Without realizing it, the more kids we add to our family, the more I avoid situations where our family of six might cause a scene. I’ve turned down invitations and skipped events fearful that we might distract or inconvenience others. I didn’t realize this tendency until a cashier’s kind gesture forced me to reflect recently.
It started weeks ago when my seven-year-old began asking to use her own money to purchase candy or gum. I put it off for various reasons: I didn’t want her to spend money on junk, I didn’t want to wait while she took hours to pick something out, and I didn’t want her younger siblings upset that they couldn’t do the same.
But on this particular day, I had no reason to say no. She earned the money and we had plenty of time during my mid-day grocery run, so when she looked at me with pleading eyes, I sighed and nodded. She practically floated to the car protecting her small fortune in a tiny purse draped over her shoulder.
We finished the trip in the candy aisle. By this point, my patience was wearing thin. My eight-month-old couldn’t get comfortable and I lost count how many times my three-year-old had run into my ankles with a kids’ shopping cart.
She stood and contemplated what she wanted. She asked questions. She compared prices and colors and flavors. I juggled the three-year-old and infant. She contemplated some more. Someone nearby gave us a look and I panicked that our presence annoyed people. She finally made her choice and we headed over to the checkout.
As I shoveled items onto the conveyor belt, I asked her if we could pay for everything all together to save time and she could give me three dollars instead of making two different transactions. She looked at me with pleading eyes and before she could say anything, the cashier picked up on what was happening and took over.
“Hello, sweetheart. That’s it, just put the item right up here and I’ll scan it.” I tried to protest and tell her we could pay for everything all together since it would be more efficient, but she ignored me and carried on.
She scanned the candy, smiled, looked at the screen and said, “That will be three dollars and eight cents.”
My daughter handed her a wad of bills.
“Oh, no, dear. You better count them before you give them to me. Let me help you.”
She bent over the counter and helped my daughter straighten and count the money. My little one stood a little taller.
My daughter then carefully counted out eight cents while the cashier encouraged her; then the transaction was complete. My daughter beamed. My heart sunk. I was proud of her independence, but ashamed that I almost stole this opportunity for growth.
I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking through how often I’ve cheated my kids out of these opportunities and why I avoid situations where we might possibly make a scene due to the sheer number of people in our family.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I think the real issue isn’t that my family might inconvenience others, it’s that I’m afraid of what others will think of me if we do.
Deep down, I think my fear of inconveniencing others stems from my insecurity as a mom. If my four kids misbehave, I’m afraid others will judge my parenting or question why I have so many kids.
Honestly, keeping my kids from these situations only makes matters worse because it deprives them of opportunities to learn and it deprives our family of these “it takes a village” moments. I’m not advocating that my kids’ opportunities should take precedence over everyone else’s experiences, I’m just trying to find a balance and it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone.
That day, without any judgment, the cashier said matter-of-factly, “Kids will never learn if we don’t give them a chance,” and I was reminded that parents need lots of chances, too. Parenting is hard. Parenting in private, parenting in public, parenting in general is hard and it’s a process that requires me to grow. As much as my kids need opportunities to grow and develop, so do I as a parent. As much as they need to be pushed out of their comfort zone to gain confidence, so do I.
I’ve been intentionally saying yes to more invitations the last few weeks because not only do I want my kids to have opportunities for growth, I need them, too. Every day we grow a little bit more, together.