To All The Parents I’ve Ever Judged Before


My son is a few days away from turning 5 and we are in one of the most difficult phases I’ve ever experienced in my 18+ years of parenting. He has full-blown tantrums that involve hitting and screaming and kicking and even lately…spitting.

That’s a new addition to the tantrum spectrum I’m really excited about. Nothing helps you make rational parenting decisions like having someone spit at you in the face. Seriously. It’s the best.

(NO, IT IS NOT. In case you didn’t see the sarcasm font I used up there.)

I’ve been on this journey for awhile now and I’m confident in my system of handling these tantrums. I basically trap him, or restrain him, reminding him I will let him go when he calms down and stops yelling/hitting/spitting. After trying everything else, this seems to be the best method that gets us past the DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! Zone and into the Let’s Talk It Out Zone quickest and with the least amount of damage to body and soul.

I’ve noticed in the last year or so that Wes seems to have a concept of embarrassment and knows his behavior is not ideal and saves it for the privacy of our own home.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Wes had a full-blown meltdown in a hotel. It started in a room where my family was privileged enough to see him at his best: Kicking/screaming/hitting. I decided to leave the room (BIG MISTAKE) because I was embarrassed and wanted to find a quite place to handle this. Well…the tantrum continued in the hall where I tried to restrain him, and even grab him when he tried to run away, and let’s just say that what ensued was several minutes (FELT LIKE YEARS) of chasing, screaming, catching, kicking, yelling, spitting, chasing some more, yelling some more, and spitting some more. All while I tried my best to stay calm, talk rationally to my child, and not cry.

Spoiler alert: I cried.

At one point there was a lady and several teen girls walking past in the hall and they all gave me that look.

No…not the one you’re thinking of. Because you are here, so you are nice and calm and sympathetic. You would have given me the look that says, “I’m so sorry. I’ve been there. Hang in there, friend.”

No. They gave me the other look. The one I’m afraid I’ve given before. LONG BEFORE. The one that says, “You know, he wouldn’t act like that if you were a better parent.”

Yes. I’ve given that look before. And this entry is my public apology to any parent I’ve given that look to in the past. I am truly, desperately, and passionately sorry. My heart hurts for the pain I caused you by giving you that look. Because yesterday – when it was given to me by the stranger lady and her teenage girls – my heart broke. Then! Then, it was given to me again by an older couple trying to get on the elevator. And then…again…by the man who only glanced up from his phone to GIVE ME THAT LOOK. Except his look also was irritated that my son’s tantrum was distracting him from his important business. His was a combo look. He’s lucky I didn’t punch him in the face.

Three different moments of judgement from strangers. And for each of those moments my heart shattered into a million pieces, and I just knew this was my own payback for my own moments of judgement in the past.

So to you parents who I may have judged? I am sorry.

I know you are doing your best. I know that many moments of many days – your beautiful child is well-behaved. I know that your child is good. Even if – in that moment – people think he’s evil. Those judgmental people are probably envisioning the headlines when his sociopath urges manifest as an adult. And you know they are doing that by the look they’re giving you. But…I know the truth. I know that your child can also be so very sweet. That when he hugs you at night and tells you he is your best friend, that those are the moments when his true character shows through. I know that later he’ll apologize for spitting on you because it probably made you cry, and no matter how bad his tantrums gets, sometimes his heart is open to your pain and he apologizes with a sincerity many adults are incapable of. I know that you try your best to hold on to those moments of true kindness from your child because those moments get you through the times when he’s punching you in the head.

I know that the tantrum I’m seeing is no reflection of your parenting or of your child’s character. It is probably a reflection of his level of exhaustion. Or of yours. Maybe it’s a reflection of a bad day, or a feeling of insecurity. Maybe it’s a reflection of an oncoming illness or an upset stomach. I know that you are a good parent and your child has a beautiful heart. I know your child sometimes makes bad decisions, but other times he makes decisions based on his love for you and you desperately wish the strangers glaring at you in the hall could see those moments instead.

