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My Judgemental Mind - Two Dads in the Supermarket

By Yvette Vignando - 6th November 2010

Last night I went shopping for groceries at 7.30 p.m. Not my favourite way to spend a Friday night. I felt a little guilty because that meant my husband had to cook the dinner for everyone at 7 p.m. when he got home and I knew Mr 8 would be starving too. On the other hand - why should I feel guilty? I had worked all day and driven children to activities and was now shopping for a dinner party on Saturday night - guilt trip over.

But then I saw a dad - I'll call him Mr Cool. Mr Cool was dressed in a black, cool kind of way, about 30 years old and trailing along behind him was a 3 year old boy clutching his teddy bear and sobbing. Mr Cool was striding through the supermarket and Mr 3 was struggling to keep up with him. Then Mr Cool said in a voice that echoed across the billion lanes of the supermarket "I will choose the dinner and you WILL eat and you WILL enjoy it and then you are going to bed". Mr Cool promptly snatched some ready made pasta sauce and tortellini off the refrigerator shelf and marched on, toddler still sobbing and half tripping as he tried to keep up.

It wasn't the words that disturbed me so much - it was the frightening tone of voice. I've insisted on my kids eating some of their dinner before, I have refused to concede to their shopping demands, I have been cranky with them in a supermarket, and I'm sure I've also raised my voice in a supermarket - I am a human being. I have to say I never shopped with a toddler for his dinner at 7.30 pm on a Friday night - but then I was never a single dad. Maybe Mr Cool is.

But my judgemental mind when straight into overdrive: Why isn't that little boy in bed? Why is his Dad shopping with him at 7.30 p.m.? He should have eaten by now! Poor little man can hardly keep up with his dad walking at that pace. And so on. Then I thought of all the perfectly good reasons why Mr Cool could be cranky, upset, worried, suffering and I knew that a late dinner and a grumpy dad would not be enough to cause too much damage to that little boy. It was the tone of the voice - the menacing, overbearing, loud and stony cold tones that sent shivers down my spine - it made me worry about what would happen at home. No, I can not forgive Mr Cool - call me judgemental but I can't, and so I worried all the way through the supermarket. I worried so much - that's how thin-skinned my heart is.

Eight supermarket aisles later and I was standing in a queue for the only open cash register. Loud laughing and general chaos approached from behind. It was another dad. Dad number 2 was also aged about 30 but this time dressed in a uniform of orange and navy blue - I think he was an electrical contractor of some kind working for the local council. He had a full trolley, a toddler boy with dummy in the seat of the trolley and a 4 year old boy standing beside the trolley balancing a packet of sultanas on his head.** Yes they should have been in bed, had dinner (maybe they had) and not be in a supermarket at - I guess it was 8.00 p.m. by then. Maybe he was a single dad or maybe his wife was at home with a new baby.

But this second dad was laughing and joking with his boys, talking about the contents of the trolley with them, cajoling them into thinking that shopping was a fun experience -  at the end of the working day when he'd rather be sitting on the lounge with beer in hand relaxing. He was my supermarket hero of the night.

I'm very self-conscious about writing this post. I absolutely know that every parent has a crappy day from time to time and I totally believe that being judgemental about another's parenting style is SO dangerous. I'm a parenting blogger and publisher and I'm anxious not to give the impression that this makes me a better parent; there are overweight doctors and dentists with tooth decay and there are parenting publishers who make big mistakes with their kids sometimes.

But there was something about the quality of in-the-supermarket-Mr Cool's tone that sliced my heart in two and made me want to scoop up that little boy with his teddy and take him home to bed with a dose of Dr Seuss and a cuddle. I hope he is okay. I really do. I'm still thinking about him.

** I did offer the second dad my place in the cash register queue but he flat out refused - said he was fine and seemed to be having too much fun to want to cut the experience short.

image freedigitalphotos.net Salvatore Vuono

Comments (4)

guilt and good parenting go hand in hand

Yvette thank you for this post. It made me think of my own shopping experiences both good and bad with my own precious girls (4yo and 3yo).

Sadly I could relate to both sides of the article, that is, I have lost my temper with my children (whilst shopping) when after a very tiring day they had been running around the supermarket (like headless chickens).
I think we are all human and all have days of low tolerance but it is how we deal with it.
Now I make sure (when possible) that I shop without my children in Supermarkets or places they would be bored.
However, in saying this with careful planning or creative thinking it can be made into an enjoyable experience (like that of the down-to-earth dad).
If you involve the kids in the shopping,give them items to find it can be fun.

I think it is so important how we engage with our children and that our loving interactions far outweigh the times where there might be friction.
My husband and I make sure our children know how much they are loved each day

ZoeyMartin's picture

Don't judge me!

