Sometimes, it's okay to talk to strangers.
We've all been there. In a very public place with a child who is melting down. They're in full kicking and screaming mode, can't be reasoned with or even easily moved. It's frustrating, embarrassing and it can make you question yourself as a parent.
We've also all been the mama to watch it happen to someone else, wishing that we could stop a fellow mother's child from freaking out in aisle six. Wishing that we could let that mother know that we get it, that she's doing a good job, that this happens to all of us.
Sometimes, the lessons we've been taught throughout our lives keep us from acting in those moments when our words could be the life preserver another mother needs. And that's why Katie McLaughlin, a writer and mom of two, recently shared her story in a Facebook post that is now going viral.
She hesitated to speak to a fellow mama, but is so glad she listened to her gut, because that mama (and all of us from time to time) needed to hear what McLaughlin had to say: "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but you are rocking this."
McLaughlin was in the middle of a Target run when she noticed a fellow mother who she sensed could use a kind word.
"Behind me at the checkout, this 3-year-old was kicking and screaming and flopping around on the floor like a fish out of water. I tried to catch the mom's eye and give her an empathetic look, but she was too busy wrestling with her daughter to notice me," McLaughlin wrote, noting that the mom behind her was using all the 'right' tantrum taming techniques, but it just wasn't working.
"She remained calm. She spoke to her child in a gentle, reassuring tone. She was as attentive as she could be while also attempting to pay for her assortment of $10 tees and seasonal decor. But despite her best efforts, the meltdown only got bigger and bigger. The mom still stayed calm, but I noticed her cheeks were very flushed as she apologized profusely to the cashier," McLaughlin wrote in the Facebook post that has now been shared more than 12,000 times.
As the child's tantrum continued, so did the conversation McLaughlin was having with herself. She knew what this mother was feeling, and she wanted so badly to let her know that she's not alone.
"Say something kind to her, I thought. She's embarrassed and alone and feels like a terrible mother. Remind her that none of those things are true," McLaughlin wrote. "But then I thought, No, it's none of your business. LEAVE THE POOR STRANGER ALONE."
McLaughlin walked out of Target with her purchase, and so did the mom of the mid-meltdown toddler. She watched as the mama tried to buckle a flailing, frustrated toddler into a car seat, and then summoned the courage to follow her gut and talk to a stranger.
She said: "Sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say you're doing a great job."
The mom could have told her to mind her own business, but McLaughlin took that risk. The mom looked up at her, blinked twice, and the tears started flowing down her face. "I think I feel as bad as she does," she told McLaughlin, who replied, "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but you are rocking this."
Through more tears the mom of a very upset toddler told McLaughlin: "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that."
McLaughlin says the reason she spoke up was that she does understand how much the mother needed to hear that, and she hopes other parents who read her viral post can take the risk she did.
"Since the post went viral, I've heard from so many moms who say they wish another mom had offered a supportive word or an understanding glance," she tells Motherly. "So often we stay silent because we're not sure what to say or we're afraid to be seen as 'butting in' or not minding our own business. But the chances are much higher than our act of kindness will be appreciated. So if your gut is telling you to reach out and be supportive, don't overthink it; just do it."
So the next time you find yourself at Target hearing frustrated screams of a toddler, don't mind your business. Offer a supportive verbal comment like McLaughlin did, or offer to help her with her other children, like Tiffany Jones-Guillory did when she encountered a mom with a baby and a melting toddler at her local Target.
Jones-Guillory accidentally went viral back in May, after stepping in to help mom-of-two Rebecca Paterson when her 2-year-old and 2-month-old both melted down at Target. Peterson was about to give up on her shopping trip and was putting items back on the shelves when Jones-Guillory offered empathy and a pair of arms.
"She walked with me while I got the essentials needed for the day and kept hold of my toddler while he calmed down," Paterson recalled in a Facebook post. "She saved me today moms!!! I am so sleep deprived and was running on empty. A little kindness and understanding go a long way."
What the world needs are more people like Jones-Guillory and McLaughlin. Unfortunately, we don't have enough of them. If your child melted down in public today and there was no one around to offer you an empathic word, here's a few more from McLaughlin. When asked what she wants mid-Target-tantrum mamas to know, she told Motherly this:
"I know you're embarrassed. I know you're ashamed. I know you feel totally judged. But here's the truth: for every one person who's judging you, there are so many more that are empathizing with you."
Remember that, mama. And don't be afraid to say it to yourself or someone else who needs to hear it.