I’m browsing through the chip aisle at the dollar store when I overhear a mother and her three kids. By the time I get to the checkout line, she is already waiting at the end of a slightly lengthy line. I watch one of her children wander several feet away, attracted by a toy she wants. She comes back, riding on a large toy jeep. At this point, there is an obvious battle of wills brewing, and I must confess that my initial reaction was a deep sigh, an internal eyeroll, and annoyance at the thought that I was about to hear a tantrum.
But, what I observed was something entirely different. As I watched, the little girl did ask for the toy, but her mother told her to put it back. The child, probably 3 or 4 years old, decided (as children her age so often do) to test her mother’s resolve by ignoring her instruction to put the toy back. She stayed firmly seated on the toy and refused to move.
Her mom did not give in, beg, plead, negotiate, or raise her voice to make her daughter obey. Her mom counted to three.
When she reached three, she told her two older children to stay in line, she walked over to her daughter, picked her up off the toy, and physically walked her over to where they toy was supposed to be and made her put it back. Then, she walked to the check out counter, made her purchases, and left.
But, before she got all the way to the counter, she turned to me and apologized.
I saw the embarrassment on her face and knew she had experienced the hot shame of being silently, harshly judged for the way she mothers her children. I know that feeling. We all know that feeling. So, in that moment, I had a choice. I could stand there in silence, allowing her to continue to worry about what everyone was thinking, or I could show compassion and empathy for a frazzled mom just trying to get through a shopping trip with three young children in tow.
So, I looked her in the eyes and said, “Don’t apologize. You’re doing a great job, mom.”
I saw the relief cross her face. I’ll probably never see her again. As I was waiting my turn in line, the woman behind me started talking to me. It was clear that she had a felt need for encouragement too, and had overhead what I said to the young mother ahead of me in line. I wondered to myself how many people were walking around today in need of some encouragement.
As I grabbed my groceries and left, I wondered how many opportunities I had missed to encourage someone who desperately needed it, and I prayed for the Lord to help me see these opportunities and make the right choice from now on.
Patricia Taylor is the Editor for Soul Care Collective and a member of the Seedbed Farm Team.