What I Never Thought I’d Do


Here’s the scene: There’s a baby. She’s crying. Hard. She’s in a stroller facing outward and her mother is pushing her. She is crying so hard her nose is running, her cheeks are flushed and tears are streaming from her eyes. She looks sick. Sad. Anything but consoled. And her mother, still pushing her, is looking at clothing for her. She’s with another woman, perhaps a friend, a sister. They are talking over a pink or purple shirt, how many ruffles in a dress. Deciding what will look best on the crying baby girl. They talk as if they are alone. They talk as if there is not a baby in front of them crying. Wailing. Screaming for comfort. They talk. They listen to one another, but not the baby.

In the aisle next to them, I listen. I notice. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to think they’ve tried to soothe her and don’t know what else to do. I want to believe that my observation is skewed, blurred. Over exaggerated. But the crying increases. Her cheeks, those sweet rosy cheeks are desperate for a kiss of comfort. I want to hope the mother treats her tearful daughter with the same love and excitement she felt when she was first born. I want to remind her of the rush of that tiny baby just months, maybe years before, when she was brought to her chest, their heartbeats pulsing toward one another. I want to pray she has hopes of loving her unconditionally, even in times like this, when her weeping is loud, inconvenient and unpleasant. I want to tell that mother, I know it’s hard. Are you having a bad day?

My stomach, as it often does now that I have a child of my own, flutters with the butterflies that always awaken when tears roll and requests heighten. I listen. I want to respond. My feet start to move. My mind swirls. I am outside my body. I am no longer in control. Blood pounds throughout my primal body, heart rate racing, sweat beads forming.

Here’s what I do: I walk to the aisle where the women are shopping and the baby is still crying. I move closer. I look into her innocent face. I say, “what do you need, sweetie?” I cannot believe I am saying this. I am crossing the line of another mother’s space. I am in her territory. And I should not be. But I cannot stop myself. I never thought I would invade another mother. I never thought my stomach would turn at the cries of a stranger. I never thought I’d be so opinionated about raising little beings in this world. I never thought I’d be the mother that I am, willing to forgo my selfishness for the constant needs of another being.

Call it empathy. Call it taking back the years my tears poured, my calls ignored. Call me stupid. Call me smart. Call me crazy. Call me amazing. Tell me I’ve crossed the line. Judge it. Label it. Name it. Critique it. All I know is I heard a child. She was crying. I heard a loud call – for love, consolation, comfort, acknowledgement. And I needed to respond.

And here’s what happened: The two women cease their conversation. They look at me. My eyes, still on the girl breathing love toward her. Her cries stop. Her nose still runs. She and I, eye to eye, are communicating. The mother, in full silence rolls her daughter down the aisle past me. As if I never existed, as if the situation never existed, the three of them leave the aisle and exit the store without making a sound.


71 thoughts on “What I Never Thought I’d Do”

  1. I love this, and I love how you approached this so beautifully by talking to her–this little person who was crying out. I had a child and lost him to cancer at the age of three, so as a childless parent, I now have even less tolerance for the ignoring of children’s pleas for love, for acknowledgement for parenting. I have left stores where the situation you described was happening, and I have, in moments of grief-induced insanity, actually approached parents who were rough with their children, children who were just crying out in a store for their parents’ attention. I think next time I’ll take your approach. Beautiful post. Thank you for being a mother to all.

    1. Timaree, I hope I am not sticking my nose in, but I want to say I am so so so sorry that you lost your precious baby boy. It is just not fair for you or for him. I just wanted to reach out and give a cyber hug from a stranger, because mumma I am sure you need one often. xx

    2. I too have wondered around in a store, subway, wherever, looking for the desperate cries of a baby or child. I always have the time to console a teary face. Using a friendly high-pitched voice all babies and furry animals love I ask, “Hey what’s all the noise? Or “hey what’s a matter 4 you? Or “do you need a hug? And always “oh you’re going to get wrinkles you keep crying, yes sir” maybe adding “we’re going to call you lemon face :)” By this time, the parent has a smile on his or her face. The kid looking bewildered that someone is paying attention/asking. It works…if all goes well I add to the parent, “it’s nap time, get home fast :) Not all parents are child centered. Compassion and patience is what they need. It would make their life a whole lot more harmonious for all if they had the simple skills. We need to teach them by our example. My love to you all, remember dear ones Breastfeeding will save humanity! Keep up the good work…Peace

    3. While I can see where the commenters in this thread are coming from, each of them is making major assumptions about situations and children with which they have no familiarity or knowledge.

