How To Help A Parent In The Midst Of An Epic Public Meltdown

by Tori Hamilton
Originally Published: 
public tantrum
pyotr021 /iStock

Normally, when I have appointments or have to do grown-up things, I find someone to watch my kids. Being only 1 and 4-years-old, it’s not their fault that they have the attention span of goldfish. In order to avoid an embarrassing public meltdown of epic proportions, it’s better for everyone involved if my kids hang out with Grandma and eat cookies. The kids get cookies, Grandma gets cuddles, and Mommy has her hair done in peace. Win-win-win.

Until that fateful day when you can’t get a sitter. Grandma — gasp — isn’t available that day. You have to make an emergency appointment and don’t have time to arrange child care. Or, being that you were having such an extraordinarily great day, you find yourself thinking, Hey! I’m a great mom and I can do it all. How bad can it be…right?

To answer that question:

Bad. Real bad.

The Situation

A couple of weeks ago, my cell phone screen randomly exploded. It was right before a holiday weekend, and since I was having heart palpitations from even the thought of being phone-less for an entire weekend, I deemed the situation a “Class 5 Emergency.” With my two kids in tow, I rushed to the nearest cell phone provider.

Big mistake.

I was not mentally prepared for how incredibly slow that store would be or how much energy I would expend while attempting to corral my two exuberant kids.

My kids were angels for the first 15 minutes, but it all went downhill thereafter. They had quickly hit their limit for good behavior, and it was as if my little cherubs had become possessed by sugar-infused demons.

They became restless. And relentless. I was in for an epic public meltdown of unparalleled proportions.

The Embarrassing Moment

First, the big one began running around in circles, taunting the little one. My son retaliated by refusing to stay in my arms, pushing away, and screaming as if my very touch was scalding his skin. Seconds later, my son was making break for the staff room, and my 4-year-old daughter had decided that she must press every single button on the phones on display. There was obnoxious crying, tantrums, shrieks, and giggles, all amplified 1,000 times within that otherwise silent room. I looked at the cracked screen of my phone.

It had only been 16 minutes. What! Every minute felt like an eternity.

My Savior With a Pony Tail

I was almost ready to walk out that door, to throw in that metaphoric towel that we all dread metaphorically throwing. That is, until one of the older men who had been standing back watching this epic public meltdown unfold (about whom my preschooler had earlier made a not-so-quiet remark that how only girls should have ponytails) turned around.

Initially I thought he was ready to tell me off, but instead he started to tell me a story about his grandchildren and how infrequently he gets to see them. My daughter took to him instantly, coyly smiling and popping out from between my legs. It wasn’t long before he was walking around the small store with my preschooler in tow, pretending to take her picture with every single phone. She was in paparazzi heaven, and I could finally breathe again.

His small act of kindness not only lit up my daughter’s face, but the entire room. Everyone laughed at the sight of the two of them and began chatting with one another. As the awkward silence lifted and my parenting skills were no longer the focus, my embarrassment began to fade.

To this older man, I thank you for the kindness, patience, and respect that you showed to my daughter. Your actions not only helped me cope with the extra time that we had to wait, but I didn’t even lose my shit during my daughter’s emergency bathroom crisis that happened literally seconds after it was our turn.

Seriously. Thank you.

Kindness Goes a Long Way

To all of the strangers who have helped my family while in public, thank you.

Thank you to the bank account manager who let my kids trash her office and eat all of her candy so that I could sign some urgent paperwork.

Thank you to the mom I don’t know at my daughter’s hour-long gymnastics class. She took my screaming toddler for a long walk while I, flushed with the embarrassment, took a moment to gather myself.

Thank you to my doctor who didn’t say a word as I rocked my crying son in his car seat with my foot as she completed my physical exam.

Thank you to the entire grocery store that has been subjected to the most awful newborn screeches known to man, on multiple occasions, even though I fed my baby right before leaving the house.

Thank you to my aunt who at a large family gathering told me to take the blanket off my flailing, breastfeeding baby.

Parenting in Public Sure Ain’t Easy

Parenting isn’t easy. Parenting in public definitely isn’t easy.

It’s not easy, but it is much more manageable when instead of seeing a stranger’s look of disdain, you are met with a reassuring smile. If you find yourself out in public, watching a mom dragging her screaming toddler out of a store, don’t assume that she is a bad mother.

Don’t assume that the child is a menace to society. And please don’t stare judgmentally at the scene unfolding. The mom is embarrassed enough.

Instead, go offer her some help. Carry the diaper bag she’s holding. Help her with her groceries. Tell her toddler a funny joke. Most importantly, tell her that she is doing just fine, that we all go through it.

Go ahead, make that mom’s day. Be a hero.

This article was originally published on