“Dear Woman Behind Me in the Checkout Line: Here’s What I Wish I’d Said to You.”

Posted November 13, 2013 by

Photo of rebeccawolfenden

Dear Woman behind Me in the Checkout Line at the Grocery Store:

First off, congratulations! I don’t think I’ve had that much judgment heaped on me in such a short amount of time since I was in the middle school locker room changing for gym class. Thanks for that. I didn’t have an opportunity to respond to your comments earlier, so I will use this forum in hopes that it will get back to you.

1) Yes, my son did not have socks or shoes on. If you had been in the cereal aisle with us, you would have seen him fling them off with glee. Since he was riding in the cart rather than walking, I chose to put them in my purse rather than get into a power struggle with him over this. There’s a lot to be said for choosing your battles, especially with a toddler.

2) Yes, his feet were a little dirty. I do not enforce wearing shoes while in the house, and I would rather spend my time playing and interacting with my son than fighting the never-ending battle of trying to keep a toddler squeaky-clean at all times.  I want my and my son’s memories of his childhood to include tickles until we’re both breathless from laughter, cuddles whenever possible, and running around the house and the yard playing endless games.  This, in my mind, is preferable to missing those moments in lieu of constantly cleaning, scrubbing the floors, and freaking out when he is dirty again after approximately 2.89 seconds of being out of the bathtub.

3) My son was not screaming at you. Yes, he was a little loud — again, he is a toddler and we are working on the concept of an indoor voice. If you had happened to notice anything else about the interaction other than the volume, such as the huge grin on his face that shows off his new teeth or the cute little wave he does where it looks like one hand clapping, you would have realized that he was trying to say “hi” to you.

Here’s the thing: parenting is hard.  While that statement might sound cliché, this is the toughest task I have ever undertaken.  I have been pushed so far beyond my preconceived limits at times, and found strength and endurance I did not even believe was possible before I had my child.  Here’s another truth: shame and judgment do not help anyone.  They only serve to build walls and create divisions between us until we are all isolated on our own “parenting island,” anxious to even seek out information or advice for fear of bringing more judgment upon ourselves and exposing ourselves as vulnerable.

I know that I’m not perfect. I make mistakes and I may make choices that others wouldn’t. I’m simply trying to do the best I can to raise this little person I have been entrusted with. If you observed my parenting beyond 5 minutes in the grocery store that you based your snap judgment on, you might have had a different opinion. I feel bad that you have so much bitterness in your heart that you feel compelled to pass judgment on complete strangers.

Think of how different things might be if, instead of reacting to others and their parenting choices with shame and judgment, we responded instead with empathy and support or simply with the understanding that the overwhelming majority of the time, the choices others make have literally no impact on our lives, and we do not know the whole story which influences those decisions.

I hope you get this message and that you can resolve whatever it is that makes you feel and act this way.

Take care.

One Proud, Loving Momma Who is Trying Hard to be “Good Enough”

Note: After this woman took it upon herself to try and shame me publicly last week, I was surprised at how many parents I shared this incident with said, “That’s happened to me, too!” or “I know what you mean — and it hurts so much.”  In fact, almost every mom and dad I talked with described at least one public experience of others yelling, glaring, whispering about them and/or their child, or receiving direct criticism from strangers. I wrote this letter in response to the woman who yelled at me (I was too flustered to say all of this in the moment, unfortunately), and to let other parents in this situation know you’re not alone — and that yes, we’re doing the best we can. —Rebecca


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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  1. Kerry Gearin (Edit) Report

    When we overhear these encounters we can help by pointing out how wonderful the child is, to his parent and as a general comment to be heard by the “tsk-tsk-ers”.

    I’ve seen parents feel overburdened enough if their children are joyous or rambunctious when doing household tasks such as groceries. Not everyone can afford a Nanny to care for their child while they do their shopping, plus we can teach self restraint that is age appropriate by bringing them about with us.

    Parents need support and encouragement, not that rigid style of criticism that is too common. Compliment parents by saying how sweet, creative or intelligent their children are, rather than attacking them for their children doing what comes naturally. And if one child is running off and the parent must struggle to watch over another child, why not offer to help. Keep their place in line or something kind.


    Kerry K. Gearin, Family & Child Protection Lawyer, Ontario, Canada

  2. Joy (Edit) Report

    I was in the grocery store with my toddler really late one night, probably around 11:30pm at an all-night store. It had been a very busy day and I needed to pick up a few things. A woman behind me at the checkout commented that my daughter was up way past her bedtime. I just smiled and said that she was on MY schedule and we were night owls. This way we both get to sleep in late together and it works out beautifully! You have to do what works best for you and your family.

    • rwolfenden Report

      What a wonderful response, and a great reminder that every
      family, and what works for them, is different.  Thanks for sharing!

  3. salomea Report

    A woman at ___mart actually threatened to call CPS on my son’s Dad for spinnning the child(1yr old) in the air & catching him! Father & child were laughing and this lady had to rain on the moment. My teenager was able to chase off the banshee by threatening to report her for harrasement & disturbing the peace. 

    My youngest is a shoe & sock rebel! And I frequently get comments.

    • rwolfenden Report

      I’m sorry to hear about what happened with your son and his father. 
      It’s unfortunate when a playful moment ends like that.  I hear you about
      those darn shoes and socks-it’s definitely an area where I have to pick my
      battles with my son. Just curious-how do you respond to the comments? I might
      need some ideas for the future!

  4. jouly (Edit) Report

    Rebecca , thanks for sharing ur story , I have two girls my self and i take them everywhere with me. I m proud parent and my kids are and hopefully will always be my best friend. stranger will never be there for u but ur kids and family will so ignore those ignorant ppl with ignorant comments and keep focusing on raising your child the way you want <3

    • rwolfenden Report


      While it can be a difficult task to ignore the comments and
      stares from others when my son decides to act out in public, I try my best to
      do so.  I find it helps when I remember James Lehman’s advice, and ask
      myself “What does my child need from me right now?”  As his mom, I realize
      that I will know that answer better than a stranger!  Thanks for sharing
      your thoughts!

  5. Sonya (Edit) Report

    Please excuse me if I am behind you in the checkout line smiling. It’s just that I would trade you for your moment in a heartbeat. I am almost an empty nester and I would love for my kids to be young again – even during those checkout line moments. I smile because it brings back beautiful memories for me. Time flies. Thank you for the memories.

    • rwolfenden Report

      I will gladly take all the smiles I can get!  I’m
      recognizing more and more how true the statement, “The days are long and the
      years are short”, really is as my son gets older.  I’m so glad to hear
      that this brought up some happy memories for you; thanks for being here and
      sharing your thoughts.



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