Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents

To the fan I lost yesterday:

I don’t owe you an explanation, but I thought I’d offer one anyway. I do this more for your sake than mine. You see, maybe, as you later suggested, I was in a bad mood. Maybe I could have been a bit more polite about it. Maybe I’m more sensitive to it now that I have kids. Maybe I’m just sick of hearing these comments about parents. Maybe I know that my wife has to take the twins with her when she goes grocery shopping sometimes, so she could easily be on the receiving end of your sort of bullying. Maybe I took it personally.

Whatever the case, there I was, walking down the aisles of the grocery store looking for the ingredients for a new chili recipe I wanted to try. I heard the kid screaming from a distance; the whole store heard him. It was a temper tantrum, a meltdown, a hissy fit — it happens. Toddlers are notorious for losing their cool at the most inconvenient times. Nobody likes to hear it, but it happens. You’re out running errands with your little guy, everything is fine, and next thing you know he’s in full-on rabid poodle mode. It’s humiliating and emotionally draining, but what can you do? Pull out that large glass sound proof aquarium you carry around and stick your kid in it so nobody can hear him shriek? That’s a possibility, but the logistics don’t always work. Slightly more realistically, the peanut gallery probably expects you to drop all of your groceries and immediately run into the parking lot, so as to save them from having to deal with the spectacle. But it’s not always that simple; maybe you don’t have time to shut down the whole operation just because Billy’s gone nuclear.

It wasn’t that simple for the mother of this kid. I finally came across her in the beans aisle. She had a cart full of groceries, a kid riding along, and another one walking beside her. Well, he wasn’t really walking so much as convulsing and thrashing about like he’d invented some bizarre, angry interpretive dance. He was upset about something, from what I gathered it had to do with a certain lucky cereal he wished to acquire, but which his mother refused to purchase. I felt his pain, poor guy. My mom never bought me sugary cereal either — “breakfast candy,” she called it. She used to get us Cheerio’s — “breakfast cardboard,” I called it.

I felt the woman’s pain even more. She could bribe her kid into silence, but she was sticking to her guns. Good for her, I thought. Sure, if she’d only meet his ransom demands, my bean purchasing experience would be a bit more pleasurable, but I was rooting for her nonetheless. Not everyone felt the same way, apparently.

I’d met you a few minutes earlier. You told me you were a fan. We spoke for a moment, you seemed nice enough. Then we crossed paths again there by the beans and the screaming toddler. I guess you thought we were friends, you thought you could confide in me your deepest thoughts. You glanced toward the mother and the kid, then at me, rolled your eyes and said in a loud voice: “Man, some people need to learn how to control their f**king kids.” The lady could definitely hear you, but I guess that was your intention. You had this expression like you were expecting a high five. “Yeah, put it here, dude, you really told that young mother and her three year old off! Nice!” Is that how you thought I’d respond? What is it about me that made you think I would react that way? You’re the second stranger in the last few months to say something like that to me about a mom with a tantrum-throwing toddler.

Yeah, I didn’t respond the way you anticipated. Instead, I offered my own helpful suggestion: “Man, some people need to learn how to shut their mouths, watch their language, and mind their own business.” You looked at me like I hurt your feelings, then you muttered some choice words under your breath — as cowards are wont to do — and walked away. Later that day you sent me an email, threatening to tell everyone that I’m “abusive” and “crappy” to my listeners. Well, now I’m one step ahead of you. Now, everyone knows about my shameful “abuse.” Let them decide who’s the bully: the guy who vulgarly insults a woman while she’s dealing with a difficult child, or the guy who tells the guy who insulted the woman to shut up and go away?

