The Silent Parent Support Network
My lovely wife forwarded me a link to an article she read last night. The message was blank other than that; no additional commentary needed. She knew I would “get it” as soon as I clicked on it.
The column was by Matt Walsh on his blog and sarcastically titled “Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents.” To sum it up, a young man was critical of a mother whose little one was behaving very badly in the store, and Matt used the occasion to criticize the young man and also praise the mother for being calm, cool and collected in the face of both her child’s misbehavior and the ignorance of the young man.
If you’re a parent, you’ve been that mother at one time or another. And if you haven’t yet, you will be – probably sooner rather than later. To most of us, the memory (or prospect) of having to deal with your child’s meltdown in public is horrifying. It’s bad enough when children do it at home, but out where everyone can see? Ghastly! It can be embarrassing (and frustrating or even anger-inducing) as complete strangers walk by with that look of disapproval in their eyes. But sometimes it’s even worse. You may be forced to endure ignorant comments like those of the young man in Matt’s story or be lectured by people who somehow believe that right now at this very moment would be a perfect time to enlighten you on how you should be handling your child’s tantrum.
In this particular situation, Matt lent both his verbal and physical support to this mother. But the truth is that sort of thing rarely happens. You are far more likely to come face-to-face with the ignorant than the helpful when your child decides to pay a visit Meltdown Central in the middle of a public venue. But that doesn’t mean that you’re alone in that moment.
The more crowded the place, the more likely it is there will be other parents there as well. Parents who have themselves been in your shoes and who have felt the same way you do at that very moment. They won’t be judging you, they’ll be rooting for you. They’ll be empathizing with your struggle. In that moment, they will be mentally and emotionally reaching out to you and holding you up as you struggle to get your little one back under control.
I call these people “The Silent Parent Support Network” (SPSN). They’re all around and you see them everyday, but you’ve probably never noticed them. So how can you find them? See those people going on about their business and pretending not to notice your child’s meltdown? They’re probably members. Right now, the last thing you need is people gawking at the spectacle. What you wish for most in the world right now (aside from an end to the kicking and screaming, of course) is for no one else to see what’s happening. SPSN members know that, and although they can clearly hear and see what’s going on, they’re going to pretend they can’t for your sake.
Take a moment and listen to the silence around you too. Hear all those people not commenting on your child’s behavior or how you’re handling it? Hear how they’re keeping whatever advice or commentary they otherwise might offer to themselves instead? The last thing on earth you need right now is some stranger telling you what you’re doing wrong – even if it is everything, and they know that.
Every once in a great while, SPSN members will slip out of anonymity. Maybe they’ll walk by and give you just the hint of smile to let you know they too understand what’s going on right now. Maybe they’ll offer a word of encouragement or empathy as they pass by. Or maybe like Matt, they’ll speak up or try to lend a hand in cleaning up the chaos your child is leaving in the wake. In that moment, you’ll gain strength from the network as you remember you’re not the first nor will you be the last parent whose child will decide to test boundaries in the middle of a crowded store.
Members of The Silent Parent Support Network come in all shapes and sizes too. Whether it’s the knowing grandparent, the fellow parent, the empathetic young couple hopeful to have children of their own one day, or even a teenager with some babysitting experience under her belt; they’re all part of the network: young, old, tall, short, and every color of the rainbow. They’re all here for you. They’re always looking for new members, and they’d like to recruit you too.
So the next time you’re in a store and you come upon a child tornado in progress, share a smile or a word of encouragement. Be a Matt Walsh in that moment if you can. But even if you’re unable to muster the courage to reach out to a stranger in that moment, you can punch your member card by passing right on by without making comment or judgment. And the next time you find yourself at the touchdown point for your very own personal familial tornado, don’t forget the SPSN is all around you.