      My son, for example, would cry at least as intensely as described above and/or throw complete tantrums most times I took him to any store, until he turned about 2.5. It wasn’t that he wanted additional attention from me or random in-store snuggles; he either wanted to leave the store or he wanted some snack I had denied him. Had a stranger come up and paid attention to him, his crying would have stopped, yes – not out of relief at a stranger’s attention but out of surprise and a simple unwillingness to “tantrum” to a complete stranger.

      I felt the burn of many eyes during these many times and I knew I had to stay strong and do what was best for my child, rather than giving in to a tantrum to save face. I’m glad I did; he’s now a very happy, very well-adjusted, well-behaved, passionate (still!) older toddler.

  2. Courageous, I have done the same. I still dont understand how mom’s don’t respond to a crying baby like the one you describe and my children are in their late 20, early 30s

  3. I too have been witness to similar scenarios. Just hold your baby, I think to myself. I never have the guts to say it out loud.

  4. Congratulations Mom. You did something wonderful. You reached into the life of that little sad girl and connected with her. I will be brave like you next time I see something like this happen.

  5. YES! hallelujah I am not alone!!!! You are wonderful amazing and showed this child love she will remember, deep in her heart. Thank you!

  6. This was not appropriate. The mom was a lot nicer to you than I would have been. If anyone had done that to my child while she was having an attention-seeking temper tantrum, I would have a lot more to say than full on silence while walking away. You didn’t know their situation, and had no right to interfere — that mom wasn’t doing anything wrong, and you did not need to jump in just because you didn’t agree with it. You remind me of those people who want to call the police if a parent leaves a kid alone for 30 seconds to pay for gas.

    1. Yes, you are correct, IF the child was just having a tantrum, then her stepping in would be inappropriate. However, all she did was acknowledge the child’s presence and try to show her some love through eye contact. When toddlers throw tantrums, THEY DON’T STOP JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE LOOKED AT THEM. I’m also not convinced that this was a toddler and therefore in need of “training.”

      Oh, any by the way, based on the telling of the tale here, it sounds like she waited a good long time to see if there was an ulterior motive for the child being ignored – and one was not given. (And if you’re ignoring a child without telling them why in a vain attempt to train them, there’s a problem. You should at some point say, “I know you really want that dolly, but you’re being bad. Mommy is not going to listen to you until you calm down.”)

      1. I feel defensive when I read the author describing the thoughts and conversation of the women strolling the baby. And while I would have possibly/probably responded to the child with precisely the same behavior ~I hope I could reframe and refrain the need to assess the other women’s behavior.

      2. I had an initial concern when reading this, and then considered what I would do if I was genuinely in the situation where my baby wouldn’t settle down and I couldn’t do anything to help and so in a last attempt at sanity pushed my baby around in a stroller. If I was genuinely in that situation, I don’t think I could stand there looking at clothing calmly discussing colours, I would be beside myself and have one of those blank ‘I am trying to cope’ looks on my face. However I cannot judge or know why the women were ignoring the cries of their daughter, but I do know that if my daughter were crying, and a stranger approached with absolutely no accusation upon me (which the author did not, she said nothing to the mothers to make them feel bad at all) and managed to stop my daughters crying with a kind word, I would feel nothing but appreciative that she managed to do what I wanted to.

    2. Attention seeking temper tantrum…..hmmmm. seriously a BABY seeks attention because it’s the only way to communicate it’s needs. This is not an older child who can understand the word no! If it’s unsettling then more the better, it should be and is communicating something to attend to…

    3. “An attention-seeking temper tantrum”?? Are you out of your mind? This was a BABY, not a whiny toddler! What lesson, exactly, do you think you are teaching your baby by ignoring their pleas for love and comfort…?

    4. The only thing that was inappropriate was an adult allowing a BABY (not toddler, not child, A BABY) to go untended long enough that another adult felt the need to intercede on the baby’s behalf. Babies do not reason, plan, nor plot. They do NOT have “attention seeking temper tantrums.” This was a baby who needed comfort and reassurance from her mother, for whatever reason. This was a woman who doesn’t deserve to be a mother.

      If, in fact, this was an older child who was having a temper tantrum, then the mother still did not handle it appropriately. A child at this level of emotional upset is unable to calm themselves down when continually exposed to the same environment. It’s so easy to do the right thing, and remove yourself and child from the immediate vicinity, go to a quieter place, and allow the outburst to run it’s course. Believe it or not, sometimes, regardless of what caused it, a child may be physically unable to regain control of their mental and emotional well-being without an adult’s comforting. They aren’t “trying to get over on an adult,” they just need help, which it’s our jobs as parents to give them. Once the child has been able to gain some control, you will have the ability to address the circumstances for the meld down in a calm and reasonable manner. Again, IF this was an older child, the adult in this situation did absolutely nothing but demonstrate total disregard and complete disrespect for the child, and everyone else in the vicinity.

