I was having lunch with some friends the other day, and one of my friend’s two sons was having a really tough day. They were both sick, and we were all hungry as we waited longer for a lunch table than anyone with children under the age of four should EVER have to wait. And, as her boys continued to melt down, and her patience also waned, it reminded me of something my dad and stepmom told me not long ago.
We were in a restaurant and there was a young child loudly crying somewhere in the place. My dad, who hasn’t always been known for his patience, sat there stoically showing zero irritation. It was almost as if he barely noticed. But later, my parents explained their attitude about children acting up in public. Basically, it came down to this: you don’t know whole the story.
I have a nephew who is on the autism spectrum. His mom, my stepsister, is one of the best moms you’d ever meet: patient, loving, kind, smart and of course, fiercely committed to meeting her kids’ needs. In spite of her superior parenting skills, my nephew, when he was younger, regularly melted down in public. Certain things just didn’t sit well with him. He was terrified of balloons. Of open ceilings with vents and pipes exposed. Of loud noises, like a blender. Consequently, it was quite possible that if he encountered a strange environment, or even a familiar environment that suddenly included something that he wasn’t okay with, he voiced his fear. Loudly. Repeatedly. For the most part, my stepsister learned to recognize things that he’d have trouble with, and she was usually able to manipulate the situation (or avoid it) if it was going to be overly challenging. (His therapist also worked with him on these things, of course.)
The lesson my parents learned from their grandson was this: you don’t know the whole story.
You don’t know what sorts of challenges the child and the family are facing, be those issues chronic (like a medical condition, hardship) or acute (a bad cold, a poor night’s sleep). The parents of the child screaming in the restaurant, throwing a gigantic tantrum in the grocery store or acting out at the neighborhood park are not necessarily bad parents who “let” their child misbehave. They’re just parents who have a child who, for one reason or another, is having a hard time.