After you left, injury was quickly added to insult when her kid bumped into a display and knocked a bunch of stuff onto the ground. I started to help pick it all up, but she said she wanted her son to do it because he’s the one who made the mess. TouchĂ©, madam. Nicely played. A lot of people would buckle under the pressure of having sonny going psycho in aisle 7, while, seemingly, the whole world stops to gawk and scrutinize, but this lady stayed cool and composed. It was an inspiring performance, and it’s too bad you missed the point because your feeble mind can only calculate the equation this way: misbehaving child = BAD PARENT.

I’m no math major, but that calculus makes no sense. A kid going berserk at a grocery store doesn’t indicate the quality of his parents, anymore than a guy getting pneumonia after he spends six hours naked in the snow indicates the quality of his doctor. Grocery stores are designed to send children into crying fits. All of the sugary food, the bright packaging, the toys, the candy — it’s a minefield. The occasional meltdown is unavoidable, the real test is how you deal with it. This mother handled it like a pro. She was like mom-ninja; she was calm and poised, but stern and in command.

See, I figure there are two types of people who mock and criticize parents whose children throw tantrums in public. The first is — from what I gathered based on your age (you looked about 19? 20, perhaps?) and what you said in your follow up email — your type: the non-parent who thinks, if they ever have kids, they’ll discover the secret formula that will prevent their hypothetical son or daughter from ever crying in front of other people. Then they promptly scrutinize and chastise real parents for not having this fake, imaginary, impossible, non existent formula. This sort of non-parent doesn’t realize that, unless they plan on using a muzzle and a straightjacket, there is nothing they can do to tantrum-proof their toddler.

Fine. Ignorant non-parents, who don’t know what they’re talking about, imposing ridiculous standards on actual parents because it makes them feel superior. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. As bad as you people are, you’re not nearly as horrible as the second type: actual parents with grown children who judge other parents, as if they haven’t been in the exact same situation many times. I had an older guy complain to me recently about babies that cry during church. He said: “Back when our children were babies, you didn’t have this problem.” Interesting. Apparently babies didn’t cry in the 50’s. The whole “crying baby” thing is a new fad, it would seem. These folks who had kids a long time ago seem to have a rather selective memory when it comes to their own days of parenting young kids. They also tend to dismiss the fact that modern parenting presents unique challenges, some of which didn’t apply several decades ago. I always love the older folks who lecture about how THEIR kids weren’t as “attached to electronics” as kids are nowadays. That’s probably true, but mainly because, well, YOU DIDN’T HAVE ELECTRONICS. You had a toaster and a black and white TV with 2 channels, both of which were pretty easy to regulate. But, sure, congratulations for not letting your kids use things that didn’t exist. On that note, I have a strict “no time machines or hover-boards” policy in my home. It is stringently enforced. I’m thinking of writing a parenting book: “How to Stop Your Child From Becoming Dependent Upon Technology That Isn’t Invented Yet”

Anyway, listen, I don’t think you, of all people, should be telling other folks what they “need to learn.” If you just shut up and paid attention, you’d realize that YOU could learn plenty from mothers like the one we both encountered yesterday. I know I have lots and lots to learn as a young parent, which is why I’m always prepared for a more experienced parent to take me to school and teach me a thing or two, even if they don’t know they’re doing it. Parenting is the easiest thing in the world to have an opinion about, but the hardest thing in the world to do. You shouldn’t scrutinize parents when you aren’t one, for the same reason I wouldn’t sit and heckle an architect while he draws up the blueprint for a new skyscraper. I know that buildings generally aren’t supposed to fall down, but I don’t have the slightest clue as to how to design one that won’t, so I’ll just keep my worthless architectural opinions to myself.

That’s a strategy you might consider adopting.

In any event, it was nice meeting you.


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Twitter: @MattWalshRadio

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11,444 Responses to Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents

  1. Diana says:

    Another perspective, I have a nerve disorder, loud harsh noises can and do send me into seizures. When I am in a store and a child is screaming and pitching a fit it is very hard for me. I try to be understanding but it is really difficult. If I say anything then I am the bad person. Why should I or others with this disorder have to suffer because of a child that is out of control? I love children. I do not love their screams and I feel I have the right to shop in peace and quiet where my health is not compromised.

