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Thanks for the Advice, But... When Strangers Interfere

Ann E. Butenas


I have always thought of myself as a nice, polite individual, possessing as much tolerance as possible when dealing with other people in public.

However, since I have had children, some of that tolerance, along with a portion of the politeness, has begun to fade. Don't get me wrong. I still wave hello, hold open doors, excuse myself when necessary, offer help where needed, but there are certain situations I have increasingly encountered that have shed new light on my friendliness.

For instance, while out shopping today with my three sons, ages 5, 3, and 2, I had to gracefully maneuver them around in the cart while perusing my coupon caddy and looking for the best deal on every aisle. This is no easy task when you consider that the 2-year-old, playing contortionist, is halfway out of his buckled-in seat restraint. The 3-year-old is hanging by one foot and one arm off the side of the cart, and the 5-year-old has found a little cubby hole upon which to ride underneath. Further, I have about 20 products in my cart, along with a diaper bag and 42 other items my boys have thrown in there just for fun. At any rate, as I stumble down the hair products aisle with my over-sized and greatly over-populated shopping cart (which is, I might add, designed to hold three children, with two extra seats). I come across a gal who is in an obvious hurry to get down the aisle. The cart I have takes up more room than a traditional cart. Plus, I have three monkeys in and around it. As politely as I can, I make it obvious to this other shopper, who, I might add, is shopping solo, and allow what I believe is ample room for her to get by. Instead of thanking me or saying the proverbial "excuse me," this gal utters very rudely, "I am just trying to get by." Shocked, I let her threw. I even waved her on by, making sure other shoppers knew this gal had business to which she must attend. Another shopper observed this event and could only say, "Either that gal woke up in a bad mood, or she has all girls. I had boys. I know what it is like." I thanked her for her support and meandered back down the toothpaste aisle.

By this time, I was busy retrieving my products as they came flying out of the cart, propelled by an over-zealous 3-year-old. I was a tad bit irritable by this time, and, as I picked up a package of baby wipes and tossed it back in the cart, I said, rather crankily, "If I have to throw one more thing back in this cart..." A man passing by me at that time apparently heard my lamentation and said to his companion, "Geez!" It was said in obvious disapproval of my actions. "Hey, buddy!" I thought. "You try taking three little boys to the bank, the post office, to lunch, to get the car oil changed, and to the discount store all in one afternoon. Then talk to me about 'geez!'" I bit my polite tongue, however.

Another gal later commented on how poorly I had my youngest son strapped in. "Look, lady", I mused to myself. "Anyone knows that a 2-year-old can get out of any fixture designed to keep them in." She told me how I should better contain my child. That was advice I did not need or want.

Why is it that so many people who witness us dealing with our children in public are so quick to offer advice or commentary on how to deal with certain situations? Most of the time, I have observed that these encounters come from people who are without children. That does not mean they might not have any of their own, but, still, they sure are quick to judge and critique.

I have decided that, from an outside point of view, the solution to a parent's immediate problem with a child is simple to the observer, but easier said than done for the parent. "Have you thought about giving him some candy to quiet him down?" (Yes! He ate a whole bag of M&Ms and now he is wired!) "Maybe your little guy just needs a nap." (Honey, he slept all the way over here. Maybe he just wants to get out and play!) "Have you ever thought about getting a babysitter so you can shop alone?" (Yes, but for three kids it would cost me more than I intend to spend here today.) "You're giving your little one French fries?" (Hey! It works way better than the candy!) "I taught my son to say he is sorry if he does something wrong to someone. What are you teaching your son?" (Look, pal, he is not quite 2-years-old. He formally writes his apologies.)

This is just a mere glimpse of some of the commentary I receive from others while shopping. My husband tells me I should just ignore it. "Who cares what other people think?" he argues. "Deal with the situation as you think is necessary."

I keep this in mind for as along as possible, but when I spot my 5-year-old up near the check-out lines washing his shoes in the drinking fountain, I look around to see if anyone is noticing that event and then check to see if anyone realizes he belongs to me. I wait in panic for the first word of advice from passersby. No one says anything. I pay for my purchases and round up the boys. I race to the car as quickly as possible. Almost there, a gentleman who works for the store comments, "You look like you have your hands full." I nod in agreement, waiting for the next piece of advice. He continues, "Let me help you load your bags into your car. You look like you could use a break." I thanked him for his kindness and indicated it was not necessary. "I enjoy doing this" the man continues. "Being retired, helping others out gives me something enjoyable to do. Now, you just let me take care of this." After he gets the bags in my trunk, I commence to hand him a few dollars as a tip. He politely refuses. "You keep that," he adds. "Take those fine young men of yours out for some ice cream."

Now that is the best piece of advice I have heard all day.

Ann E Butenas is a stay-at-home mom of three preschool-age boys. She has an undergraduate degree in Communications, a post-bachelor paralegal certificate, and a Master's in Business Management. She earned the latter during her first two pregnancies while running an at-home business at the same time. She has been professionally published as a writer since the age of 12.

Ann currently owns and operates ANZ Publications, a publications business specializing in family-oriented projects. Her most recent project includes a very unique medical and dental records binder.a great way to keep track of a child's complete medical history from birth through adolescence. Visit the site at ANZ is an acronym, by the way, for her son's Alec, Noah, and Zach. It is pronounced as "Ann's," for her first name, but spelled as such to include the boys!

Her website showcases her new book.

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