When I could have used encouragement, I received criticism.
When I could have used prayer, I received judgment.
When I could have used understanding, I received accusations.
Late this afternoon, my daughter Rachel came to me asking if we could 'go somewhere.' She was a little tired of being cooped up at home. I had a couple things I have been wanting to find, so we headed to the store.
I had Noah with me as well, and in recent weeks he has developed a dislike for shopping carts. He's two, after all, and would rather wander aimlessly discovering all the treasures on store shelves than to be strapped into a cart. I have found that letting him sit in the bigger part of the cart versus the traditional seating spot has helped.
Except for today.
We didn't get very far into the store and he was screaming to get out of the cart. I calmly, yet sternly, looked him in the eye and told him he needed to stop screaming. He stopped briefly, then resumed his wailing. I was going to round the corner, accept this toddler tantrum as defeat and head out of the store to go home.
But that's when I heard it.
The voice of an older woman on the other side of the aisle spouting, "Some people shouldn't be parents."
I was startled. I was dumbfounded. And I was hurt.
I approached her and said, "Excuse me, did you have something you wanted to say to me?"
The woman, obviously shocked by the confrontation, attempted to walk away while telling me I should take my child home for a nap. As I began to respond to her judgmental statement, she continued to reprimand me as she rushed off, blurting something about raising four children herself and the voice of criticism drifted through the stale retail air.
Normally, I would probably just let those statements roll off my back and tell myself the woman has no basis for her accusations.
But instead, I buckled my kids in the van and sobbed all the way home.
Because frankly, this week has been a tough one to be a parent.
To sit in a surgeon's office and plan a surgery for your two-year-old that will follow with a biopsy is no picnic.
To have your son's kindergarten teacher approach you about behavior issues for the third time in two weeks is not a walk in the park.
To comfort a daughter who is heartbroken to be left off the 'guest list' of a classmate's birthday party is humbling.
So to be honest, yeah, there were times this week I didn't know if I should be a parent. Sometimes it's just plain hard. And you wonder if you're doing things right. You second-guess yourself constantly. You debate whether you can even handle it.
And the one thing you hope beyond hope is that you're not screwing it all up.
So when someone comes along and implies that you are, it is almost too much to take.
So please. Think twice before passing judgment on a mother having a 'moment' with her kids. You don't know what her week was like. You just can't know what she's been facing. Instead of a roll of your eyes, why not give her a word of encouragement.
Perhaps what's even more sad about the entire encounter is that the woman was at the store with what appeared to be her own grown daughter. Someone who may already, or someday, be a mother.
It's very likely she'll have a child throw a tantrum in public sometime, too. Will she remember the words she heard her own mother say to a complete stranger?
Maybe it won't matter. Maybe it won't come to mind at all.
But what if it does?
That woman's words ring in my head and I feel hurt. But her words may scream failure to her own child one day.
So I prayed for her. It's what I do for my children. Perhaps today God needed me to pray for someone else's too.