Saturday, June 20, 2009

What to Say to a Parent Who's Losing It

We've had a busy last few days -- Father's Day, then my Mum's 65th (!) birthday on Monday, then we took all four kids to Disneyland yesterday evening for our last hurrah until the SoCal annual pass works again in late August.

While we were shepherding everyone into a couple tables with the million dollars of fast food, I noticed a dad behind us with a double stroller (like us) and a kid on his back. The twins were under 2, and the "big kid" was just under 4. I was amazed by how overwhelming it looked to me -- he was outnumbered, after all, and he looked dazed. And then I remembered that we had been in that same situation with one extra kid! Our newborn twins came home to a house with a 4 and a 7 year old. No wonder people looked at me like I was pulling rabbits out of a hat.

Since I remembered the feeling of being so outnumbered and physically drained by every outing, I said something to him. He lit up, and we talked frankly about how hard little kids/babies can be. Turns out his wife had committed herself for a while. While that seems extreme, that leads me to the original inspiration for this post. When you see a parent losing it with their child in public, is it right to say something? The article starts with evidence of Liv Tyler daring to confront someone who's slapping a little kid -- as well she should.

Here's what I do, when I can. (As in, when my own kids aren't going so nutty as to distract me from a potential nuclear bomb going off next to me.) Yes, say something. Not necessarily along the lines of, "you suck as a parent." More in the vein of, "your daughter is beautiful/spirited/just like mine." Lie, if you have to (you can invent a child who did that very thing, for example), but try to speak to the person inside the screaming nut. That can often difuse a bad situation. Back to my dad-of-twins-and-a-toddler interaction -- speak to the people who are quietly losing it as well. The mom struggling to nurse her newborn, the parents schlepping luggage and kids through Customs & Immigration. The companion of the tantrum thrower in the checkout line.

All you have to say is, "I've been there." Those of us who've lost it will appreciate it.

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