      It astounds me that for life events such as getting a driver’s license, getting married (and even divorced), heck, even adopting a dog from a shelter, you are required to undergo basic training about the subject and test to demonstrate understanding of the fundamentals. However, for the most important role of anyone’s life, one that affects not only the immediate family, but society as a whole, there is no such requirement. Furthermore, most refuse to educate themselves nor accept help and direction from those who have the knowledge.

    5. After reading your comment I’ve determined that you are the type who would leave your child screaming like that. No child should be ignored for any reason especially when they’re trying so hard. Tantrums are different than babies crying. Obviously you either don’t have children or you shouldn’t…

    6. THis is a baby! Babies have a right to seek attention; they have needs! It’s not a whining 4 year old!! Of course the baby should be responded to!

    7. you should never leave your child alone, even for thirty seconds to pay for gas. i’ve read thirty stories in the last year about stolen cars and kids choking…

      1. Yea that’s what bothered me too, that the woman accusing the writer of being so out-of-line’s main defense was to basically admit she leaves her child in the car while she goes in the store to pay for gas. No, I wouldn’t call the cops on her, but it IS illegal to leave your child in the car unattended. Is it annoying to undo a kid from the car seat, fight to get them out of the car (or worse yet wake them from a nap in the process), then juggle your baby, keys, and method of payment all for a measly 3 min trip? Heck yes it is! But it sure beats the alternative of something happening to your child’s while you’re gone.

    8. All of you who think the writer was out of line, and think that it’s okay and even preferred to completely ignore a child in this situation need to stop and ask yourselves what you think is causing so many people in our society to be socially awkward, afraid of people and many, often shockingly young to murder. And to do so without remorse. A well known horrifying experiment conducted by a Chinese Emperor wherein babies were deprived of human touch beyond that required for cleanliness and feeding. Even then, the attendants didn’t touch the babies with their skin, only wearing gloves. The babies eventually just started staring off into space and not reacting to any sort of stimuli. Then they all died. Let me repeat for clarity. They ALL DIED. This was 100 babies in an orphanage. There is a well known syndrome known as detached child syndrome. They can appear normal, but it is through mimicry. They don’t feel empathy at all. If I could give one piece of advise to every new mother it would be: “Hold and talk to your baby often. Continue to hug and snuggle them. Don’t ignore them when they cry. Remember too, that they understand more language than they can express.” It isn’t video games or movies that produce violent children, it’s letting the game console or the TV to babysit them rather than interacting, holding, playing with or yes even consoling them.

      1. Cindy,
        You’re absolutely correct with your mention of the Chinese experiment but that is not the only example of this type of neglect and its long term impacts. Failing to soothe a wailing child also produces excess cortisol which have multiple negative effects


        I also recall reading a few years back a story of an adopted child who was literally kept in a closet for years. Her lack of human physical contact in conjunction with a lack of communication or answering to her calls produced serious developmental delays and caused damage that will never be entirely corrected although she was adopted into a loving home and receiving mental health services to attempt to build the human connections that should be built from birth.

        From the story and wording it does indeed sound like an infant wailing, not a temper tantrum, and oftentimes simply ignoring the situation does not remedy the situation. It just sounds like complete indifference to the child.

        I really appreciate the line “Call it taking back the years my tears poured, my calls ignored.”

  7. I totally get where you are coming from. I’ve been in similar situations. There has got to be a non-threatening way to engage with the child and the mom while getting them to engage with each other. I just don’t know what it is. If anyone has something that has worked, please share. I see such sad interactions or uncaring when I ride the bus, it makes me sad.

  8. I know exactly what you mean the situation where the mother doesn’t know what to do anymore after trying to console my child, or understand him and what he wants (I have been that mother) sometimes you just don’t know what to do…and the baby just cries. But when I could still carry him I would still try to be close to him even if I didn’t understand his needs or wants, or if he didn’t understand. Even now,(he is 5) I talk to him. There have been so many times that I wished someone else would distract my child, in a nice HEALTHY manner just by saying hi, maybe ask the child something superficial.

    As for the mothers that do ignore, I don’t understand them. I have wanted to step in before. Especially when its a new born… I wanna say “pick your baby up if nothing else!”

