Parenting Crisis? Nothing to See Here. Everything’s Fine

Parenting Crisis - Dads Round Table

It’s 9:30 in the evening. You are sitting in your comfy chair, laptop open to 6 different tabs as you scan fantasy football sites because your league draft is approaching. Your wife is on the couch, deep in a Jigidi jigsaw puzzle on her Kindle. The TV quietly plays a Big Bang Theory re-run (the one where the guys buy a time machine) in the background. The kids, thankfully, are bathed and asleep in bed. Blissful, indeed.

Your wife looks up.

“You know, I’d really like some ice cream.” Sigh.

“Chocolate mint chip. Or coffee. Or Cherry Garcia. Really, dear, it’s up to you.” Smile.

You know the drill. You put down the computer and arise from your chair. You slide into your flipflops, grab your keys and wallet, and head to market.

You’ve grabbed a donut (which will stay in the car) for a morning drive-time treat. You are standing in front of the freezer section and you hear it from the next aisle; a child’s screech, his long loud howl, and then the sobbing, tornado force, kicks in. With the kid just this side of an utter meltdown, you grab the chocolate mint chip and turn to leave. You hear, in an angry and anxious voice, a parent biting off words under the breath:

“You. Better. Shut-up. And Behave. Or else.  You’ll. Really. Be. Crying.”

As you pass aisle 9 (the cereal and sobbing child aisle), you grab a quick look. The kid might be two years old. It’s 9:40 at night. “No wonder the kid is howling,” you think. “Kid is exhausted. From the looks of things, the parent’s done in, too.”

You linger a moment. You think about offering a consoling glance or word. “Should I offer to help,maybe, just to ease the tension?” you think.  But you don’t.

Like most of us (unless we witness some abuse), we are loathe to intrude on other parents in the midst of a parenting crisis.

That, folks, is the truth. We don’t. Why?

We spend our lives seeking help in times of crisis. When I’m on the golf course and hitting a slice, I think nothing of asking for help. I have been known to beg for help.  As a soccer player, I relied upon my coaches on game day to straighten me out.

In my professional life, when I had a difficult client meeting ahead, I game-planned like crazy with more experienced colleagues who were often dragooned into attending my truly  tough client meetings. As a teacher, I always relied on my building principal for back-up in crisis moments. When I divorced and things did not make sense, I gladly sought the help of a therapist.

You have similar stories to tell.

Yet, in our most important role; child-rearing, in times of crisis, we do not ask for help. Perhaps even worse, in times of crisis, should help be offered, help is refused. It is refused, even by the most mild-mannered among us, with an anger and vehemence that is shocking.

We’ve all seen it. A child starts to melt down. The parent slides right down the slope with the kid. A stranger offers a kind word. The parent erupts into a near-maniacal rage. Yet, every single parent has had to deal with a child’s tantrum in public. Kids erupt, for reasons parents cannot fathom. That’s not shocking news. But help? Who asks for help? Not me. Not you.

Solutions? I have none. I’m just trying to understand. At this point, I need your help to sort this properly.

Your big questions (There’s a test next week):

1)     Did you ever stop and offer a kind word or gesture in such circumstances? How was it taken?

2)     Has anyone ever offered solace to you when your kid lost it? How did you receive it?

3)     Why does a public melt down strike so deeply at our core as parents?

4)     Is there a way to resolve to this disconnect so we can all be better parents?


The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at

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  1. I never…ever… start by engaging the parents. I start with a smile, a wave, and a “hello” to the child in question and see how it develops from there. If I know it’s gonna go bad, I just keep on trucking. Years in retail helps condition you to such a situation and teaches you how gauge the reaction of the parent. It’s amazing how far the simplest nod of encouragement will go.

    I have received encouragement. The best kind is from little old ladies who just give a pat on the shoulder and quietly say, “You’re a good dad.”

    I don’t know the answer to 3 and 4 and I think we grow out of that phase before we can start to answer it. Great piece, David!

