16 Things Every Parent of Young Children Desperately Wants You to Know
Parents of young children have more on their Mickey Mouse-shaped plates than ever before. Between play dates, doctor's appointments, and often feeling inadequate, there's a lot going on in a parent's mind. Every parent is different, of course, but there are some common things that every parent of little ones wishes you knew.
Their behavior is not a reflection of my parenting
Even the best behaved children can have off days. And sometimes off days look like kicking, screaming, and arm flailing tantrums in the middle of the grocery store over a box of candy. When you witness this, it’s really not necessary to comment on it, unless you’re offering an empathetic comment like, “I’ve been there.” Comments about discipline, how they’ve been raised, or what you would do if you were the parent aren’t needed, and only make a stressful situation worse. Young children are learning about behavior, including what is acceptable, and what isn’t. When children are little, every thing feels like a big deal—and to them, it is. It is up to parents and strangers alike to treat them like the people they are, and give them the respect they deserve as they continue to learn about the world. (Here’s how calm parents deal with bratty behavior.)
I know that it goes so fast — but sometimes it feels slow
Mothers and fathers of young children know that childhood goes quickly. We get it. As we watch birthdays suddenly approach for children that were seemingly born yesterday, we mourn the days that have flown past us when we changed diapers, prepared meals, and scrubbed pureed sweet potatoes off the walls. So when you tell us that it goes so fast, and to enjoy every moment, even though we know you have the best intentions, it hangs us up. This parenthood thing is hard, and much of it is enjoyable. Playing with giggling babies, reading to toddlers in pajamas; it’s these moments that get us through the frustrating and mind-numbing days. For new parents though, it can be hard to hear that it goes fast, and to enjoy every single second, when so much of this brand new role feels overwhelming. It’s easier to hear you validate us in our struggles. Saying something like “It’s so hard, but it’s worth it” can be healing and encouraging to a new mom or dad.
This melt down is better left alone
When a child is visibly upset in public, it’s tempting for anyone witnessing it to want to fix it. Whether that’s with a hug, a stern glance, or a bribe, it really doesn’t matter. If you aren’t the parent, it’s probably best that you not interfere. No one knows a child better than the parents, and this includes any medical or mental conditions that the child might have that could be influencing behavior. Even interference with good intentions can be harmful for a child working through difficult feelings, and though it might be difficult to watch or listen to,unless a parent asks for assistance, it’s vital that you leave well enough alone. Most people understand that childhood tantrums are inevitable, and kids don’t care where they are or who is watching when they feel the need to let off steam. Simply walking by without staring, or drawing more attention to the scene is greatly appreciated, every time.
I’m feeding my baby in the way that works for us
Every mother knows that breast is best. Hospitals are trained to give information about the benefits of breastfeeding to every new mother before she is discharged, and even commercials for infant formula state that breast milk is the preferred food for babies. As wonderful as breast milk is for an infant, there are some mothers unable to nurse their babies. This could be due to health conditions, surgeries, or a lack of ability to produce adequate amounts of breast milk to satisfy her baby’s needs. Telling moms giving their babies formula in public that they should be breastfeeding is unhelpful and hurtful. In the same vein, shaming a mother nursing in public by asking her to cover up or go elsewhere, is not only unhelpful, but rude and against the law in many places. Mothers are feeding their child in the best way for them and for their child. As long as the babies are fed, there really isn’t a need to offer judgment or condescending comments to mothers. Positive words of encouragement, however, are always welcomed.
I know my baby doesn’t look like me
Friends, family, and even strangers often love to guess which parent or family member the baby looks like. People love to comment about how the baby looks just like daddy, mommy, sibling, or even and uncle or a cousin. It’s not that new parents mind being told their child looks like someone other than them, but perhaps every now and then you could offer a comment about the baby having the mom’s eyes, or daddy’s smile. Be especially sensitive when commenting on a parent/baby combo who appear to be mixed race. A Caucasian mother of a part-African American child is well aware her child is darker skinned and/or looks different. And, of course, the child could be adopted.
Some days getting out of the house is impossible
When you see a parent of young children in public, know that it took a lot of work for her to get there. Prior to children, leaving the house was as simple as getting dressed, grabbing the keys, and hitting the road. It now entails several outfit changes (for parent and baby), squeezing shoes on tiny feet, and enduring endless whining because someone wants to go to the park, not Target. Snacks must be packed (more snacks than the children would consume in a week, but having more than needed is always better than less), water bottles filled, and diapers changed. Once in the car, car seats must be buckled tightly while little bodies protest with arched backs, and the correct song from Laurie Berkner has to be on repeat, and that’s all before leaving the driveway. It is a production like no other, and yet every mother and father of young children knows the routine. The next time you see a mom or dad with young children in tow, know that she or he has conquered several battles already, just to get out of the house. Try to be forgiving if they’re 10 minutes late or forget to ask about your vacation or big work presentation right off the bat.
Your cold or stomach virus will ruin my life for at least a week
People without young children see illness as an inconvenience. A cold might be bothersome for two or three days, and you’ll suffer through it while taking every medication that can ease the symptoms while keeping you conscious. This isn’t the same story for parents with small children. A cold that hits a family of four will cycle through each member with only a few days of overlap for each one. Even if mom or dad doesn’t get hit, a sick child equals sleepless nights. Please be considerate when attending gatherings with small children if you have recently been sick or are sick. The consequences of a cold or stomach virus are much higher for those with young families, and we are already exhausted from simply living life while healthy.