  9. [email protected] says:

    This story is heartbreaking, but all the more for me, because I worked in retail, in a relatively large store, and I witnessed this scenario on a daily basis. In fact, at most points of the day there was usually a baby crying somewhere. Like the author, I would become very agitated, and saddened by the sound, and I too, would seek them out, trying to decide, if the mother had tried to console the child, or if she was just ignoring the baby. More often than not, I am heartbroken to say, the child would be being completely ignored, while the mother shopped, seemingly oblivious to her heartbroken child.Something is very wrong, when so many of us have lost our connection to our humanness, and our ability to feel compassion. Like the author, I would often try to have compassion for the mother, recognizing that she was perhaps overwhelmed, and simply knew no other way to get her own needs met, but to ignore her child’s. These mothers need support. Something needs to be done to help us awaken to our own humanity.

    1. I agree. Something needs to be done to reconnect us with our own humanity. What I’ve found that works the best in these situations is to somehow strike up a conversation with the mother. Then gradually start noticing/bringing in the child, like by asking, how old is your baby? or something else non-threatening. At least the mother’s attention/energy is likely to get redirected away from the shopping and onto you, or better yet, her child! I’ve found that when I try to empathize with the baby/toddler, the parent gets defensive and/or angry… because they know they’ve been “caught.”

  10. Where was the empathy for the mother? You have no idea what she was going through. My first child is fairly social and at 3 years we still have tantrums, but that is different from my youngest at 15 months. The youngest is shy, sensitive, and scared of everything. When I’m out, the 15 month old will cry and wail sometimes if I’m not holding him. I hold him and sometimes I just want out of the store in a timely manner and I leave him be. I can hold him and he’ll be fussy, even if quieter … and my whole trip will now take 20-30 minutes longer as I try to maneuver a cart while keeping him from pulling things off the shelf. It’s easier and quicker just to let him scream and get out. He doesn’t understand all that. He’s only 15 months old. However, an adult that wants to interfere because they assume I’m an insensitive mom? I really have no place for you in my life. I am not the kind to say anything to you, but I probably wouldn’t have acknowledged you either.

    1. What you are shopping for is not more important than the emotional well being of your child. Yes, you are being an insensitive mother if you knowing take him into a situation that will cause him distress and make the conscious decision to just let him scream. If you can’t handle the child while you are shopping, then don’t take him. Do your shopping when you can leave him at home. Otherwise, prepare to hold him and give him the comfort he is entitled to.

      1. “Do you shopping when you can leave him at home” Are you serious? What about a single mom that is just trying to get ONE single thing done on her ONE day off. And she only has this one day to try to spend time with her child and she is just as tired and cranky and overwhelmed as her child is and she is just trying to hold it together long enough to get what she needs and get out of there. Have some freaking understanding that we all parent differently ~ just because some of ua let our children cry doesnt mean we are horrible and heartless!

      2. I can’t afford a sitter and don’t have the luxury of leaving him at home to get groceries. And other people scare him. Seriously he screams the entire time I am fairly certain 10 minutes of store crying is better than a couple hours of screaming with sitter time. Feeding my family is pretty dang important.

        1. The answer is … a baby carrier! I have a toddler who as a baby wanted to be held nonstop. He would cry if I put him in the stroller so we never used it (he’s ok in there now). I would put him in my Ergo, and we would go shopping/walk around. He was totally content being snuggled up to me. I cannot say good things about baby carriers. There is always a solution, but to allow a baby to cry and cry.. that is unacceptable. Working with the child and what they need is what is important. And I am a single mom also

  11. I held my breath reading this. So, I’m not the only one. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done this. I can’t cope with a baby’s cries being ignored. I come unglued. So I talk to the baby. Usually the mother makes excuses “oh, she’s just cranky” or “he’s just tired”. One mother admitted her poor sweet baby was sick, running a fever. And they were shopping at Ikea. She was amused by my concern and somewhat horrified that I was soothing my own cranky (but not sick) toddler by nursing him. My heart broke for that sick baby girl, my son’s own age, crying and feverish in her buggy while her mother chatted with her sister (“Can you believe it? That woman is *still* breastfeeding her child!”–Yes, she did say that.) Another time, I was shopping at a baby shop with my infant son in a carrier. He slept through it. Another mum came in with a newborn and her poor lamb screamed and cried in his buggy the entire time, scratching at his little face with his newborn nails. She just kept shopping. I talked to him, I asked him if he was wanting mommy. I wanted to offer to hold him for her so she could shop in peace, but I had my own baby sleeping in the sling. The mother seemed completely unfazed by his cries and told me “Oh, he’ll stop crying when I put him in his carseat.” That made me so sad. No cuddles, just taken screaming from his pram and put into his carseat.

