By Sophia Sinclair

How to parent in public

crying baby

"Will you shut that kid up, or will I?" a checkout man snaps at a hapless mother trying to calm her wailing child in the next checkout. "That's what you get when you give kids whatever they want," he says to me.

I see other people staring, shaking their heads and muttering. I feel a rush of sympathy for the mother doing her best under the gaze of judgment.

The public tantrums and loud cries of a young child will often tempt us to parent our children differently while we are in view of others.

This usually manifests in two ways: a lack of response, or a harsh response.

Sometimes I fail to respond because the temptations of distractions or laziness stop me from giving an intentional, meaningful response to my child.

Other times I feel the burn of eyeballs in my direction, and imagine the judgmental thoughts shooting my way.

Imagined judgement often causes me to overreact, treating my child harshly in response.

His patience helps me endure – and extend patience to our sonBoth of these responses are unhelpful.

The following thoughts have helped me greatly in my parenting journey.

I am uniquely qualified to raise and care for my son

I am with him day after day and know how he behaves in public and in private.

I believe I was chosen for this task because God gave us the gift of a child, and He graciously made me a mother.

Yes, I often feel inadequate. Parenting is a hard, messy and often frustrating mission, but parenthood is an appointed role.

Take heart: God can equip parents for the task. He promises unconditional love and offers His wisdom freely to those who earnestly seek it.

Preparation sets a good foundation.

I've learnt to think ahead in order to anticipate what my son needs in certain situations. Making sure he is well-fed, well-rested and emotionally prepared has enabled us to get through long bus rides, flights and quiet meetings.

I try to talk to my son about what we can expect from different social situations, and how I expect him to behave when we arrive. Even very small children pick up on simple explanations. "We're going to crèche where you can play with your friends" or "we will take a train ride before we get to the zoo."

But sometimes – despite my best efforts – life gets in the way and I am forced to deal with the hard bits of public parenting: the poo explosions, the toddler meltdowns, the hungry cries and tired grizzles.

Plan for failure

Preparedness is often as simple as being mentally prepared to remove my child from the situation when things go awry – sometimes a simple change of scenery helps.

During these times I am most tempted to react harshly. Sometimes I want to flop down on the floor and join the chorus of wailing cries! However, it is in the midst of the sweaty, exasperated tantrums I am struck by an 'aha' realisation of God's goodness to me.

Yes – in Him I have forgiveness and his undeserved love. He bears my own childish wandering, my frustrated pleas to 'do' life my own way and the temper-tantrums of my heart. His gentleness and love guide me. His patience helps me endure—and extend patience to our son.

God's grace enables me to come down to my son's level, to make eye contact and respectfully acknowledge the situation: "I know you are upset, tell me what is wrong, I will listen." God's love allows me to be firm: "I cannot let you climb/touch/eat/throw/hit, it is too dangerous—I know this is frustrating."

crying child

God's patience helps me keep calm when I want the ground to swallow me up—because I know my worth is not dependent on my child's behaviour. I have the confidence to take a deep breath and look the judgmental stranger in the eye, smile and say: 'We all have bad days!'

Do I really know how to parent in public?

No: but I am learning.

The Bible says God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him.

Therefore, God is using this appointed role to shape me and mould me.

The varied moments of motherhood drive me to heartfelt prayer with my Heavenly Father through my Saviour Jesus.

Since I accepted Jesus and His love for me, I learn from the perfect parent: our loving Creator who is patient with us, holding out His arms for us to place all our trust in Him.