Tell other parents they are awesome, please

When I was a single parent, I had a transformative experience that I still think about often. Really often.

I was at a restaurant with my then 2 ½-year-old son and he was hanging out in the small outdoor play area. There was a row of seats along the edge of the play area where myself and other parents were sitting, keeping an eye on our kids.

I don’t remember all the details of exactly what happened, but it started with something along the lines of me casually saying to my son, “Don’t throw the gravel, honey.”

And then he looked directly at me and threw it. At me.

It got in my drink, on my plate, and I think it contaminated the beverage of the stranger next to me.

I took a deep breath and calmly, but firmly, told him we were leaving immediately. He started crying and pseudo-apologizing. In the moment, I was so embarrassed at how he had acted and it was incredibly hard to stay calm and not yell. (Looking back, it seems within the range of normal for a two-year-old, but at the time, I think I felt extra judged as a single-parent, and was more sensitive to people’s critical stares.)

I calmly repeated myself to him and collected our things. Thankfully, I’d already paid the bill so I was able to follow through without delay. I apologized to the people next to me, who laughed and told me it was fine. And on the way out of the restaurant, we stopped at the restroom.

When I walked out of the restroom, one of the mothers who had been standing there when the gravel was thrown was waiting for us. She put her hand on my arm and said, “I just wanted to say that I thought you handled that really well.”

I almost cried.

I sort of half-smiled back at her in shock and appreciation, unable to say anything. She smiled, turned around, and walked back to the kids’ area, and I left the restaurant with my still whining/crying two-year-old.

I don’t know if I can adequately describe how significant her words were for me at the time and for years to come. When I say “years,” I am not exaggerating. Depending on your own experience, it may seem like nothing, or you may understand why it mattered so much.

I think that was the first time I felt seen in a challenging public parenting situation. There were certainly times where I was proud of myself for having self-control, and being consistent and intentional instead of reactive – but no one else had ever been a witness in that way. Ever.

mother-daughter-nyc

Photo by London Scout

It had never even occurred to me how deeply I needed it – until that experience. And although, as a single parent, I sometimes envied stay-at-home-parents with a partner to financially support the family, I hadn’t even considered that they may occasionally get this type of acknowledgment and how helpful it is for a parent’s survival.

I am now married to a man who excels at verbal appreciation. When I’m discouraged and not achieving my parenting ideal, he listens, tells me I’m a wonderful mother, reminds me of true things, encourages me in all the ways I need.

Single parents don’t have this. And of course many married parents don’t have this, either. Point is this: all parents could use more encouragement, right?

That woman at the restaurant who sought me out to acknowledge me…  I cannot tell you how much her small act impacted me. I held it close to my heart so often during some really hard years. I was exhausted and burnt out from being the primary parent and only financial provider for my child.

So, here’s my challenge: be on the lookout for actions worth complimenting in your friends, spouse, and even in other parents you don’t know. Instead of looking at other parents with judgment or envy, look to encourage.

Of course it’s a risk. They might think you’re weird. Or they might be a little awkward like me. I wasn’t able to express my appreciation for her comment at that time. I basically just stared at her. But, writing this story is my appreciation for her small act of bravery.

Wherever you are, dear woman, thank you for seeing me in a challenging (and maybe even embarrassing) parenting moment and speaking a kind word.

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27 Comments

  1. Devi

    This may be the best piece of advice about parenting.. we can all have differing views on how we parent and what we do in different situations.. but I think all parents can agree that it is HARD to be a parent, and we ALL need affirmation, all the time. I have so appreciated the kind words from strangers as well, and it has been a joy to give them to strangers, too. Thanks for this reminder, Crystal.

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      Thanks for your kind words, Devi.

  2. se7en

    This is pure gold… I so heartily agree. Folk are so quick to advise, but encouragement wins the day every time. You never know the whole back story behind parenting choices and decisions, and we live in a world so quick to judge and advise. Leave the “Advisor” at home and look for ways to encourage. Encourage, encourage, encourage… I am all for it!!!

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      I was a little nervous that it may not resonate. Thank you!

      • Roxane

        It resonates! Deeply!

      • Sue

        Oh yes it does resonate! I am a grandmother now; when I see a parent getting through a tough moment, I always try to slip over and give words of encouragement. I was sometimes the recipient when raising my girl, and every time someone offered this type of kindness, is still memorable.

  3. Peggy

    Love this. Thank you.

  4. Missy Robinson

    I want to BE this person who notices and encourages others. I did my time as a single mama, too, and I can appreciate how deeply this acknowledgment bolstered your parenting confidence.

