Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sensitivity in the Supermarket: How to be sensitive in public with a kid (or kids)

One of my favorite things to do with W is go to the supermarket. He LOVES it. His little squeals echo down the aisles, there are many things to touch and see, and the aisles are perfect for an almost-running toddler to practice his stride.

However, and paradoxically, one of my least favorite things to do with W is go to the supermarket because it reminds me of what life was like when W wasn't here and I was in a difficult place with babymaking. I remember all too well how it felt to go to the market, a place I *had* to visit to buy food and toilet paper, and see someone's bratty little kid running around giggling. Why? I didn't have a bratty little kid of my own. And during a miscarriage, the last thing I really wanted to see was a happy mother and baby in public. I felt like a horrible person about it--why couldn't I just be happy to see them? Why couldn't I delight in the idea that maybe I would one day be that mother? Answer: I just couldn't and it was okay and fair to feel that way. Even now, I feel that same sting, sometimes even as I'm holding W in my arms.

The supermarket (or, the world) is a contradictory place.

So yesterday, while we were wandering the supermarket aisles, I started mentally compiling a list of things that I could/should do when in public to be sensitive to others, especially fellow infertiles who might need or wish for a little space. This is certainly not the first time I've thought about this--I think about it almost every time I'm in a public place with him.

Here is the list--feel free to add other thoughts or suggestions in the comments!

1. Be humble and apologize if the kid runs right up to someone else's cart with joy, even if I'm not sure whether the cart-pusher is unhappy or not. Humility never hurt anyone and it can ease the mind on both sides. I remember appreciating parents who did this when I was TTC or going through a rough time. I hope I can do the same for someone else.

2. Try to keep the kid in the cart (or calm and not squealing) as much as possible. For me, it's possible for almost 3/4 of the supermarket trip. But at some point, W squirms and whines to run and play. I think parents should always do the best we can to keep the child in our control in places like supermarkets.

3. Don't force interaction between the kid and other shoppers. I've been the unfortunate recipient of a forced interaction where a mother was encouraging her son to say "hi" to me, and all I wanted to do was get away. Instead, I had to wait as the cute kid attempted to say hello, and I had to be cheery and sweet in response. Ugh. If a shopper wants to interact with my kid: fine! If the kid is starting the interaction, lead him away unless it's absolutely clear that the shopper is welcoming the interaction. Otherwise, remember #1: humility.

4. Remember that supermarkets do not belong to children and families. I know this seems like common sense, but toddlers think that everything belongs to them, and so it is the job of the parent to teach the child where and when those feelings of entitlement are appropriate. This means that one or two squeals down the aisle are enough. Then, it's time to redirect and let others have space. Singing songs in line is cute for a minute, but then it's enough. Bring toys and open the bag of cookies to fill the kid's mouth with something to (quietly) pacify him. Supermarkets and other very public places should be safe for all people, and it's a parent's job to make it so.

5. Smiling and being happy with the kid is fine. But don't be obnoxious about it. There are 23 other hours of the day to grin with joy at my child, and I don't need to do it so openly in public places like supermarkets.


  1. That's a good, thoughtful list. Unconsciously, I have been doing most of these things without really realizing why. Now I get that I have been trying to minimize other's discomfort, based on my own experience.

    Thought-provoking post.

  2. Hello from ICLWland! Thank you for the wonderful suggestions! I just hope that more people out there see it and take it to heart!