…means more than simply applauding or criticizing parents as you see them at the store/park/doctor’s office.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had some complete stranger come up to me and say “I am just so pleased to see a parent who knows what they are doing!” or “Your children are so well behaved, good job!”.
I know they mean to compliment me, I get that they mean well, but I am always ticked off by their intrusion.
First of all, if my child is screaming his head off as I desperately drag him from the toy isle at Target it’s not necessarily because of some flaw in my parenting skills. It may simply be a bad day to have gone to Target. Much of my children’s good behavior stems from my ability to tell when taking them somewhere will end horribly, and then avoiding the trip. Some trips can’t be avoided, and even the most “perfect” parent will have to shoulder hoist their kids and race from the store in shame eventually.
Secondly, if my child is well behaved when you see them, your compliment to me feels like a derisive criticism of the poor parent whose kid melted down in the Barbie aisle when she was told she didn’t need another pink sparkling tiara. I don’t want to join you in criticizing that parent. The only difference between her and me is luck. I don’t need to add to her already stressful existence by pretending that I am somehow more capable than she is because I managed to avoid the Barbie aisle entirely, or because I was able to make the birthday gift trip on a good nap day, instead of a no nap day.
Parenting is really hard work, and even at the best of times your kids can derail any plans you may have made. Normally quiet children can explode and throw themselves on the floor with little or no warning. You can train your children until you are blue in the face, they will still misbehave somewhere, someday. It’s developmental. It’s brain chemistry. It’s inevitable.
So please don’t thank me for “taking the time to parent my kids.” Most parents take the time to parent their kids. If you simply can’t refrain from comment, try complimenting my children, not me. “You two are behaving so well today!” would do the trick. After all, they are the ones who aren’t screaming on the floor, they deserve the praise. Better yet, show my kids how to behave and go ask the parent with the screamer if you can carry a bag for them, or open a door.
Show them some support, be a part of their village, and don’t judge.