On Taking Your Children in Public…


I am here to tell the moms (and dads) of the world not to panic. Chances are high that your children are just fine in public, no one is staring at you, and you’re doing a great job. Don’t believe me? Read on!

My younger son was a tantrum-thrower extraordinaire. There were days in his early toddlerhood that I wondered if leaving the house at all was a good idea since there was always the chance he’d lose it and I’d be mortified. Of course, I am talking about family-friendly places: children’s museums, the park, the grocery store, etc…not the Ritz-Carlton, of course. Later, as he grew out of tantrums, his little brother came along, and I worried about the scandal of “Nursing In Public”, my newly potty trained toddler wetting his pants, and the myriad terrible things that could happen while doing anything with a newborn in an Ergo and a toddler in an umbrella stroller. Then, one day, a conversation with a woman in a campus book store changed my mind on the matter.

I was in a long line to purchase textbooks for my final semester of grad school. My older son was newly three, and my younger son was six months old. I had the baby in the front carrier, and the toddler holding one of my hands while my other hand held my books. My wallet was in my backpack. I looked like a frazzled, yoga-pants-wearing pack mule. As I was getting my wallet out of my backpack, no small feat with the baby strapped to me, my older son tried to “help” and sent all my change flying into the display of candy bars next to us. I was bright red and out of patience. “Nate!” I said quietly, “What were you doing? Don’t grab at my wallet!” The woman ahead of me in line was buying books with her college-aged son. She looked like she might cry as she helped me gather my coins, which were literally buried inside, around, and behind the candy bar boxes. “Did you say…Nate?!” she asked “Yes…” I replied. “Well this is my Nate!” she said, patting her (super, duper embarrassed) son’s shoulder. “I miss that age so much! It goes by too fast!

Now, under normal circumstances, I’d be semi-annoyed at hearing that I should “enjoy this time” as I was ready to collapse with exhaustion and frustration. But instead, I noticed something. I was frustrated and embarrassed that my son caused a scene. But why? Was anyone else visibly annoyed by us? Was it even a “scene”? Nope. In fact, this woman was practically crying about how she loved seeing the boys and the memories it brought back. I was the only one upset here.

Time has passed, and I now work as a museum educator in a busy children’s museum, and I can assure you…your children are much better in public than you think they are. I see a lot of families come through the doors, and you know what? Kids cry, wet their pants, ignore their parents’ warnings of “we are leaving in five minutes!”, pout, and make messes. This is part of life. And they all do it from time to time. It’s a much bigger deal to the parents, who see this kind of thing all day long, than it is to the general public. What does stick out, are the extraordinary things: the child who asks the little boy playing alone if he wants to join in a game, the parents who offer a diaper to a tired mom so she doesn’t have to go to the car for the forgotten diaper bag, the grandmother who encourages her granddaughter to share her roll of pennies with a little boy at the wishing well. 

So parents, stop worrying. Your child isn’t the first to stamp her feet because you won’t buy her a candy bar (good job staying strong on that one, by the way), and your son isn’t the first to refuse to put his shoes back on, causing to you football-carry him stoically to his carseat. It’s all much worse on the parents than it is on the rest of us. So don’t panic! Try to enjoy experiencing the world with your kids, teaching them to behave properly through experience, and remember– we have all been there, whether as parents or as children ourselves.

12 comments on “On Taking Your Children in Public…”

  1. I could have been the mom of Big Nate! I feel SOOOO sad for frazzled moms who appear mortified at their kids’ kidlike behavior. I was the same way (in fact would NOT EVER leave the house with screaming Baby #1 until my lovely friend forcibly ejected me). If only we older moms could transplant our perspective into the younger moms! And even though it is a total cliche, it is hard to think of something more original that “enjoy this time,” because it is so true. This is why my main piece of advice is to video the kids as much as possible because you will truly not remember how cute, innocent and unhairy they once were!

    Which is not to say that there weren’t some wretched awful times (remember the toileting difficulties I blogged about and you affirmed) and moments I wanted to throw them both in the trunk of the car and do my shopping in peace. Since we are on the forefront of the NOT JUDGING FELLOW MOMS movement, how great of you to take that other NateMom’s message and pass it on! I really enjoyed this post.

  2. This happens a lot to us at church. Whenever mass is over and we gather and talk to friends we know, we ALWAYS apologize about how loud or “fresh” our daughter was. And they always tell us “we didn’t hear a thing!” or she didn’t seem bad at all. So we realized that it was all in our minds.

      1. LOL, I only do things that make my life EASIER! Dinner out = don’t have to do dishes or cook. A day at the train museum = entertainment for the kids = mommy doesn’t have to figure out how to keep them occupied! Hahah. Things that are difficult to do with twins that provide no added benefit…like grocery shopping…I try not to do with them in tow!

  3. I think the reason parents feel embarassed in situations like the ones you’ve described is that a child acting up in public could be viewed by others as a sign that you’re not doing a good job. The more you let go of trying to be the perfect mom, the less stressful these instances will be for you. Less stress=Happy mom=Happy kids. Love the spirit of this.

    1. YES! I could not have said that better myself. Once you accept that they all melt sometimes, and that this is just part of the mom gig..it’s so much easier! Thank you for your kind words 🙂

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