It's funny that sometimes we are afraid to interact with other people, both strangers and friends.
As a society, we are thankfully becoming increasingly aware of how words have impact, and how differences are something to celebrate rather than judge. Still, with parenting--and even more specifically, with motherhood--people can feel too free to offer their opinions of a situation they might know nothing about.
I remember one low moment in particular when I had my generally hyper child with me in the supermarket and we had been having that kind of dance all afternoon where she's just being an energetic kid, and I was tired and very pregnant with my youngest. All afternoon we had run errands and we had made it work, but in this one instance at the check-out line, I said to her through too tight lips that she needs to stop running away from me while I'm trying to finish up our shopping. The woman behind me overheard my frustrated, mildly angry tone of voice and shot me the nastiest look. It shrunk me.
On the other hand, once when we were in a nearly identical situation, the stranger behind me started asking my daughter sweet, appropriate questions at eye level. She kept her entertained and standing next to me by asking her, for example, what grade she was in and if she liked being a big sister (my youngest now born, and sitting in the shopping cart on this trip). She made my heart swell with gratitude.
The exact same situation handled with intentional kindness can make all the difference in other people's lives.
Mothers of young children can be overwhelmed and raw feeling, but there's also an ever-present joie de vivre during this season of life that's unmatched. Following are a few tips, from my mother-to-young-kids heart to any stranger or friend who might be behind me in the grocery store line.
Let's begin with words we can usually refrain from offering:
1. Take a breath/calm down.
Do you know how to make a frustrated person more frustrated, or an angry person more angry? Tell her to calm down.
2. You look tired.
Seriously?! Unless this is immediately followed by an offer to come over and watch my kids this second so I can nap or put my feet up, don't say this. Ever.
3. Constant unsolicited advice.
There are pieces of advice given at appropriate times from friends that are genuinely helpful. There have been several instances when someone near to me offered an idea and I thought, "Why didn't I think of that?" This said, there are multiple, correct ways to raise children, and what works for one kid and family may or may not work for another child and parent. In short, butt out.
And let's say these things more please:
1. I'm here to listen.
Rather than offering advice, offer a listening heart.
2. You look beautiful.
This is so uplifting to be told and to say, too.
(It means even more when we tell other people they're beautiful while they're doing ordinary, everyday things and being who they are naturally.)
3. You're doing a great job.
It seems all too easy to point out when a parent has apparently failed, yet we all can use a kind compliment now and again.
On one occasion I was getting my weekly allergy shots and, as usual, I had my daughter along. (This was before the birth of my youngest, and when my oldest was that antsy, extremely active toddler.) The nurse told me I always do a wonderful job with my daughter. At the time, I wasn't feeling so supermom-ish, and her words took me by surprise. She stopped what she was doing, looked me in the eyes, and repeated that the staff are continually in awe of my relationship with my child. This bolstered my tired mommy-heart much more than she knew.
Because the bottom line with parenting is that we are trying our best, and it's truly amazing how a few gentle words of encouragement, or taking the time to listen rather than speak, can have a positive impact on both the lives of the hard-working mothers around us and on their beautiful children.