    • Diana, no offense but if someone honks the horn on their car, their car security alarm goes off, they play loud music from their car, etc. you will experience loud things as well. Life is imperfect. I’m sorry about your condition but reality is you live in the world and if you go somewhere you’re going to deal with this. You will never get away from it so there’s no use complaining about it.

    • Sparky says:

      Simple. Stop thinking about your disorder and your needs over that of a child.

    • sculptoralison says:

      I understand you have a problem that is serious and interferes with your quality of life, but there is no “right to shop in peace and quiet.” We all have to deal with situations that are beyond our control and affect us adversely. That’s part of living in the world with other people. I do my best to keep my children in line and make sure they act politely, but it’s not a 100% thing. Kids are learning how to act in this world and aren’t able to be little adults.

    • Chris says:

      As a parent of young children I never want my child to cause a huge loud scene, but as he explained these places are designed to cause these situations. They are out of our control. Just like many other things are out of our control if we choose to explore the word outside of our own environment. I would say that since you have this disorder that you do things to give yourself provision when you leave your house. You can’t control if a car backfires or a loud siren goes by, but you are aware that if you choose to venture out things are bound to happen. If you want peace and quiet I would suggest you either not leave your house or wear earplugs to places where you know there is the chance for loud outbursts.

    • Kristin says:

      I have a problem with painful human noise, myself. It can send me into fits. So what do I do? I carry earplugs with me. Night and day difference. Try it, and best of luck to you!

    • Kathy Tucker says:

      I would suggest because of your health condition, that you shop later in the day, or night, when the least amount of people are in the store.

    • Diana – I feel for you, I really do. I have three children and a husband with epilepsy. One of my boys outgrew his seizures but we still deal with them from time to time with the rest my gang. In fact, my youngest went down in the middle of Goodwill a few weeks back, breaking the longest seizure-free period he’s had in a LONG time.

      So please don’t think I am attacking you because I understand the fear of going into a seizure in public, even if I am not the one with the disorder. Here’s the thing … when we decide to live our lives because of our difficulties instead of in spite of them … we lose out on life.

      I’m learning this the hard way – we isolated so badly as my guys have grown up, because it was so hard dealing with the public (by the way, all mine are autistic … talk about being loud and uncomfortable in public – meltdown are CRAZY with my gang).

      So can I offer you a suggestion, instead of seeing these things as a reason why you can’t shop “in peace” – because you have to know honestly and realistically that isn’t gonna happen since we live in such a busy world – perhaps have some cards made up (if you are by yourself; otherwise I would actually suggest having a partner in crime with you when you shop and let them man the cards). I would explain you have epilepsy and here is why, with a link where they can go to find out more information – lay it out concisely on the card. That way when you go down you have a way to help handle the fallout (totally get how hard that part is!) … and also …

      Consider have some noise-cancelling ear buds or head phones that you can put on quickly in case of loud noises … it might now save you from sudden loud outbursts, but it might be a proactive step you can take so you feel in control of your disorder.

      In the meantime, remember what we’ve repeated to ourselves constantly as we’ve dealt with the public … our child’s (your) diagnosis and condition doesn’t make the rest of the world stop what they’re doing, and it doesn’t help them understand what you’re going through – only education and understanding do that. But it has to be shown on both sides – yours and theirs.

      • HS says:

        I totally agree about the good ideas, but even though the world doesn’t have to stop, perhaps parents could consider her comfort as much as theirs. I don’t see a lot of people doing that in this me society we live in today. If Diana has seizures because of loud noise – – and I halfway doubt that – – but, okay, I’ll take it on her word, it really is not a nice thing to have out in public. I know from experience. I still have seizures when I’m asleep, but used to have them everywhere when my meds weren’t quite right. So we could all try to be a little quieter, and train kids better.