    My three children sit with me during the first half of our church service each week. It’s just me with my motherly nods, stern glances, prodding elbow and sometimes pleased smile on the pew as we maneuver through announcements, offering, songs, greetings, etc. One Sunday, the woman behind me handed me a note that simply said, “You’re a great mother. I see it every week.” I still tear up when I think about how much that meant to me and still does.

    That kind of encouragement is so needed, thank you for spreading the word!

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      So sweet! That makes ME tear up. Great idea with the note, too. Maybe good for those of us who are introverts, but still want to encourage!

  5. SoEveryDay

    Well.

    You almost cried when it happened.

    I cried just now as I read this.

    Probably because I am right now where you were then.

    And – those words — my goodness, I know they power they could have and how achy my heart is to hear them.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      Hang in there. You’re awesome.

  6. Faigie

    I remember being at a doctor with 3 young, rambunctious kids and they were standing on their heads on the chairs next to me. I felt so helpless yet, this older leader of my children is now the mom of her own 4 rambunctious children and I always make a point of telling her how impressed I am with her parenting since it amazes me that she is able to be so calm and controlled when I wasn’t. She so appreciates every time I tell her.. It’s a great idea to look for others that can use that boost that moms so dearly need.

  7. Sarah

    What a great way to encourage others! I often think things like that, but rarely have said them. I will definitely be making more of an effort to say them more often!

  8. Jennifer

    I try to do this with other women regarding their appearance – so if I think they have a great necklace on or a fabulous haircut, I make an effort to compliment them aloud rather than just thinking it in my head. (My theory is that hearing kind words from strangers is a nice surprise amidst the daily grind, and it doesn’t cost me a thing.) However, I’ve never thought to do something similar to other parents and their parenting. Light bulb!!

  9. Roxane

    Very good piece!

    It happens so scarcely, so very few feel or understand how important this is.

    So often we get “you should…” Or something along the line of how you are to: think, feel, react, or do it some other way.

    People don’t seem to know that sometimes, actually ALL THE TIME, actual true support is not about being told what or how to do, think, feel and act but in the simple acknowlegment that you are doing “the job” and that is that.

    R.

  10. Sarah M.

    this encouraged me a lot. I’m wiping tears away from my eyes. Partially, because I know how much I need that encouragement and can imagine how much that moment meant and would mean to me. But also, because I often am that woman that steps out of my comfort zone to encourage another mom, & I often feel awkward and wonder if I should even do it. Thanks for letting me know that my words mean something and can make a difference.

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      It’s totally worth it. Even if just ONE of the people you have encouraged was able to receive it. On behalf of them all, thank you.

  11. Linda Sand

    I offer compliments for good parenting when I see it but I’ve always wondered how it was received. I know some receive it with embarrassment at the time but hope they appreciate it anyway. Thanks for letting me know it helped you. That makes it easier for me to continue doing it.

  12. Caroline Starr Rose

    I absolutely love this. Going to go out of my way to look for ways to affirm other parents!

  13. Kare

    Kind words have been said to me in similar situations :). You are right; I do in fact think of those moments often. Especially when I am feeling down, or the worse of the worse seems to be happening. You need them. However, despite the fact I have had this happen to me more than once…I’ve never thought to do the same to someone else. Which is embarrassing as it should be obvious o.o.

    I’m going to try and be more mindful as I am about my day.

    -and a special thank you to the lady at Olive Garden, the couple on the airplane, the worker at Disney World, and several other kind people who have boosted my parenting confidence over the years.

  14. Megan

    My daughter is 18 now but I can still recall the compliment I received from a stranger on a train when she was 1 about how kind and patient I was with her. Little did this older woman know I had been travelling with her all day by myself, there was no napping and I was at my wits end. Her comment made my day.

  15. Andrea

    Love this story and how it so strongly highlights the impact a little encouragement has on a person. Thanks for the reminder ?

  16. Terri

    I had a similar experience to Chrystal. I was in line at the grocery store when my daughter started in on an epic toddler fit. I couldn’t leave because we were in the middle of check-out. I was mortified and tried to diffuse the situation. The older lady behind me looked at me and said something that has stuck with my for years. “You’re such a good mother.” she said. ” You have so much patience with your daughter.” It meant so much to me.

    There is power in words. They can be used for good or bad. A compliment, kindness, encouragement can do so much for another person.

  17. Alana

    Really loved this challenge.. I will be looking for those opportunities to encourage other parents!

  18. Marcella

    You’re 100% right about this. Whenever I hear the words “you’re a good mom”, my heart melts and rests at the same time … yet I never tell my friends how great of a job they’re doing! It’s time to start spreading the mom-love.

    Thank you for sharing your story. *fist bump*

  19. Heather

    It wasn’t until my kids were older that I realized that many of those stares of judgement were probably just looks of empathy.

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