I’m so very sorry for any judgement ever passed on you. I know your heart has broken at those looks like mine did at a hotel in Tennessee yesterday.

I finally sat in the stairwell with Wes where we had some privacy. He still fought me some more. He yelled and hit some more. He kicked some more. But then he calmed down. And he cried. And I cried. And I prayed that no one would interrupt us because I needed those hugs from him to heal my heart. Not just from the spit in the face, but from the judgement in the hall outside the door. Because, truth be told? Being spit on by my son, and kicked and told, “I DON’T LOVE YOU!!!!” None of those things hurt as much as that look from those teenagers, or that scowl from that businessman, or that head shake from the gray-haired couple on the elevator. I would take my son yelling at me, “YOU ARE NOT THE BEST MOMMA!” (His go-to insult) 100 times over those looks from those strangers. Because – in the end? My son calms down. He talks to me. He apologizes. And we go on to hopefully have better moments later in the day.

(Spoiler alert: There were a lot more bad moments later in the day than good ones.)

So, I’m sorry to the parents I judged in the past. And I per-emptively hug the parents I’ll see fighting the good fight in the future. I don’t judge you or your child. Just the opposite. I’m sending virtual hugs to you both now, and I’d give you a real hug in person in the future if I witnessed you going through what I went through yesterday – but that might be weird.

Hang in there. You’re doing a great job. I can tell by the way your child is kicking you that they’re awesome soccer players! And that scream they have – that indicates they will be powerful orators in the future! And that spit on your forehead? That totally brings out your eyes.

13 thoughts on “To All The Parents I’ve Ever Judged Before”

  1. This needs to be in the Huffington Post, it’s so good. You never really know what moments like these are like until you’re in them. I’ve SO been there and I SO take back everything I ever said or thought about other parents.

  2. To “those people” you need to give back a look, I call mine the “don’t mess with a teacher/momma bear” look… Send them running for their lives and know that you are great! You’ve got this down! Hugs from afar….

  3. I am so sorry you had to get so much judgement from so many others. I am thankful that so far all temper tantrums by my girls have been confined to our home or to daycare (nothing like carrying out a kicking, screaming child slung over your should on a Friday afternoon). My 5, soon to be 6 year old, has finally started to grow out of her massive temper tantrums so there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Sending all the positive energy I can spare your way!

  4. Great post. And, I gotta tell you, you’re not alone. You know this, however.

    My son is the same age, well, he’ll be six in August and we have been dealing with much of the same. Although (and I fear writing this) I think we’re on an upswing. What worked for us finally? We did a few things. We added a
    pause button”. We told him to pick somewhere on his body where he could press when he feels “the rage” coming on. He chose the scar he has from when he broke his arm.

    We paired the pause button with asking him to say his name whenever he wants to kick or punch something. It’s helped a little bit. But the biggest change was when we implemented the “Five Dollar Day”. Here’s the deal, he can earn up to five bucks a day. We put it in a jar (sometimes we’ll use quarters to represent a five) and at the end of each month he can buy a toy, or whatever. The Five Dollar Day is his for the choosing, meaning we take his word for it. When I pick him up from school I’ll say, “Well, how did today go? Was it a five dollar day?” And he’ll tell me what he thinks he earned. He’s SHOCKINGLY honest about this, too. I think giving him the floor helped him become more honest. The only big rule with the five dollar day is that if he is physical with ANYONE, he loses all the money immediately. If he hits, punches, kicks—he loses it all. And that helped IMMENSELY curbing the physical bits.

    At the end of the month or whenever we feel he’s earned enough, we’ll take him to the toy store. In NYC we have the mecca of all toys stores—FAO Schwarz, which is a treat in that of itself. So he earns it. Sometimes it’s a museum trip (we did Intrepid recently). Sometimes it’s an all-day trip to the beach. Whatever he wants, IF he earns it.

    It’s not been perfect, but it’s gotten SO MUCH BETTER. The teacher was even commenting on how much things have changed in the classroom, that he’s been wonderful for a long time. We’re still working on what happens at home, however. But I’m happy I’m not being take aside anymore at school.

