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Child having a tantrum in the grocery store while his parents look on in the background

Judging Moments

By: Z. Andrew Jatau MS, LPC

Most of us have done this before. We see a parent in a store trying to wrangle their screaming and defiant children and we think, My kids would NEVER behave like that! We come to a quick conclusion about the type of parent that person is, and we envision the chaos that must take place in their home.

I did it a few weeks ago as I was waiting in line at a store. A mother was behind me as her two disobedient children were crying and complaining, while also snatching coveted items off the shelves and throwing them into their shopping cart. The mother screamed directives, which went largely ignored, until it looked like she finally gave up and let them do whatever they wanted. I immediately thought, They’ll never learn if you’re not consistent and I bet the kids get to do whatever they want at home. My initial reaction was to judge the mother and her parenting style rather than empathize with her situation.

I’ve noticed that we usually judge the parent rather than the moment. I only experienced five minutes of that mother’s life and had already made up my mind about who she was as a person and a parent. There might have been a multitude of unknown stressors in her life contributing to her reaction in the moment; maybe her kids missed their nap that day and were uncharacteristically defiant. Her situation has happened to most of us before. My wife and I have had moments when we weren’t perfect parents publicly, and it would be unfair if we were judged solely on those instances.

A few months ago when my parents were visiting, we went out to dinner to celebrate my mother’s birthday. We usually never go out for dinners because it conflicts with Keira’s bedtime and keeping her up past 7 p.m. is risky business. Even before getting to the restaurant, my wife and I knew that Keira was “on the verge” – meaning that while she appeared calm on the surface, one small trigger could send her into an inconsolable state.

As we were waiting for our meal, I was doing whatever I could to keep her from crossing over. My last resort was to let her play a game on my phone for the majority of the time. As I looked around, I thought about how easy it would be for someone to take a snapshot of this moment and make judgments about what type of parents we were. They could assume that we allow electronics to babysit our kids or that we are distant parents, and it would be unfair since they have no clue what was going on behind the scenes.

Whenever I find myself making assumptions about someone’s parenting, I remind myself that it is just a moment in time, and it’s not my place to think or say anything, especially without knowing the whole story. Parenting is hard without the shaming that accompanies it. Parenting in public is even harder. So, let’s make it easier on ourselves and others by responding with empathy and kindness rather than judgment.

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the founder of Mylemarks, an online company that develops social-emotional resources to use with kids and teens. Through that company, he creates content such as digital downloads, workbooks, and children’s books. He’s an adjunct professor in the Human Services department at Old Dominion University, and serves as the Fatherhood Consultant for CHKD’s Dads in Action program. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, cooking, and listening to music.