Yesterday, in a busy Supermarket cafe, a lady approached me from the next table and asked if I would mind watching her baby whilst she took her elder daughter to the toilet.
‘She’s toilet training,’ the lady said, nodding towards her older child. ‘You know what it’s like.’
‘Of course I do,’ I said as I looked at my own three children, suddenly feeling as though saying ‘no’ to this lady would not be an option. ‘At least bring her over to our table,’ I said somewhat resignedly.
It’s not that I minded looking after this child. I’m a responsible citizen and I’ve obviously got a trustworthy face and perhaps I should have been flattered that the mother ‘picked me’. It’s just that I felt sorry for the child. She was only about eight months old and she didn’t have a clue what was going on and she had already been left on her own whilst her mother queued up to buy food. It was interesting to note the concerned faces of people all around the cafe as they struggled to identify who had left this baby, whilst the mother, either oblivious or switched off to this spectacle, continued in the queue. This time the poor thing could do nothing except sit in stunned silence, obviously wondering who these strange people were that she had been thrust upon. In turn my own three were struck dumb with stage fright and could only stare back. It was a bizarre ten minutes whilst we waited for the mother to return.
As I sat there, praying that the baby wouldn’t go into melt down mode when she realised her mother had gone, I wondered what I would have done in that situation. I wouldn’t entrust the care of my children onto anyone I didn’t know, that’s for sure. Am I being critical? Am I being a cynic?
In my view, being a parent is not like being a manager of an office. You don’t delegate your responsibilities onto other people. It’s stressful when you have more than one child each with very different needs, but you have to work out how to cater for all those needs equally. It’s not easy, but there are always ways around any problems you encounter.
So what would I have done? Well, first and foremost, the older child would be taken straight to the toilet before we even found a table. Get that out of the way; damage limitation, if you like. I would have kept the baby with me when going to the counter for food. It would have meant numerous trips back and forth to our table but so be it. Failing that I would have put on my best ‘stressed out mother’ face in the hope that someone would offer to carry our tray. If we did need to make an emergency trip to the toilet I would ask the stranger at the next table if they would mind looking after our things, so that they didn’t get cleared away whilst we were gone. I would rather leave our food in the care of someone else than my child.
Nobody is perfect when it comes to being a parent and I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to getting things wrong. Sometimes we learn from our own mistakes and sometimes we look at other people and think ‘I wouldn’t do it like that’. In other words we write our own manuals about how to raise our children, blended from a series of definite do’s and dont’s plus an infinite number of subjective rules that we make up along the way. For me, yesterday’s incident goes down as a ‘don’t’, but, hey, who am I to judge?