    I’ve got sooooo many more of those stories from the past 17 years since the first time I became a mum. Sadly.

    Oh, and Maranda– “attention seeking tantrum”?????? The author didn’t even mention how old this baby was. She only says she was a baby. And you think she was just throwing an “attention seeking tantrum”? Way to demonstrate the author’s point. From that remark, I’m guessing you have a lot of experience as the mum ignoring her crying baby. Or you don’t have any kids at all. I hope the next time you are in tears and desperate for comfort, those around you, the ones who are supposed to love you most and whom you trust the most, completely ignore you. You know, you wouldn’t want them to encourage your “attention seeking tantrum”.

    1. Next time I am in a rage over not getting a new toy, I’ll keep your comment in mind. Everyone should totally coddle me if I throw a fit! That’s the ONLY way to deal with anyone — kids, adults, everyone! — amirite??

    2. Also, I AM one of “those mothers” still breastfeeding her toddler. I incorporate a lot of AP techniques in my parenting style. I also realize that my way isn’t for everyone and don’t jump to judging someone just because they are doing something I wouldn’t necessarily choose to do.

    3. The author doesn’t mention how old the child is. It could be a toddler and toddlers do throw tantrums. The author’s comment, “I want to remind her of the rush of that tiny baby just months, maybe years before, when she was brought to her chest, their heartbeats pulsing toward one another. ” That makes it seem like the baby is definitely older. Maybe years before??? That doesn’t sound like a newborn child to me and if the baby is facing away from her mother, she is likely no longer in a newborn seat either. I think it is crazy for all of you who are judging based solely on the writer’s perspective!

  12. Thank you for doing what you did. I think people, in general, need to care more about helping a little being who cannot help herself and less about what people think or how they might be judged. We need to stick our necks out and be brave and care . I personally do not believe in “attention seeking tantrums” – if small children have real needs that are not met they behave in whatever way they can to have those needs met – usually they just need love and nurturing. Children who have unmet needs usually grow up to be narcissistic adults; the world doesn’t need more of these!

  13. I honestly feel for both sides! You have no idea where that mom was coming from, maybe the baby was fussing all day or was ‘just being a baby’ as some are. Not all cries are cries of need and sometimes babies cry for no reason. I dont think babies should always 100% be the center of the universe for a mom, and they need to know they are part of the pie or family, not the only one in the family. The mom maybe needed a break….who knows! But I do know that I would have minded my own business unless there is obvious abuse! You really DONT know the whole situation.

    1. “I dont think babies should always 100% be the center of the universe for a mom, and they need to know they are part of the pie or family, not the only one in the family.”

      We are the product of evolution. Our nervous system still reacts to stimuli and the lack thereof as if we are living in a world where predators will come and eat us if left alone. Know what happens if people leave their helpless babies alone in the natural world because they aren’t the “center of the universe” for the mom? They get eaten! I agree that we should help and focus on the mom’s when we can, but much like thinking that it is okay to discriminate against certain types of people, we must not tolerate behavior that is creating more non-feeling people. While this sounds harsh, it doesn’t have to be. If we show them compassion, and try to assist, then even if they walk away angry, maybe, just maybe they will re-think the situation and try to alter their behavior.

  14. Erin, empathy for a mother who is happily chatting away with a friend while casually browsing clothing racks? She is in no hurry to go anywhere and is certainly not stressed out. I don’t know about you, but I can’t have an enjoyable conversation while my child is wailing for any reason, tantrum or otherwise, especially when we’re in public. As for leaving my baby to cry because his sensitive nature makes shopping trips stressful for him, all I can say is, as his mother, that’s too high a price for me in order to have a quicker, more convenient shopping trip. I’d rather the extra time and the comforted baby. That’s when I pull out the carrier. But what do I know? That’s just the way I’ve coped with shopping with my babies over the last 17 years.

  15. Wow, some defensive mums here. Hmmm. If I hadn’t read the article, only some of these defensive comments, I’d have thought the author had walked up to the mother of the crying baby and told her off or phoned CPS. Seriously, all she did was talk to the baby. Kindly. OMG, string her up!

    Yeah, you’re right, those bratty babies really do need to learn they’re not the center of the universe. Even if they’re not yet old enough to understand that concept and ignoring their distress only increases their distress. Remember, giving a distressed child attention will SPOIL her!

    Your lucky, lucky children.

