This Is Not Compassionate Parenting

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I was flat on my back with my legs tangled up with my daughter’s in the lobby of Cocoa’s Restaurant. As I stared up at the ceiling I thought to myself, “This is not compassionate parenting.” I picked myself up, attempted to pick her up, and struggled out to the car where we sat for 15 minutes. She screamed the entire time while I Googled what was supposed to happen next when you remove a child from a store or restaurant due to bad behavior. This wasn’t going as planned or as promised.

This Is Not Compassionate Parenting: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion

We were visiting family. My Mother in Law had just passed away. We’d driven for three days and were staying in a hotel. We were tired, off our schedules, and grief-stricken. The adults were all keeping their emotions in check and maintaining good manners, but my four-year old was acting out how all of us were feeling. She had a lot of anxiety and energy to burn off and no acceptable outlet for all of those emotions. She was erupting into tantrums throughout the day.  I was feeling embarrassed by her behavior and could see the looks we were getting and hear people thinking, “CONTROL your child.” So I tried to, but so far the whole leaving when your child misbehaves thing was only escalating the bad behavior. On top of everything we were struggling with I was feeling like a failure as a parent too.


At one point during our visit my daughter had thrown herself on the ground of a bagel place in San Francisco and a college aged young woman actually came over to tell us we were bad parents because the floor was dirty and our daughter was getting covered with germs. At that point I was so exhausted I didn’t care about germs. My daughter had just thrown an entire bagel sandwich on the ground because her dad had ordered the wrong thing. It wasn’t what she had asked for. I was hungry, tired, and I wanted to go home. Germs seemed like the least of our problems.

After we got home from out trip I spent a lot of time thinking about parenting, specifically I thought about my parenting. I felt so much shame when I thought about our trip. Not only because I couldn’t “control” my child, but also because I did things I knew weren’t working just to appease other people. I was mostly ashamed that I wasn’t treating my daughter with compassion or insisting on time for her to decompress between activities. I hadn’t been parenting. I had been reacting. I wasn’t going with my instincts because I was too worried about what other people were thinking. Actual parenting means setting your kids up for success and actually has very little to do with controlling them.

“What a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give.”
– P.D. James

We were far away from home. She wasn’t eating or sleeping regularly. She was grappling with death, a concept that was hard for her to understand and also very painful, as it is for all of us. Too many of the things we were doing required her to sit still and be quiet when she really needed some breaks to run around and play. That day I tried to remove her from Cocoa’s Restaurant, and she kicked and struggled with me until I tripped and we both fell on the ground, is the day I think about the most. We’d just spent a couple of hours in a bowling alley while friends and family bowled. She and I wandered around people watching and looking at the video games. We played with the toys she had brought with her. We even walked around the shopping plaza outside for a while too. By the time we left the bowling alley she was bored out of her mind and I was at my wit’s end with trying to keep her happy and occupied. We never should have gone straight to the restaurant. A half hour visit to a park where she could run and climb would have made for a much better restaurant visit. I should have spoken up, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to ruin our plans. It was a recipe for disaster and the worst part was I knew it and didn’t do anything to prevent it from happening.

As we sat in the car and she screamed I felt angry with Google and all of the parenting blogs for making this behavioral strategy sound so easy. I felt hopeless. I could not parent my child well. What worked for other people was not working for us. I was disappointed in myself. I was embarrassed. We’d just fallen on the ground in front of an entire restaurant while my daughter kicked and cried. What could be more humiliating? It was all proof that I was a terrible parent and my child was a brat. Except I knew what nobody else knew: We were grieving and tired and stressed out.

This Is Not Compassionate Parenting a Contribution to The #1000Speak For Compassion Movement

I now know, without a doubt, that if my daughter is having a tantrum, removing her doesn’t do much except make her even more stressed out and frustrated. The real solution is to not go to begin with. We spend enough time together that I can tell when she has had too much…everything…and is reaching a breaking point. She needs time to herself sometimes and time to be a kid. You can’t expect a four-year-old to be quiet and sit still for long periods. It’s just not going to happen. She cannot behave like an adult for hours. She cannot sit still and “be good” for hours. Trying to make her do that and then punishing her when she can’t is ridiculous. As a compassionate parent I need to focus on prevention and not push her beyond her limits.

I need to offer other ideas when I think the plans we have made are not going to work out. As I sat in the car disappointed with myself and angry at Google, my Father in Law came out to the car to check on us. As he opened the car door and heard the wailing from the backseat he offered a solution. He decided to order food to go and eat it at his house. That solved the problem. My daughter was fine once we were back in a comfortable environment where she could play and didn’t have to worry about bumping into other people or getting into trouble for annoying other diners. I was more relaxed too.

