Here’s why I need to be left alone when my kids are melting down in public

Posted in Behaviour and Discipline.

You’ve seen me – or a mum just like me – standing in the middle of the fruit and veg aisle at the supermarket looking utterly panicked.

One of my threenagers is melting down VERY LOUDLY because her free banana broke in half, I’ve completely lost sight of her twin sister, and I’ve just spotted my five-year-old pulling a toy from the middle of a teetering display that looks set to topple onto her head.

Welcome to Anxiety Town, population: one frazzled mum.

Staring isn’t caring

Whenever these scenes occur – basically every time I’m dumb enough to bring all my kids to the shops – I can feel 27 pairs of eyes riveted on me. I’d really appreciate it if yours weren’t number 28.

While I know deep down that you’re probably sympathetic to my plight and wondering how you can help, my skyrocketing stress levels trick my mind into believing that you’re judging me. Or that there’s nothing you could possibly do or say to help me.

I just want everyone to look away so I can deal with my wild children sans the audience.

And please don’t try to lighten the mood

I know you’re just trying to help and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but please don’t approach me and make a joke to lighten the mood because you’re likely to be met with a death stare.

And don’t even think about asking my kids why they’re so cranky in an attempt to divert their attention. This well-meaning tactic will only serve to crank their crankiness up a notch and it may well leave us all in tears.

Before you crucify me, let’s be clear on one thing: it’s not you, it’s me. You’re not doing anything wrong – you’re just trying to help. But by that stage, my stress levels have reached code red and all my attention is focused on removing my children from the trigger situation.

Toddler girl lying on floor having tantrum - feature

I have an exit plan and I need to stick to it. I really don’t have time for banter. Nothing is funny to me at all right now. Amy Schumer could bust into Woolies and perform a spontaneous stand-up in the seafood section and I wouldn’t even crack a smile. 

I’m sorry for seeming rude, but this type of situation is beyond embarrassing and anxiety-inducing for a mum. Everyone is staring and I don’t want to lose my cool, but I can feel the tears clogging my throat and making it hard to breathe.

I’ve fled the scene of my children’s meltdowns in tears more than once and I’m doing everything in my power to avoid that extra level of humiliation.

“But I just want to help!”

You’re in a pickle now because of me, aren’t you? Next time you see a stressed-out mum desperately trying to calm a toddler who’s screaming bloody murder because his grapes are red rather than green, you’ll have no idea what to do.

Should you intervene and risk stressing her out even more? Or look the other way and be consumed by guilt for not reaching out a helping hand to someone in need?

I get it. Last week, I had to force myself not to make a bad joke about wine o’clock when I crossed paths with a mum who was whisper-yelling at her kids to “STOP IIIIIIIT.” Despite my own feelings about strangers getting involved in these types of situations, my instinct was to help her in any way possible.

But I took one look at her furrowed brow and panicked eyes, and I knew better. She was devising her exit strategy and she should NOT be interrupted under any circumstances. So instead of making an ill-advised monkey face at her child, I went on my merry way.

Here’s what you can do

You’ve gotten the picture about what you shouldn’t do, but is there anything you can do to help me if you see me on the verge of tears in a public place?

Offer a sympathetic smile that shows me that you get it, that I’m not alone, that your kids (or nephews or grandkids) can be ratbags too, that it’s not my fault, that I’m not a sh*t mum. I know that’s a lot of things for one small smile to say, but I’ll understand.

If I’m struggling with 27 bags while I try to herd my wild animals, a gentle offer to help me carry them is nice. I may refuse because my heart is pounding with panic, but I’ll appreciate it.

But whatever you do, please don’t stare at me from a distance to see how I’ll handle my crazy situation or expect me to have a sense of humour about it.

Remember: it’s not you, it’s me.


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