  2. David Stanley says:

    Thanks, Jared. I like your suggestion a lot, engage the kid. I’d be interested in your thoughts on number 3. It seems as if a parenting FAIL is the worst fail of all. I’ve seen lots of adults shrug off some pretty bad (and avoidable) ‘being a good human FAILs with a wink and a nudge, yet the parent FAIL, ooh, boy. Venture a guess? please?

  3. The answer to 3 is because we have probably been pretty close to being there, but somewhere along the way (through good parenting or whatnot) we had stop gaps built in our brain that prevents us for letting it come to fruition. It bothers us to the core because along with the anger/disgust at the situation, we can understand exactly how the parent feels, even though we don’t understand why they didn’t stop it.

    I sometimes intervene – smile at the child and then ask the parent if there is anything I can do to help in a genuine, not condemning or criticizing tone. I can’t tell you how many mothers (and one dad) I have spoken to at the grocery store or department store that have felt like random counseling sessions when it’s over.

    I think the biggest problem is that our initial reaction to the situation is to feel sorry for the child and outrage at the parent (which is totally just) but that immediately puts the other parent in defense mode.

    I’m rambling now so I’ll stop. Hope that makes sense. 🙂

  4. Brad the Dad says:

    1) Did you ever stop and offer a kind word or gesture in such circumstances? How was it taken?

    No. I’ve always hesitated because of what you say about the parent erupting in a near maniacal rage. I’m assuming the parent is mostly embarrassed in this situation and any approach by a stranger is going to be meet with a defensive response. I do like Jared’s approach as well and never thought about talking to the kid instead of the adult. But, unless you’re an employee of the store they are in, I would think the whole “don’t talk to strangers” thing comes into play here. No win situation, and unfortunately, very unfortunately, I think it’s best to just walk away.

    2) Has anyone ever offered solace to you when your kid lost it? How did you receive it?

    No. We tend to to just find something that doubles as the naughty step in public and go that route instead of slide down the hill with them. I recall a somewhat recent trip to the outlet stores where I was the lucky winner of toddler wars (taking him outside for a timeout) and I’m sure the look on my face as my little guy wailed about his timeout was enough to deter any advice givers.

    3) Why does a public melt down strike so deeply at our core as parents?

    Because we have all been there, even if our responses are different. My wife and I have expectations of a certain level of behavior from our kids in public. Everything we work on at home, and the extra rope we give them at times to see if they can reign themselves back in and figure it out themselves while in the comfort of our own walls, is supposed to translate to good behavior in public. We talk to them about it before we leave the house and again before we get out of the car, so when they pull their stunts in public despite all of this, it’s kind of like a slap in the face. For me, it’s embarrassing. Aka…I know they are being bad, it sucks they are being bad, I don’t want them to be like this, please don’t compound the situation by entering it.

    4) Is there a way to resolve to this disconnect so we can all be better parents?

    I don’t think so. The best solution is to NOT be that parent and slide down the hill with them. And before that, avoid situations (like the 2yo out after 9pm in your scenario) altogether in the first place. I’m going to put my kids in timeout in public, but I’m not going to slide down the hill with them.

    Great, thought-provoking article. I wish we lived in times where this type of advice/help was accepted, but I’m pretty sure that we don’t. Still good to talk about though.

  5. happiestdaddy says:

    Even though I’ve often witnessed these meltdowns and experienced my share with my own children, I have neither intervened nor had anyone intervene with me.

    As parents, this is a rite of passage and we all know that the situation with small children can erupt at any time. It’s my belief that each parent has their own way of handling such a crises and knows all of the backstory that might lead to such an outburst, whereas I have none. Therefore, I’d only be butting in to a situation that I do NOT want to own.

    If a parent tried to offer some sort of parenting “advice” to me in that moment, I don’t think I’d be in the frame of mind to receive it well. In fact, my response might completely inappropriate.

    As Brad said, this is a terrific post and one that really made me think.

  6. Obi-Wan Cannoli says:

    As someone with a two-year-old – who would never be out in public after 7 pm, but occasionally has meltdowns during daylight hours – I can guarantee that any parenting platitudes will be met with death stares from me (though my wife will attempt to make small talk with you). Any public tantrum is dealt with like a Navy SEAL extraction, however, so you will have a very brief window to comment.

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