The simple way to support other parents

"I know exactly how it feels to be having a really horrible day, then have another parent brighten it up with a random ...
"I know exactly how it feels to be having a really horrible day, then have another parent brighten it up with a random act of kindness" ... Thuy Yau Photo: Getty Images

Being a parent is much like life in general - it's full of ups and downs. There are days that feel worse than others, days when it seems nothing is going right. Days when the kids are testing our patience and driving us crazy.

But sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic smile from a stranger at the shops, someone offering to look after our kids for a couple of hours, a loved one reminding us that we're doing a good job, to make it all seem a bit brighter. I know, because kind gestures like these have happened to me before, when I really needed them. 

Recently, I'd just dropped off my eldest children at two different schools. I was feeling exhausted from the night before, and with my youngest daughter in tow, I couldn't wait to get home.

As we left the school premises, I walked side-by-side with my three-year-old daughter, Amelia. She was her usual chirpy self, bouncing up and down and chatting away. She started to run a little ahead, and in my dazed and tired state I struggled to catch up.

I called out to her to slow down.  Although she's quite good at listening to me most of the time, given that she's three I know not to expect that she’ll always do it.

Amelia didn't respond to my exhausted cries, so I ran a little faster to catch up, quite over the day already.

Another mum who was rushing to get her kids to school came by in the other direction. She smiled and said, “Don't worry, my kids never listen to me either.”

This mother's words reminded me that I wasn't alone. That someone else knew how I felt. It wasn’t much, but it was the boost I needed.  

I've had so many positive interactions with other parents. I've had parents at my children's schools offer to pick up my kids if I'm ever in a pickle. I know thoughtful mums who notice the hoarseness in my voice and ask if my cold is getting any better and whether I need help with anything.

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What may seem like everyday conversation to one person can mean everything to someone else.

Not long ago, our family went to a science museum together. I was with my two eldest kids as they played a ball game – my daughter Alexia was taking her turn, her older sister waiting behind her.

Then a younger boy, about five years old, stood in the middle of the game, blocking the path of the ball. He laughed and said, “Look what I'm doing, Dad!” His dad immediately responded with, “Don't do that. This girl is trying to take her turn.”

The dad was very firm in his approach, but the boy wouldn't have a bar of it, continuing to laugh and block the way.  

So the dad picked up his son and lifted him out of the game. Despite the son's loud outbursts, he remained firm. He said calmly, “If you want to play the game, you have to wait your turn. You can't just push in.” He even modelled the appropriate behaviour, standing in line to take his turn. But the boy soon ran into the middle again, so the dad had to take him away, kicking and screaming. I could see his eyes that he was feeling exasperated and frustrated with his son; he, too, was over it.

About five minutes later, I ran into the boy's dad again. I said, “If it helps at all, I think you handled it really well with your son.” He smiled and said, “Thanks. You never know whether you're doing the right thing, you just try your best.”

I knew exactly how he felt – and as a parent of three, I also know how difficult it can be. How frustrating it is to listen to a child’s tantrum, especially when you might be feeling stressed yourself. How you start to question your own parenting abilities. How you might need someone to empathise with how you're feeling.

But I also know exactly how it feels to be having a really horrible day, then have another parent brighten it up with just a random act of kindness.

We may be raising children of different ages, different sexes, at different developmental stages, with different personalities, but we, as parents, aren't that different. We all have similar struggles, similar fears, similar doubts, similar responsibilities.

It's so easy to judge a parent whose child is screaming at the shops. It's so easy to look the other way when someone needs help because our own life is busy. But by taking the time to simply smile at another parent, saying a few comforting words or simply opening up a door for someone else, we might just help to brighten up someone else's day.

I've been on both the giving and receiving end of kindness, and I know how it feels. It feels good to show support to other parents and to receive it, and it feels really good to know that you're not alone.

Thuy Yau is a freelance writer and mother of three. She is passionate about empathy and the positive role it plays in our relationships. You can follow Thuy on Twitter, join her on Facebook, or read her blog at Inside a Mother's Mind.