From the moment you conceive a child (or begin the process of adoption), you permanently wear an invisible sign that tells everyone you ever meet, “Give me advice, please.”
Based on the amount of unsolicited advice I’ve been given over the last decade, I am assuming this invisible sign is written in super bright neon lights. I can’t be certain.
As a recovering people pleaser, I have some unexplainable compulsion to listen to every single piece of advice I never asked for or wanted. Especially when I first became a mom.
I may not have followed everything I was told, but I somehow let myself to feel guilty for what I chose not to follow.
Though I have a million (that’s an exact number) examples that prove this is a terrible plan, one story stands out among the rest.
It was the time I hugged a stranger in the Target parking lot.
There are a large number of parenting styles to choose from, and it's safe to assume that I pretty much am the worst at following any of them well…I definitely am grateful for some direction in my journey. So I am not discounting the wisdom in reading books.
But some styles just don’t work for some families.
Which brings to me to my Target parenting debacle.
To paint the picture, I had a 2 year old and a 6 month old at the store with me, and I was trying to buy some large plastic bins to organize my house. These gigantic bins meant my 2 year old could not sit in the cart. Normally a pretty easy to handle toddler (don’t worry, my not-so-easy-to-handle toddlers came later and with a vengeance), he decided he wanted to go look at the toys.
And ran off to look at the toys.
I was trying to implement a parenting style that many of my friends used, which insisted a child obey the first time you give a command. Even as I type the words, it is comical that anyone would expect a two year old to respond well to a parental demand, much less a child who just spotted the toy aisle in Target. However, I was new in this toddler journey, and even though the style didn’t really sit well with me, it seemed to work ok for my friends….so I ignored my instincts.
When my son did not cheerfully return to the exciting plastic bin aisle (as the book suggested he would) and instead ran off to the toy aisle (PREPOSTEROUS!) I did exactly what the book suggested (because there was no way I was going to raise a serial killer)…I left the store posthaste….carrying a crying, screaming, and kicking toddler while pushing a crying baby (can we please address why crying is contagious….if one kid starts crying, they all have to join in. WHY???)
A once reasonably sized Target became 100 miles long when I had to make the walk of shame through the store.
I made it all the way out to the car, sweating from embarrassment and on the verge of tears. I loaded my still-crying kids into their car seats and turned around to see a woman standing beside my car.
History of unsolicited advice told me this woman was here to correct my worst parenting moment up until that point. And I was mortified. MOR.TI.FIED.
And then, in the greatest act of kindness imaginable, she simply said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
And then, in possibly the most awkward social interaction of my life, I gave her the biggest hug and bawled my eyes out. To a stranger.
I still cry every time I think of this story because this angel of a woman is exactly what I needed most in that moment.
And the experience taught me a huge lesson (besides how awesome a small act of kindness can be). Sometimes the book (whatever THE book happens to be) doesn’t translate into real life. And sometimes the book doesn’t actually work well for my family or yours.
Because honestly? That was the first (and last, actually) time my son ever threw a fit in Target. Because he just wasn’t a kid who threw tantrums. My baby (who isn’t actually a baby)?? Oh my, that kid will throw a tantrum over anything. But my first son? He just didn’t (no credit to my parenting; it's just his personality). So my overreaction to the running off to the toy aisle was just unnecessary.
I am all for teaching kids appropriate boundaries, and I am all about finding ways that work best for each of your kids. Believe me, I’ve probably read every how-to parenting book on the market and have learned a lot from all of them. But no one knows or cares for your child like you do, so your instincts should always trump books.
So what does a Target trip today look like, a few years removed from my worst Target experience ever??
To be honest, I try to avoid taking my kids at all. Shopping trips without kids are so much easier, faster, and cheaper without kids. So my preference is to go alone. But that isn't always a possibility.
When I must take my kids, I set them up for success. I stop by the snack bar for some popcorn and a slushie (ok, and a Diet Coke for me). Because food and sugar make every shopping experience a little easier and a lot more fun. (And if it’s a Super Target, I stop by the bakery for a free cookie.)
To be clear, it’s not like I’ve eliminated tantrums from my life. I haven’t. Like not even 1%. I mean, I am in my 30’s and throw a tantrum on occasion. But, for the most part, I have eliminated parenting from a place that isn’t me. Through trial and error (lots of error), I’ve found what works and what doesn’t. My methods probably won’t win me any parenting awards, and I still suffer from embarrassment on occasion. But when I’m given unsolicited advice, I just smile and nod….and remember that if giving my kids a little sugar prevents me from sobbing into the shoulder of a stranger, it is definitely worth it. A million times over.