  16. If I am bothered by a crying baby, I ask the mother if there is something I can do for her to help her cope with her crying baby. Sympathy and empathy for both parties make a big difference. Some babies cry no matter what you do. I had one who cried lots and lots, whether I held her or not, and sometimes I just had to tune her out so I could function. Spending any two hours with this child, she cried for at least one of them, no matter what we did or where we were. It is who she is. She would stop if approached by another person, but it was fear of strangers, not connecting with them. Helping me get out of the store, huge. Giving my girl a panic attack that will last another hour or so, not so much. Help the mom, she helps the baby.

  17. I’m surprised that no one has yet suggested this option: perhaps more appropriate would be to approach the mother in a compassionate way – acknowledging the difficulty in mothering at this age but would she re-consider engaging her child. I once read in a Dr. Sears book something to the effect of that when a baby cries for a prolonged period of time fatigue sets in the parent and they lose the ability to judge the amount of time baby’s been crying and respond appropriately. I’m not saying this is what happened here but feel that anecdote is relevant to the discussion. I recall reading about another situation on a parenting board where a woman recounted witnessing a mother screaming at her children at the grocery store. She went to the mother and said to her that she was sorry that she was having such a difficult time and that she could relate that mothering is incredibly challenging at times. She offered to help – to look after her kids for 15 minutes if she wanted to get her shopping done. I believe the mother didn’t take her up on the offer but there was no negativity and perhaps a bell went off that she was supported and that she should take a moment and try to do better. Personally, I never feel right when an adult approaches my child instead of me but feel that what the author did is probably preferable than doing nothing in that situation.

    1. I like your take on this situation. While reading it I couldn’t help but wonder what state of mind the mother was in. Of course you shouldn’t let the baby cry her heart out but outsiders shouldn’t bash the mother. If we know anything about motherhood we know that it’s hard. We’ve all had times when we just needed a helping hand. My only quarrel with the author is that she stated the mother simply walked away as if get intrusion was supposed to be looked at mercifully. Therefore judging the mother. Mothering is a touchy subject and one to tread lightly upon.

  18. My baby is a purple cryer, something the likes of which would be rare to encounter. Even when wearing him he did cry and often. Have you ever touched base with Althea Solters work. She basically says sometimes babies have to cry. It is apart of their infant experience. The difference is whether they have loving, safe environment to express themselves. Tears are apart of life. She put it majestically, how would you like someone shushing you while you were expressing your feelings. We should try to take the perspective of the mom into account too. Isn’t it possible she was having a crappy day and tried to make the best of it?

  19. While your motive in connecting with the child are on, I agree with Juli, much better to connect with the mom, offering empathy to both parties. And even if the mom rebuffs you, you’ve still connected with the baby.

  20. I love this! I actually done and felt the same way, its just that some parents get so caught up with their own life and no longer their children. I know it sounds bad but I truly believe they should make Parenthood a law. I am sorry but to me its common sense to comfort your child when they are crying.

  21. I was in a similar situation recently though circumstances made it easier to intervene. I was at a music festival standing in line and the baby and parents were behind me in line. Toddler was in a stroller, crying, twisting around to try to get their attention, pretty clearly either hungry, tired or both and parents seemed to be totally tuned out. I do realize that I was not aware of their situation or why they might not have been responding to her. maybe they were exhausted because she’d been up all night and they were probably camping, I don’t know but I couldn’t do nothing so I got eye contact with the mom and said something like, “she’s so cute. how old is she? oh, is it nap time?” and they didn’t seem to get defensive but after I spoke to them it didn’t seem terribly awkward to squat down and talk to her. And she did stop crying at that point. I don’t know. I get defensive too when people see my less than perfect parenting moments and I too think “you have no idea” what is going on here. at the same time, sometimes your instincts won’t allow you to ignore a crying baby any more than you would ignore a crying adult. I know that “I can’t believe I am doing this” feeling, like watching yourself in a movie. I agree that it’s vital to find compassion for the parents/caregivers. we truly are all doing the best we can with the information and bandwidth that we have and putting anyone on the defensive just makes things harder for the child ultimately.

  22. There still persists a large group of people in our society who subscribe to the idea that responding to a baby or child’s cries is bad for them. It used to be pretty standard. People like this think they are showing good parenting by letting their child cry unattended. For many of these people, there’s not anything you can say that will change their minds.

    The thing that kinda surprises me is that lack of hurry. I thought most people would be embarrassed to have their child throw a loud tantrum in a store and get out as quickly as possible.

