, you are on fire!”
It’s just obvious that our hands are full. And I know some people like to answer cutely “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart!” Which is nice, but honestly, if I’m getting that comment, I’ve probably got at least one screaming child, another demanding the humus samples that we just passed, and another in the cart about to sit on my loaves of bread so if I tried to spout that off, in the moment, it’d probably come off pretty insincere.
UNHELPFUL STATEMENT #2: “You know how that happens, right?”
Yes, yes I do. Would you like me to draw a diagram?
Again, I know people are probably just trying to be funny and make conversation. It’s just not funny and not helpful.
UNHELPFUL STATEMENTS #3: “Just wait until they’re teenagers!”
Listen, I haven’t slept in 5 years or gone to the bathroom alone. My body has been a constant jungle gym and food dispenser for my children. To then assert that the teenage years will be much worse is only helpful if you are trying to get me to jump off of a building.
The teen years may very well be much more difficult. Or they may not be–I’ve talked to several parents with kids close together (and yes, even girls close together!) who said they loved their teen years. Like everything, depends on the kids and the parents. The moral of the story: It’s just not helpful or uplifting in any way.
UNHELPFUL STATEMENT #4: “Going to try for a boy/girl?”
This one is specific to parents of all one gender. With 4 girls, I get this ALL. THE. TIME. And while I know people are just curious, here is why this annoying:
First off, you can’t “try” for a specific gender unless you are doing in vitro. Otherwise, you are just “trying” for a child. Secondly, my girls complete me and in no way leave me feeling like I am missing out in life and I never want them to feel like they are somehow deficient. I know moms of boys who, rightly, feel the exact same way.
UNHELPFUL STATEMENT #5: Thinking dad is incapable of taking care of his kids on an outing
This is a statement people make through their actions, not necessarily a specific set of words. My husband encounters this almost every time he take out all the girls. He is followed around by concerned and well-meaning (pretty much always women) who are afraid that he can’t handle his task. This bothers me more than him, I think. He just comes home with his stories and laughed them off. I do not. I never get followed around like that and I’ve seen my husband in action and know he is a very capable father. So that means that he is being judged by his gender as less capable of taking care of his kids. Just like women can and do rock the workforce, leadership roles etc., dads can rock parenting.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY INSTEAD
“Great Job, Mom/Dad!”
Anyone who has ever received this from a sweet and sincere stranger while struggling with children in a store, near tears and embarrassed, knows how helpful this statement is. Mom or dad may not believe it, but it’s such a lovely boost.
After one particularly difficult Costco trip with my fours kids shortly after #4 was born, I was walking to my car, kids in tow and feeling entirely defeated after I cut my trip short when all my kids seemed to melt down at once. Unexpectedly, a woman stopped her car, rolled down the window, kindly smiled and did a thumbs up motion as she enthusiastically yelled “Good job, mom! You are doing great!” I smiled, got to my car, and proceeded to bawl my eyes out.
Throughout my entire shopping trip and the kids’ collective meltdown, I just got a ton of stares as I struggled to get all my shopping done. Again, I get that we’re a spectacle and I look like the woman who lived in a shoe, but staring just heightens parents sense of stress. Even a kind smile can mean the world to a struggling parent who is trying not to make a scene while accomplishing necessary tasks during the day.
I seem to regularly encounter sweet older women at JoAnn’s Fabrics who say this to me and every single time, I it such a boost and it really makes my day.
There are many variations to this theme:
- You’ve got a great little family!
- You are awesome!
- Hang in there, you are doing great!
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
*Note: I totally would do this. In fact, I would have to fight every instinct to not have the words “You are so tall” pass my lips upon meeting a Harlem Globetrotter or any other very tall person. This is probably why the comment “You sure have your hands full” does not bother me because I would be saying it too if I did’t have a ton of little kids.