My friend left her three little ones with me one morning. And suddenly, I remembered what it was like to: wipe the 31st runny nose for the morning, change nappies, wash hands and little fingers that seemed to get into everything, dive for precious things before they hit the floor… You get the picture.
I was also very glad when their mum returned one hour and thirty three minutes later because frankly…I was exhausted.
Their mum took them home with her for the next few years, and I went to the local shopping centre to relax and enjoy a Chai Latte.
As I luxuriated in the froth of my latte, another young mum went past with her two little ones; the elder in the stroller and the younger one, probably about two and a half, throwing a tantrum behind the stroller.
The mum calmly, gently and firmly took control of the situation. She whispered something into her now calmer daughter, and continued walking…with a quiet child who was not only settled but followed happily.
I felt the urge to run up to the mum and say ‘Well done!’ But the comfort of my Chai overwhelmed me and I continued to sit and sip.
When it was too late to be of any use, my conscience pricked me and reminded me of those times that my own little ones had thrown tantrums in public. Those were inevitably the same days that the car played up, one of the children lost a shoe, four litres of milk landed on the floor, and it was the last day to pay the electricity bill–and payday wasn’t until Friday.
On one particularly rotten day, we managed to get ourselves kicked out of both the library and the local store in less than two hours. Some well-meaning person in the store had plenty of words about how unruly my children were. As if I didn’t know that.
Later that afternoon I discovered that the main perpetrator of the mischief had yet another fever and accompanying burst ear-drum. So, I ended up at home with sick kids who I had to pack back into the car when they had just gone to sleep so I could pick up their big sister from school, and later, repeat the ordeal to collect their dad from work.
I don’t remember the words of advice that well-meaning person gave. But I know that as I sat exhausted, frustrated, angry and depressed, I wished that some-one would wave a magic wand and give me five minutes of peace and quiet and take all of my troubles away.
Funny, isn’t it, how we can all be parenting experts until we have at least three children of our own. I maintain that nobody who has parented more than two children ever sets themselves up as a parenting expert.
Yet, the advice flows doesn’t it? And me – I’m as guilty as anybody at handing it out.
So, instead of offering advice, I want to give a collective ‘SORRY’ to all of the parents I’ve judged unfairly, neglected to cheer when they were doing a good job, or felt too shy to offer 15 minutes time-out for a mum while I watched her two-year-old at playgroup.
On behalf of all of us who didn’t encourage you when we had the opportunity, here is some instant encouragement.
And for those of you who, like me, need to practice to be more encouraging, here are some ideas for what to say in the future.
You’re doing a great job!
Way to go!
Be gentle on yourself!
You don’t have to smile if you’re feeling awful on the inside!
One day soon there will be more sleep!
Would you like me to hold your baby for a few minutes while you finish your cuppa?
How would you like me or my teenager to baby-sit this Friday night while you both go out for dessert?
Who knows? Maybe we can change our local communities into child and parent friendly communities: by encouraging rather than judging; by baking biscuits with the neighbourhood children to give their mum a morning off; by doing the dishes when we’re visiting; by being realistic about life and it’s challenges; by standing alongside other parents instead of criticizing them; by reminding ourselves of what it was like to be tired with sick and cranky kids; and by standing up for parents of young children in our local planning committees.
We might just find ourselves sipping Lattes without the guilt – and discovering young friends in our old age.
Originally published in The Lutheran as ‘Perfect Parenting’