    1. I completely agree that the main concern for me is the lack of hurry. Everyone keeps saying “empathize with the mother” “she probably had a horrible day” “she could be a single mom with no help” As a single mom with no help myself, I have had those days; and when I do I am rushing thru the store on a mission to get out of there asap, get home, and get my son and myself more comfortable. Did all the people yelling at the author read the part where there was a SECOND WOMAN WITH HER? And they were slowly browsing thru clothing discussing what to buy. The mother wasn’t distressed; and if she was her “friend or sister” is not a friend I would like to have. On the off-chance a girlfriend of mine has to run to target at the same time as me, we are like a team. If my son starts going nuts and I have my hands full she will pick him up; or take the stuff I have so I can. Everyone attacking the author either didn’t fully read the story or must have times they’ve done the same as the mother in this story, and therefore feel the need to be on the defensive.
      I think what the author did was perfect, she didn’t berate the mother and say “hey how about you pay attention to you kid for a second?” Which I still would have considered within reason. She quietly knelt down and gave the baby some much needed attention; proven to be needed by how quickly just a little focus on her worked to soothe her.

  23. My son (grown now) has a developmental disorder and would have temper tantrums in the grocery store. When I could, I left him with a neighbor so he wouldn’t have to come with me. But sometimes that didn’t work out. So when he had a tantrum, I would put him in the cart, tell him I was going to take off his shoes, so I wouldn’t be kicked with hard shoes, and tell him very quietly that as soon as he was finished yelling, we would finish the shopping and go home. Of course, a baby is very different. A wise pediatrician once told me about babies, “It’s best to err on the side of kindness.”

  24. Thank you for your bravery in trying to help this child. Thank you for your bravery in writing about publicly. I am grateful for both.

    I have been in this situation and lacked the courage to do either.

    The mother’s response to you makes me fear for her child. I get it. I never thought I’d be that mother, either. I was a nanny for ten years before I had my own and had that experience BEFORE I was a mother and it drove me to empathetic madness. You DON’T need to be a mother to feel that pain and want to know why the caregivers are not care-giving!

    I. Can’t. Understand. But the cycle perpetuates. And that is the most heartbreaking thing of all.

  25. I do the same thing on the regular. When it comes to babies or little children that are helpless, I couldn’t care less about what the Mother or Caregiver feels about my “intrusions”. This happens way too often, and it makes me ill. I too try to give the parent the benefit of the doubt, and if I sense a irritation from the mother regarding my attention to the helpless child, I simply ignore it, at times I almost wish she would confront me about my concern, because I then would be able to tell her about HERSELF, about how she, as an American woman, had 3 viable choices when she became pregnant. Now, I personally don’t believe that it is a choice, when it comes to a non life threatening pregnancy, but the law says that she can 1)keep it and raise it 2) abort it or 3) place the child up for adoption, and these are HER choices no matter whom wants her to do the opposite of what she chooses, it’s 100% up to her. When you choose the first option, you no longer are or ever again will be the most important person in the equation. It is in fact your greatest responsibility to attend to your child’s every need (not ever want). Whether you yourself are an Old school, new school, new age, attachment, tiger parenting, self soother, never let them cry believer, natural medicine, holistic, western medicine chooser, it is your (and of course the if there is a partner in raising theirs) choice on which style and philosophy are best for you and your baby, BUT, if you are neglecting your baby’s needs and up to a certain age, their wants (i.e. baby wants to be nursed because he is over stimulated, wants “up” because she’s scared, wants a pacifier because he has the urge to suck, wants a blanket, a toy, a smiling reassuring face)….you may just need to be “reminded” (and I’m willing to do so) that your 15 mins of importance is long gone, get back to reality, and take care, proper, adequate, appropriate, care of your child, so people (like me) won’t have to advocate for your screaming, suffering, sad little one. And another thing, for God’s sake, if I see another under dressed, inappropriate for the weather attire, child, with no coat, freezing, while Momma has a north face Parka and warm pair of Uggs, I may just have to get involved. And another thing, last one I swear, if you look impeccable, while your child looks like Pigpen, from Charlie Brown, please PLEASE, don’t be surprised when I give you my ugliest side eyed look and suck my teeth at your neglect, you are the parent, she/he is a reflection of you and your parenting….get it together!
    That’s All!