“Your kids require you most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend your whole time trying to correct them.”
― Bill Ayers

As I sat at the kitchen table, feeling embarrassed and terrible, my Father in Law looked at me and said, “I think Lily could use a glass of wine.” This simple statement reminded me to have compassion for myself as well too. Parenting is tough and what works for one family may not work for another. Sometimes kids behave badly because they have been expected to behave like mini adults and they cannot maintain that behavior long enough to make actual adults happy. Sometimes parents let their kids roll around on a dirty floor because they are trying not to pay attention to bad behavior. Sometimes we experiment with parenting strategies we read about on the Internet and fail miserably. Sometimes we succeed too.

Sometimes we just need to be home with people who love us and sometimes we really do need a glass of wine. We almost always need to treat ourselves and others with a little more compassion.


19 thoughts on “This Is Not Compassionate Parenting”

  1. Boy can I relate to this. I raised 6 children and just HAVING 6 children was reason for some to attack me. It’s easy to judge others with our limited understanding. Best not to assume we have any idea what’s going on in their world and give the benefit of the doubt – as we would like also to receive it.

    1. Some people are just mean. I am always surprised by what people will say to other people…when it’s truly none of their business. I mean, we don’t ask for their opinions. Why do they they think we need their comments. What happened to “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”?

  2. What a lovely person your father-in-law is! I can quite understand how hard it must have been for all of you! I guess that’s where self-compassion also comes in! 🙂 {{hugs}}

    1. He really is terrific. I was so worried he was thinking I was a terrible parent and meanwhile he was thinking about what a trying time I was having. I can’t even explain how much relief I felt!

  3. Beautiful post and I can totally relate. I try to parent gently but I have a son who is always full of energy. I’ve realised that when I show compassion and get to the bottom of how he’s feeling or why he’s trantruming, I can handle things better. You’re a fab parent, you just had a bad day x

    1. It seems like there is a turning point with my daughter and if you don’t reach her before that it’s really hard to communicate with her. I think that is what is so hard about being a parent…you can’t have a bad day. I mean, you can and do, but it’s so much bigger when your kids are involved. Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your empathy.

  4. {{{hugs}}} My MIL passed away almost five years ago. At that time I had a 6 year old, a 2 year old and a 2 week old. The get togethers for the funeral were ROUGH! I was so thankful that my mother came and hung out in the background so my kids could go be kids without bothering anyone. Funerals are hard for adults; I can’t imagine what kids are trying to deal with, especially when no one wants to deal with them. Your story is a good reminder to always look at people with eyes of compassion.

    1. I remember when I was a kid and my grandmother passed away my other Grandma came with me to all of the funeral things and just helped me through it. I am still grateful to her today. Thank goodness for the people in our lives!

  5. I have stopped glaring at parents with children who are “misbehaving” and instead give them looks of sympathy or empathy. Sometimes I’ll even offer a supportive comment, because…we don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. And sometimes, there’s nothing the parent can do but try. I think you’re a lovely parent, and I think the famous Tiny Small does too.

  6. I was waiting for you to get to the compassion for yourself part. 🙂 I was a single mom of 4 and under the microscope of family, friends and society every second of my waking hours, and like you I too caved under certain circumstances, bypassing what I knew was best for my children simply to appease others, and then one day I just stopped because I realized you absolutely cannot please the masses but I knew how to please my children so I did that. Worked out fine, no serial killers, drug dealers, inmates. All is well. All will be well. 🙂 – Great post. Thank you for opening up and sharing.

    1. It’s terrible to feel like you under a microscope. I often wonder what makes people think their opinions are warranted, wanted, or needed. I wish more people would adopt a more live and let live attitude toward parenting.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and how it all worked out once you started following your own instincts. That gives me hope.

  7. Kids on the Autism spectrum have this kind of overload response all the time to everyday things, as well as unusual situations. Thank you so much for pointing out how compassion in this simple, common occurrence can be so powerful! 🙂

    1. Sometimes we all need to stop and look at a situation with empathy. We have no idea what people are struggling with and how that is influencing their behavior. Thank you for adding more weight to my conclusion.

  8. This has been one of my favorite #1000Speak posts so far. This line really made me cringe: “I wasn’t parenting, I was reacting.” YES. I do this a lot. I hope to remember this post the next time I am simply reacting. Thanks for this. xo

  9. Good for your father-in-law! It’s so easy to beat ourselves, and so easy to forget self-compassion but so necessary. You had all been through a difficult time and it’s not surprising that you found things hard to deal with.
    I can relate to what you wrote about doing things you knew not to do because you wanted to appease other people. That was so often my behaviour for the first years of my daughters’ lives. The only saving grace with my second daughter arriving very prematurely was that most of the advice-givers had no experience of that, and so were less vocal. Or maybe I just knew they had no clue and so didn’t react to them so much – I have noticed that the more I expect to be judged, the more it seems to happen.

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