    I’ve also done this thing where I’ll just grab him and hug him. IT confuses him greatly, and sometimes I’m so frustrated or angry with him I have trouble WANTING to hug him, but I get over all that and just hug him. This doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. Kill him with kindness. ;]

    Anyway, all this to say you’re not alone. And I know this is longwinded! But I hope maybe it helps a little bit.

  5. Oh my dearest sister, I was in that hotel…I wasn’t in the hallway, elevator or stairwell. But I was in the room and funny enough all I saw was a sweet patient momma trying to hang in there. Just moments before Wes started anything, I was the mom who was “just trying to figure it all out.” I’m still learning patience, fussiness, germs, strangers and all the other things that I don’t always have control of. I can promise you that I look to you (just as hundreds of other readers do) as an example of a strong, diligent, patient, tenacious, LOVING mom. Thanks for hanging in there, being willing to out it out there and for being a great sister. Love you bunches!!

  6. This is such an incredible post. Everyone on the planet needs to read it. Evi’s been acting up a lot more lately too, and there is NOTHING worse than the moment when a stranger decides they know everything about you, your child, and your parenting skills in the glimpse of a bad minute or hour or day. Hugs. You’re incredible.

  7. Aw, man. It’s the WORST, isn’t it? My first was/is my VERY difficult one and I was always so angry and frustrated hanging out with friends that had perfect little angel children (almost all girls) that I’m pretty sure judged me constantly as a parent when my boy would have tantrums. I’m thankfully in the reverse situation right now with my second (a girl!) who’s pretty easy to calm the eff down; I feel like I deserve this phase right now as my crazy boy is slowly becoming more civilized, more of the time. Yours will, too – but you know this 🙂

  8. Aw, I’m SO SORRY. I do know how it feels, I really do. And it SUCKS. Keep on with your awesome mommying and you guys will get through it.

  9. I sympathize because my son ran into the parking lot after his soccer game tonight and I yelled at him. I then calmly told him why and picked him up. Then he started yelling at me and spit on me. I’ve been feeling awful about it ever since–wondering what I should have done differently and wondering how to stop bad behavior going forward.

  10. Kim,

    First of all, I’m sorry you are having these difficulties lately, and especially sorry that you were subjected to judgement from strangers. Out of curiosity, if someone who wasn’t Judgy McJudgerson had been there and wanted to help/make you feel better/affirm you, what would have worked? I have seen other moms and dads confronted with monumental tantrums, and I want to reassure them, but I feel hesitant to do so because it might be misconstrued or unwelcome. Would it have helped if someone had just quietly come up and asked you if you wanted/needed help? If someone quietly told you that they knew you were doing the best you could and to hang in there? I’d like to mitigate the judges out there by being a helper, and I am wondering how I can be.

  11. I’m so sorry about this. I’ve been there, and it sucks. I know the look because I’ve gotten it. I continue to get it because my 9 year old still has tantrums (less, but much more violent, and yes we see a therapist and psychiatrist).
    The other day I spoke to my son about a bad moment he’d had in public, and I told him it hurt my feelings when he was kicking and screaming like that. He came back to me a couple days later and said he’d thought about it, and he doesn’t mean to get so angry with me, but he can’t cry around other people, and when he starts around me all his feelings come out and then he can’t stop them.
    So, yes, we’re addressing that with professionals, and no it’s not okay, but he had such a valid point. He spends sooo much time trying to manage his anger and not act out that he knows I’ll still love him.
    Guessing Wes can’t verbalize that like Matt can, but as sucky as it is for you, I’d guess that may play into it as well.
    Have I sent you the info on some of the books I’ve used? They really have helped Matt’s temper tantrums, let me know if you want some info.
    (not implying your methods aren’t awesome)
    Big Hugs!
    PS I thought of you the other day – did you know Cmdr Hadfield’s house is a 25 minute drive from my house?

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