I think judgement has been demonised in recent times. Yes, no one likes it when somebody makes a whole lot of assumptions based on a single moment of time. But that doesn't mean judgement is bad. In fact the use of good judgement used to be a good thing. If you have an opinion about something you are making a judgement of one kind or another.

And I'm sure people's opinion or judgement of me in the supermarket would depend on the day! Sometimes I'm an awesome, fun, engaged parent and other times I'm just a bit cranky and exasperated. But I think it's fair to say that I should be judged not on what I'm like on a day when everything is going right but on that day when everything is hard, that is a true measure of what kind of parent I am. What happens on the worst day of your life is the measure of your character, not the other way around.

So I don't think it's a bad thing to have an opinion about somebody's harsh tone of voice with their little one, or the fact that they seemed completely disconnected from their child's obvious distress. And as far as tone goes, I'm with you. A certain tone of voice is scary for adults, let alone children. Somebody can easily lose the plot with their kids and not be that scary. Actually, the last time I lost my temper with Riley and raised my voice. She laughed at me. I'm obviously doing something right.

SarahLiebetrau's picture

Supermarket Dads

Oh this happens to me all the time! I don't think any of us can avoid judging people based on how we see them behave. You have pointed out that we don't know the full story in either scenarios, but we never will. And what I get from this blog post is a compassionate observation rather than judgement per se. You feel for the child, because you can see he's unhappy. And regardless of the extenuating circumstances, it's normal to feel compassion for a child in distress. Children are so powerless in our society, they are only as content and happy as their situation allows, and it's largely beyond their control.

I saw a woman swearing, shouting, and smacking a small boy in the supermarket. People stopped and stared and she turned around and gave them a serve too. She was saying awful things to the boy. My heart leapt into my mouth and I froze. I so wanted to intervene but didn't know what to say that would be of use to either mother or child. I was also frightened of what she might do to me or my child if I said anything, as my child was a reasonably small baby at the time and I had her in a Baby Bjorn. I still don't know what I could/should have done.

It's right and good that others in society notice and comment when we see children in distress. This doesn't automatically convert into 'judgement' on the parent or caregiver, but raising questions about why they aren't in bed, noticing that the dad is walking too fast, and speaking harshly, are what you saw. The next step to noticing and commenting is helping to find solutions, which is what you are doing with this blog, campaigning for emotional intelligence to be valued more highly and to be taught so that people can be equipped to hopefully have more contentment in their lives and their children's lives.

I suppose seeing that second dad with the kids, all three looking calm and content, was a good reminder to you that it wasn't so much the time of day they were at the shops, but the level of care you saw being given to the child/children in question that was the point of difference. And it's true that one encounter doesn't tell you the full story, you don't know what they do when they go home, but it's fair to say that most people do try to display more emotional control in public than they would at home, so it's not unreasonable to wonder, if he is speaking to the child that way in public, what would go on at home.

There's nothing you can or could have done for that one child (if indeed anything needed doing, it's possible that it was a rare transgression within an otherwise loving relationship), but still, it's useful to use that particular scenario as an example of why emotional intelligence is so crucial to the way we deal with each other and children.

Similarly, perhaps the dad who seemed happy does go home and behave badly, we don't know. All we do know is that there, then, it made you happy to see a parent relating so well to their children. And it's fine and normal for you to judge it as such.

It does concern me that if we all tiptoe around too much, so worried about seeming as though we're up on our high horses and that others will perceive us as 'judgemental', the kids being treated badly are the ones who will miss out while the parents are protected. It's possible to feel compassion for both the child being mistreated, and the adult who clearly, at that moment, has neither the skills nor the inclination to act differently. It's also important to keep talking about this, even at the risk of seeming preachy.

MLDB's picture

I am feeling pretty guilty

I am feeling pretty guilty right now ...I didn't use my nicest voice when I spoke to my children in the trolley yesterday or before that when we walked down the street ...they whinged about wanting food & being hungry (was after their lunch early afternoon) .
It was the lollies near the craft aisle..that started them.
I was inpatient & rude. I let one trail behind me as I ignored his pleas.

His favourite is I am so tired ( ...I am really really hungry 2nd)

Then we went into Coles
I was positively horrid when J wanted to pee , I'd already taken his brother S, 10 mins into my Coles shopping . J said he had been at home and didn't need to go ...never trust 4 yr olds.

I am thankful they are very forgiving and they did enjoy the cookies.

I will be more resourceful in the future, take my own snacks, remember to go to the toilet first { I usually do ;) both but was rushed & stressed }
It's not okay to menace our children ...I guess we don't know the reasons behind this Dad but I hope for his boy's sake it was just a one off bad night.

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