  26. This happened to me today! At the grocery store, my two month old decided she was done with her car seat and started fussing (not crying yet). We were in the checkout line and everyone was trying to be so helpful. The cashier checked us out as quickly as possible but then we were waylaid by more than one helpful stranger wanting to comfort my adorable screaming baby. I knew what she needed and that was to get home as quickly as possible so that she could cuddle, nurse & nap but people kept interfering! One lady was even reaching into the car seat to stroke her face. That freaked me out because she didn’t ask to touch my child. I couldn’t give the baby what she needed in the middle of the parking lot with my toddler also in tow. I appreciated peoples’ concern but found their ‘help’ rather unhelpful as it delayed my ability to comfort my own child. When it comes to parenting, you can’t judge a situation just based on what you see. A crying baby doesn’t automatically equal a bad parent. For me personally, I’ll remember to bring the baby carrier next time I go grocery shopping. Hopefully no one will be tempted to stick their fingers in my baby’s face if she’s attached to my body!

  27. yes the mother could be under huge stress and yes the baby needs attention but i dont see the problem in the mother picking up her child why she was discussing the clothes besides there was two of them one can hold the baby and the other can push the cart and yes everyone deals with situations differently and i would not be made at the lady for talking to my kid and calming him down. however if she touched him or picked him up yes thatd be a different story.

  28. nothing ever good comes from judging + shaming someone – although it might make you feel better to speak up.

    it takes more courage, but it’s more elevated and productive to address the parent, adult-to-adult, with a word of empathy, support or interest. sure, you might be rejected but it will go down better that outright judgement and the perceived disrespect of going around the parent directly to the child.

    are there parents who don’t address their child’s needs? yes, and my heart aches and aches for these children but giving your (perhaps correct) judgement on top of already stressful situations *just will not come of anything*. these situations must be addressed when they are witnessed but with the adult and with empathy.

    if you care about this issue, take steps that are helpful and concrete to help and prevent child neglect/abuse by supporting child abuse prevention efforts. ideas for this here: http://www.childhelp.org/blog/entry/10-ways-you-can-prevent-child-abuse/

    moms who are supported are better moms.

  29. I have had days out shopping where my kids just would not stop crying or whining…not full out screaming like this but where they were being whiney and/or stubborn. I’ve had them whine bc they wanted something and I said no only to end up walking a little ways have a lady see them and offer a sucker. While I was a little pissed that she did so without asking me first I was more happy about the joy it brought my kids whether or not it was deserved. I would never just walk away without saying something UNLESS I knew I was in the wrong with my actions (or lack there of) with my child (which I hope never happens). It kind of feels like u were like that lady giving my kids suckers…I personally would have thanked u for helping console my child when I had run out of ideas.

  30. Once you become a mother, NOTHING you do will ever be right again. So much so that even strangers in public feel entitled to speak to your child and judge you.

    That said, good luck to all your kids who will go into the world shocked by it not coddling them.

  31. I think it’s possible to interact with the child in such a beautiful show of compassion without stripping the mother of her dignity. I read this piece with a sense that judgment was building as the author mustered enough courage to intervene. Without acknowledging (perhaps even dismissing) the mother, she directly addressed the child.
    With my first child, I would occasionally feel like I needed to just muscle through shopping even if he were crying. My husband gave me the idea to just abandon my cart and leave the store if our son starts crying or having a tantrum. I’ve had to do this a few times, and it was freeing to be able to put my child’s needs first. When my son was a toddler, he learned that I was willing to leave the store if he had a tantrum, so the tantrums were rare.
    When my children were babies, I learned to go back to the car or find a mother’s room to nurse or change diapers. It made all the difference and I could return to my shopping with a content baby.

  32. That baby was terribly overstimulated and needed to be removed to a quiet place for a few minutes so her brain could process all the stimuli and she could calm down. Young kids can only take so much stimulation and then they get overwhelmed and lose it.

  33. This is such an awful load of crap! Why are so many women brainwashed by this purity mom martyr BS?! I can’t believe the level of self righteousness in this woman and the waaaay OT judgement.

    Next time you have a judgement about what another mother is doing grow a pair and talk to the mother directly.


  34. WOW. I can somewhat understand where you were coming from **BUT** you made major assumptions about what was going on here, and *that* is what made your intervention inappropriate.

    My son, until he turned about 2.5, would throw tantrums at least as intense as the crying described above simply because he didn’t want to be in the store, or wanted a treat. I had no choice but to utterly ignore that behavior; indulging it would have been bad parenting. I personally highly doubt that this child randomly wanted to snuggle in the middle of the store. It’s possible, but not nearly as likely as just a power-play tantrum.

  35. Honestly, what you expect the mom to do, if a complete stranger is interacting with her child. I think this lady was over the line and was doing a whole lot of judging, without a whole lot of compassion. The best thing is to interact with the mom in a kind and positive way.

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