The Vicious Circle of Parental Apology

pouty toddlerI saw the toddler signs: whiny, eye rubbing, pouting. I saw the signs, but I still wanted lunch. And I’m here to let you know that there is such a thing as a free lunch. And it happened right in my hometown.

That afternoon, despite the toddler weariness, I took my just turned three-year-old to my favorite hummus and falafel spot. My toddler seemed game; she was excited to go somewhere other than our kitchen for lunch. We settled into our seats, greeted the waitress, and started deciding on lunch choices.

And then it happened.

A little girl, about to be two, walked by with a babydoll. My daughter LOVES babydolls. She had to touch the babydoll. Her hand reached happily towards the babydoll, and the little girl – as owners of babydolls are wont to do – pulled back and gave a determined “No” as she blocked the hopeful hand.

I explained, “Honey, we ask first if we want to touch someone’s doll.” The parents of the other little girl launched into a back-and-forth of “Honey! She just wants to look at your doll!” We all hoped that was it.

I put in our order, and that’s when I saw the quivering bottom lip, the brimming eyes, the tiny nostrils tensing.

I changed my order to go.

The next ten minutes my daughter clung to me, sobbing quietly and forcing my arms around her into a protective wall. Her feelings were hurt, she said. She thought she’d done something bad. I couldn’t understand most of the sobbing, but I reassured her that it was okay. I told her we’d take our lunch home and eat it while watching Jungle Junction.

While she sniffled, I chatted with the parents: “She’s tired…never like this…the same with her toys.” All true. All sincere. All an attempt to alleviate their discomfort as we all waited awkwardly for our food.

The babydoll girl’s parents were also apologetic, and they scolded their daughter mildly for making the “other girl” cry. They attempted to convince their daughter to share the doll, or at least apologize. Have you ever tried to get a two-year-old to apologize as digs in her heels?

It was a vicious circle of parental apology. I felt bad that they felt guilty. They felt horrible that my daughter was sobbing and clinging to my neck. It was a whole vicariously guilty mish-mash.

We parents with small children have incorporated an “I’m so sorry I tried to eat lunch out with my child” attitude. So much so that here I was, in a casual eatery, trying to quell the mortification of parents who shouldn’t have felt bad. And they were so nice! And so was I!

To bring it back to my free lunch: I asked the waitress for my bill when she brought my food. And what had those guilt-ridden parents done? They’d paid it for me. So unnecessary. And it’s exactly what I would have done had we been in opposite positions. See what guilt will do?

I didn’t argue – I’m working on accepting kindness in kind, without minimizing the gift or the giver. I said thank you, re-iterated that it was totally unnecessary, and told them I would do the same when my daughter makes someone else’s child cry. And she will.

If you’re lucky, it’ll be your kid, and I’ll buy you lunch.


An earlier version of this post appeared at Barista Kids.


About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. #RESIST
This entry was posted in Parenthood, People are Good and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Vicious Circle of Parental Apology

  1. That was so nice. But in the land of toddlers, that’s every day stuff. I’d be buying my whole town lunch for years. ha!

  2. Natalie DeYoung says:

    I went out to lunch with a girlfriend who had a toddler, and I felt bad because I had suggested a non-kid-friendly place, totally spacing on how hard it is to take children out to places like that. Ah, kids. Why don’t they just behave the way we want them to, at all times, amiright?

    • With proper preparation, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Live and learn. But tired toddlers need VERY specific surroundings to be maintained….and that just did NOT happen here. 🙂

  3. Samantha S says:

    I love that you changed your order to go, and then they bought you lunch–we all know how crummy it feels to have your kiddie lunch date spoiled by life!

  4. Nicole Marie says:

    How kind of them! It sounds like you are all very good people. I wish things were still as easy as sobbing over wanting to touch someone’s baby doll!

  5. wcdameron says:

    This was a wonderful read. I could so envision your daughter with her quivering lower lip (and actually you have such a perfect picture of it right up there!) It’s a wonderful slice of life story and so nice to read that there are wonderful nice people in the world that will be complete strangers lunch.

    • It was one of those moments that begged for remembrance. I still feel all the emotions so deeply when I think of it. The early years of parenting can be so difficult and full of joy, gratitude at the same time.

  6. Stacie says:

    That picture is priceless. “I changed my order to go.” Sounds familiar. Loved this story! And at the same time, I’m glad my youngest is now 10.

  7. jenbrunett says:

    wow, I can’t believe that did that for you. How amazing is that? Even more amazing is the apology war. When mine were that little (not that long ago) I always ran into holier than thou parents that would look at my kids like they were diseased. argh. I didn’t like to go anywhere alone, but held my head high and did it anyway. They all wore the same Pampers, know what I mean? lol Such a well told story you have!

  8. Martha B says:

    Thank goodness you and the other set of parents are both so mellow. That whole situation could’ve turned south real quick!

  9. I’ve realized that I eat so quickly nowadays mostly because of my son. We don’t eat out very much, but, when we do, I need to be prepared to leave ASAP.

  10. Christine says:

    I know this feeling well, though usually it’s my boys who are the instigators. 🙂 The part that really reached me, though, was this almost-aside: “I’m working on accepting kindness in kind, without minimizing the gift or the giver.” This is a really hard thing to do, especially, I think, when the parental guilt sets in.

  11. hellomimosa says:

    I have to say, despite the solidarity, this aspect of parenthood does not sound appealing!

  12. Robbie says:

    I love that they bought you lunch.

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