I was in line at the doctor’s office this week, trying desperately to juggle my toddler, purse, and the clipboard of endless insurance and medical forms when I saw her.
She was wearing a hot pink sweatshirt, black leggings, and her hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail. She didn’t have wings, but she was pushing a stroller loaded with a diaper bag, snacks, and a sippy cup.
We made eye contact when I turned to switch my 30 pound screaming son from my right to my left hip. While he clearly didn’t realize how important this appointment was for us to help secure the services he needs, somehow I just knew she did.
And that’s when he broke free. Somehow my little Houdini wiggled himself out of my arms and took off. Suddenly, my angel stepped out of her place in line and gently caught him by the hand just as my purse and the clipboard fell to the ground. She simply smiled at him and calmly led him over to her stroller and in the most inviting voice said, “Do you see the baby?”
She bought me enough time to gather all the papers and contents that exploded out of my over packed purse and even check us in for our appointment. After I finished, I quickly rushed to her, tears already clouding my vision, and before I could say, “thank you,” she just smiled and said, “It’s okay, I’ve been there.”
At that moment, those three words were the best words I’ve ever heard.
There was no judgement. No look of pity. No head shake or raised eyebrow. We both smiled as I scooped up my son to head down the long hallway to wait for our appointment.
Like most parents, I’ve received my share of unsolicited advice from family members, friends, and even strangers. Sometimes the advice comes in the form of a text, an unexpected comment, or even just a look. And when you have a child with sensory issues like my son and routinely have to deal with tantrums, you get used to people looking at you or volunteering their parenting advice.
My angel didn’t do that. She could have. Trust me, I was doing it all wrong. On this particular day, I planned not one, but two doctor’s appointments. And I chose to take the first available afternoon appointment that meant cutting naptime short. Instead of telling me something like, “You should consider packing an extra snack when you have to stand in line,” or “I think he needs to be disciplined,” she just smiled at me and said those three precious words that every parent needs to hear sometimes.
I read an amazing blog recently by Stephanie Giese about her journey as an adoptive mom. Like so many of us, she’s become accustomed to receiving comments from onlookers. I believe most people who share their advice really intend to help, but when you’re in that moment of dealing with a meltdown – and on the verge of having one yourself – hearing what you should be doing just makes matters worse. It only confirms those awful feelings of failure that are not only untrue but are also unproductive. When faced with this, Stephanie responds with, “I’ll keep that in mind.” I just love that.
Why is it that when we see a mom or dad struggling with a child, we too often pass judgment on them? Have you never been in a grocery store with a toddler at or around mealtime or naptime? Have you never dared to take a child on just one more errand when you knew you were pushing your luck?
I’ve been there.
I’ve been there when your son decides to drop his pants in the church nursery.
I’ve been there when your daughter goes to give the bride a hug and has chocolate all over her hands.
I’ve been there when you have no other option other than trusting a complete stranger in a hot pink sweatshirt to watch your child for two minutes so you can check him in for yet another doctor’s appointment.
I’ve been there.
So from now on, I promise to never extend another piece of parenting advice. (I’ve never been good at it anyway.) But what I will do the next time I see you struggling with your toddler is tell you that you’re not alone. Because I’ve been there.
But if you hear me say, “I’ll keep that in mind,” you may want to stop talking.