I got off early one hot Friday afternoon. I picked up my daughter from daycare, ate lunch with my husband, and headed to that Mecca of millennial women everywhere — Target. I love Target. My mother will tell you in a heartbeat that she doesn’t understand why I love it so much. I just shrug. I can’t help it. I love me some Target. It was miserably hot outside and I had just gotten paid, so Target seemed like a nice, indoor activity to entertain my little one (and myself) and spend some of my hard-earned money.
As soon as we walked into the double doors, I heard some shouting. I saw a woman and her two tween children standing right by the cart return and gaping at something across the store. I turned to see a harried woman frantically trying to calm her teenage son who was having some sort of meltdown. The boy was perhaps 13 or 14 years old and from across the room, you could feel the tension radiating through everyone there. The poor mother seemed to be sweating bullets as she talked softly to the boy, trying to soothe his mood. He wasn’t budging. He was completely beside himself, but she kept her cool and kept trying to calm him. The spectacle subsided as the mother finally just left the store with the yelling boy in tow.
As I passed the woman with her two children, I heard her say to her son, “If you ever, EVER acted like that in a store, I’d send you away.” The boy looked at his mother like she had spouted tentacles. “What do you mean send me away?” he asked her, eyes wide. “Some sort of home or something. A place for people like THAT.” They went on about their shopping and I went on about mine. But I was mad. Indignant. Not at the woman whose teenager was flipping his lid. But at the woman who saw this as a teachable moment to scare her children into “acting right.”
My mother and grandmother are big advocates of “acting right.” I was raised on a death-stare that could come across the grocery aisle and straighten me up in a heartbeat. I was raised to behave a certain way in certain spaces. I’m trying to raise my daughter to be a decent and polite human being, not scare her into thinking that my love is conditional upon her behavior.
It’s an uphill battle at times, this trying-to-teach-kids-to-be-decent-humans gig. I try to consistently and positively reinforce good habits with praise. “Yes ma’am” and “yes sir” are appropriate because of where we live (in rural Georgia) but “please,” “thank you,” and other kind words are always in fashion too. This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t call people buttholes sometimes. Because, boy, this child calls a spade a spade. And children, as a rule, do tend to say the first thing that comes to mind, no matter the situation.
But what I am not raising my daughter to do is judge people whose circumstances you couldn’t possibly know. I believe that the mother with the screaming child may have been attempting to cope with her child’s special needs. Sometimes special needs aren’t immediately obvious to those of us who don’t have a child with those needs. But the situation, and the child’s behavior, were certainly not an instance of just not “acting right.” Clearly there was a lot more going on here.
Some children with special needs have no control over their emotions and some situations are more overwhelming to them than others. The mother of this very upset child was trying desperately to calm him and avoid a scene. I’m sure she’s been through this before and felt the eyes of judgment on her more than once. She wasn’t asking for help or sympathy or pity. She was simply doing her best to manage an unmanageable situation.
Unfortunately, you can’t find compassion in the dollar aisle at Target. Compassion comes from a place of understanding, of relating, of patience, of grace, and of love. Everyone with a child has been embarrassed by their behavior at some point. Try to relate to that struggling parent. You’ve been there. We all have. It may have been compounded by special needs in this particular scenario, but every child is capable of making their parents want to sink through the floor from time to time. Offer a helping hand, a kind word, whatever. It’s time for us, as parents, to learn how to treat other parents with the same compassion we expect for ourselves.
In other words, y’all need to learn how to act right.
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