Parking Lot Pathos

Sep 19, 2013

It was a recent blistering hot afternoon.  A weary mother marched across the discount store parking lot with her three little boys.  She firmly grasped the hands of two of the stair-step tykes while the third trailed solemnly behind.

The two boys whose hands she held howled in complaint as she spoke to them seriously under her breath.  Noticeably, no bags of purchases accompanied this small group.  The purpose of the trip had obviously been aborted while the beleaguered mother dealt with the misbehavior of her sons.

A friend of mine observed this scene.  As she described it, I was waiting for her next comment to be something like this: “Someone needs to teach that mother how to handle her children.”

Imagine my pleasure when instead she commented:  “When I saw how they were struggling, I sent good thoughts to that mother and those little boys.” 

I loved hearing about her thought investment in this little family.  It’s easy to form judgments about what parents should or shouldn’t do in these circumstances, and to puff up with pride that we would surely handle things better.  And yet most of us who are parents recognize that it might have been us on display that hot afternoon.  Parents give up their pride when they know that at any moment, their children may embarrass them publicly.

I would want to congratulate that besieged mother for a series of choices she made.  First, she decided handling her family was more important than any item she planned to buy that day.  She made her kids’ behavior the first priority.

Secondly, she took control of an embarrassing situation in a masterful way, getting kids safely out of the store and teaching them about her expectations without subjecting them to public humiliation.

I would like to fill the world with people like my friend who witnessed this little drama and responded with empathy and support rather than judgment and criticism.  Raising kids is tough under the best circumstances.  The support of a caring stranger is a gift every parent needs.