Please keep your hands off my newborn
Strangers love to see and touch babies. Babies are adorable and squishy, so this is understandable. Parents of young babies, however, in particular, would really prefer that you keep your hands to yourself. It is easy to get offended when a parent asks you to keep your hands off his or her baby, but you must understand that your hands hold germs that might literally kill or seriously harm her baby. The respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, presents as a simple cold to adults, but can be incredibly harmful or even fatal to young babies. It is not an act of rudeness, but protection of his or her child, that causes a parent to recoil from your well-meaning hands toward baby in the grocery store. Most new parents won’t mind telling you the baby’s age and name, or even allowing you a glimpse under the blanket (if you ask first), but please don’t touch the baby.
Yes, I know about sleep training
When a new parent complains about lack of sleep, it is tempting to tell them about the latest sleep training fad. Whether you just read an article about crying it out, or you think that her baby needs cereal in its bottle, it makes sense that you want to share the information. If there is a way to get more sleep, you can rest assured (pun intended) that parents have researched it. It might be that they don’t agree with the method of the latest techniques, or that it simply does not work for their child. Whether a parent of a little one is bed sharing, co-sleeping, or rocking his or her baby every night, it is what is working best for the family or they wouldn’t be doing it.
I know I look tired, please don’t tell me
Telling parents that they look tired is among the most annoying things that someone can say. Of course we are tired. We are caring for multiple people’s needs all hours of the day and night. It can take a toll, and more often than not, our needs are placed on the back burner day after day. Parenthood is harder than most expect, and yet we are grateful for the opportunity to experience it. Instead of commenting on how tired a parent looks, you might consider offering him or her a compliment about how well taken care of the children are. It might make him or her cry (sleep deprivation can make us more emotional), but it is sure to encourage them to keep going, even when they’re exhausted.
Staying at home with my children doesn’t mean I don’t have my own dreams or goals
It’s difficult for many parents to make the decision to be a stay at home parent. Most people have dreams for themselves that still exist after having children. Putting those goals on hold for a while to raise children might seem counter-intuitive to you, but it is what works best for the families that have chosen this path. Staying home with little ones is full of joy, frustration, and often boredom. Spending all day every day reading the same books, visiting the same places, and having little to no adult interaction is difficult. Comments about wasted college degrees and stereotypical female roles are simply hurtful are difficult for stay-at-home moms to hear. In the same vein, stay-at-home dad’s don’t want to have their masculinity questioned. Try offering encouragement instead about the sacrifices he or she is making for the time being to raise a strong family.
Being a working parent doesn’t mean my kids are suffering
Just like staying at home with children is a difficult decision for some, so is being a parent who works outside the home. (It’s typically moms, not dads, who get put under the microscope for this one.) Know that for some it is not a choice, but a necessity, and yet sometimes people feel the need to comment on the well-being of the children of working mothers. Working mothers will always strive to put their children first, even though to outsiders it might look differently. Try to offer support: Make a meal to save her time during the week, or send her a sweet card that lets her know you’ve noticed how hard she works to keep all the plates spinning.
I am so grateful when you hold the door open for my stroller
Once out in public, there are struggles that emerge that people without children have probably never thought of. Getting in and out of public places without automatic doors is one of them. It is difficult at best to open the door first, and then walk through, with a bulky stroller. So when a stranger is kind enough to open the door ahead of a parent with a stroller, it is a kindness that doesn’t go unnoticed. Please know that your act of thoughtfulness goes further for stressed out parents in public than you think— it gives encouragement that there are still good people in the world, and it makes us want to work harder to raise kind children. Keep helping the moms and dads you see out with little children. It matters more than you realize.
Eating out with my children is a special occasion
When choosing a restaurant to take their children to, most families with little ones will pick the loudest, busiest one in order to avoid disrupting the meals of other patrons and try to eat at off hours (5 p.m. dinner, anyone?). We know that eating out is a special treat for most people, but for those with children, it is a rare one. It is simply easier to eat at home most of the time, so most young families are a bit out of practice when it comes time to eat in public. This is exactly why it is always appreciated when a waitress or waiter understands and puts a rush on food orders or brings out a plate of fries to hold little tummies over while the meal is prepared. For others in the restaurant witnessing the circus that is eating out with small children, please extend some grace and understanding if your meal is interrupted by nearby shrieking, dropped plates or utensils, or thrown crayons. We are trying to keep the insanity contained, and appreciate your patience and understanding.
Please ask me first before offering my children food
It’s tempting to want to give little children anything that will make them happy, food included. Although this is understandable, it can also be dangerous, as food allergies are a prevalent issue, and they aren’t obvious to those unfamiliar with the child. According to the Centers for Disease Control, four out of every 100 children have a food allergy. Asking a child’s parent first before offering her child anything is the safest and most respectful way to offer a child any kind of food. Try to ask the parent in private so that her child doesn’t feel disappointed if the answer is no. Sometimes it might simply be the wrong time for a sweet treat, such as right before nap time, or a child might simply have an extreme sensitivity to something such as a food dye. In any situation, be respectful of the parent’s decision.
Loving my children is the best way to show love to me
Parents want their children to grow up in a world full of kindness and love. They want to shield them from disappointments and hurts for as long as they can. When others extend kindness to children, it overflows to their parents, grateful that their children are loved by others. You can best show kindness to parents of young children by showing it to their children first. Not only does this model kind behavior for little ones, but it makes parents feel supported and safe in their communities. When children feel welcome in different environments it allows them to learn about social norms and acceptable behaviors. It does indeed take a village, and by being a good role model of kindness to a child, you are helping to raise the next kind generation.