    • Brittni says:

      I have a simple solution for you: try headphones. You know the ones you buy to go shooting with? I work with children on the Autism spectrum, who have tantrums quite regularly, but, are also often VERY sensitive to harsh sounds. Our solution to keep them happy and secure are these headphones, they work very well to drown out the harsh sounds. If your condition is really that debilitating in an environment with loud noises, then this should work well for you.

    • jes says:

      buy yourself some noise cancelling headphones… problem solved!

      • Gina says:

        Why is a child who “needs” sugary cereal more important than someone with a disorder? In my opinion, both are valuable human beings, and there is no real priority – so I’m a bit surprised at the f— you comments toward someone with epilepsy (and I’m sure you’re all qualified neurospecialists). Yes, children have tantrums and it does sound like the mom in this case was doing a great job. But, I have seen many parents not give a hoot about their child’s atrocious behavior in public. If I had a condition, and people didn’t care about me, I’d say, I don’t care about your child. Fair?

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  3. Liz says:

    I half agree with you. He should have just kept his mouth shut. But the mother also should have taken her kids out of the store–yes, even abandoning her groceries, and this is coming from a former cashier who hated finding those carts and having to put everything back. Three-year-olds have tantrums, it happens. But, as you said, no one wants to hear it. When I was a child, my mother or father would take me out of the store if I misbehaved (spanking was involved, but I don’t agree with THAT). End of shopping trip, end of story. They didn’t let my brother or I remain in the store if we behaved like banshees. They considered it rude to the other shoppers, and embarrassing to them.

    Also, does your reasoning apply to restaurants? I’m not arguing, I’m genuinely asking. Does the comfort of the other diners matter at all? What if one of them was trying to have a birthday dinner, and someone’s toddler is screaming and/or won’t stay in his/her seat, and all the parents do is try to reason with or bribe him or her? It’s nigh impossible to reason with a three-year-old (who wants what he or she wants, and that’s that!), and it’s even more so when they’re in full-blown tantrum mode. Sorry, but I think that taking them outside and cutting the excursion short is simply the way to go sometimes.

  4. Qman's Mommy says:

    When my son was littler, we ran into a pair of women. These women had 2 children between them and one had a bun in the oven. My husband and I figured preggo needed help… Until we happened to see one kid bolt down an aisle and BOTH charming ladies began screaming. Preggo took off after the kid (she could move too). At this point, kid #2 takes off after her. The other lady begins yelling at #2 to stop running… And stands where she is in the aisle. That was the start of a trip that hand my husband and I ducking out of the aisle asap when the ladies entered with the kids. By the end of the trip, our son is having a massive meltdown. He’s hungry, tired, and wants down to grab all the candy he was snatching up earlier. We laugh at his tantrum, we tell him we’re almost done; my husband snatches the grapes off the belt after they’ve been rung up, and FINALLY our son chills out enough the old man behind us isn’t sighing as heavy as possible. Well, the lovely ladies and their kids joined the check out lane next to us behind an older lady. Preggo is again yelling at kid #1 who is crying silently. Kid #2 is bawling openly and being told to “suck it up like a normal kid.” The old guy behind us groans and leaves. The older lady? She turns to my husband and I and loudly compliments us: “It’s so refreshing to see parents who can adapt and laugh at a difficult moment instead of screaming louder than the kid.” She grabs her cart and leaves. My husband and I were definitely full of ourselves after that, but we’ve never snapped or shown our butts when it comes to other kids throwing tantrums. Usually, I end up looking at the tantrum-thrower, smiling, and saying “Goodness, you must like crying. I don’t want to see you smile. Don’t do it.” That gets the kid’s attention enough to quiet them or make them smile, tantrum forgotten. I’m not saying anyone has to say anything, but you definitely shouldn’t put a parent in a worse situation or make them feel bad for a misbehaving kid. Now, a misbehaving parent is another story…

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