Family Life

Open Letter to the Mom Crying at the Park: Words for When your Kids Embarrass You in Public

We’ve all seen, or been, the mom in the park crying when her kids embarrass her with the giant temper tantrum. I recently had an encounter that left me wishing I had been a bit more encouraging in the moment. 

Dear Mom Crying at the Park,

When we arrived at the park, you struck up conversation about how close in age my kids are (it’s OK, everyone does and it doesn’t bother me. I like that it’s a conversation starter.) We chatted a bit about young children, big babies… and then our children went their separate ways on the playground and our conversation pretty much ended there.

As my little bee buzzed around your kids here and there I caught glimpses of your conversations– comments about how tired you were, comments about trying to protect your children, comments about the difficulties of motherhood. You were talking to friends, and so I didn’t want to butt in, but I was resonating with so much of what you said.

Sometime when my kiddos and I were across the park, it happened...

Your middle child (maybe 2ish) started having the tantrum to end all tantrums. He was crying, wailing, refusing comfort… I watched as you spoke with compassion toward him, wrestling with leaving or complying with his requests.

Eyes drifted your way, and you noticed. You commented about how uncomfortable it was that everyone was staring at you. I fumbled my way through some words of encouragement– that we’ve all been there, a story about how my toddler did that just a couple weeks ago, and affirmation that I, too, was embarrassed.

The tears welling up in your eyes are familiar to me. I feel them. I’ve held them back, and let them drop. I worry that my words in the moment may have been the cause of your tears, and it’s caused me to reflect on what I wish I would have said to you:

Yes, we're staring. But it's not out of judgement. It's a compassionate search for an opportunity to lend help.

In response to your voicing of the discomfort of the stares, I fumbled out these words, “We’re not staring at you!” But that wasn’t true.

You knew it wasn’t true.

I wish I would have, instead, said that we’re trying to see if there’s an opportunity to help.

Because I know the weight of the eyes on parenting decisions. I know how exhausting it is to hold the tantrums of a toddler, and the judgements of those around you. In my own moments of kids embarrassing me, I have yearned for compassionate voices, helping hands, understanding gestures.

I don’t judge you.

Maybe there was a day, before having children of my own, where I might have studied your parenting practices for evidence that I could have done it better. But the last 19 months have sufficiently humbled me and helped me realize that we are all doing our best.

Which is what I would have said next…

You're doing a phenomenal job.

I took note when we arrived at how your children enjoyed your presence as well as simply living. Your oldest was social, your middle child was laughing, and your baby was content to be worn by mama while big brothers played.

It is obvious that your kids love you, and that you love them. Maybe I would do things differently than you, but not because of right and wrong… Simply because we’re different women with different personalities, strengths, and viewpoints.

When our kids embarrass us in public, it’s easy to wonder if everyone around us thinks we must be doing something wrong, and maybe we start to believe those imaginary voices of judgement.

We interpret the stares as by-passers communicating that our child’s tantrum is proof that we’re failing at this motherhood thing…

I’m here to tell you that your child’s tantrum is actually proof that he trusts you enough to keep loving him through this mess. In your frustration, you continued to speak with compassion. You remained mindful of your other children. And your toddler kept right on screaming because he knew you wouldn’t stop that love.

Toddlers have a lot going on– between big feelings, an abundant amount of synaptic connections forming, low stress tolerance, and not enough language to express it all, it’s inevitable that they will tantrum. No amount of parenting prowess will curb that reality. The best thing we can do is to keep loving them.

Keep showing up.

Keep setting respectful and firm boundaries.

I saw you doing that… And your toddler did, too.

And finally…

You are not alone.

Motherhood is an isolating gig. Between differing nap schedules, differing parenting practices, and overall stress levels, even if we have friends it’s almost impossible to truly commune with them.

Even though you had friends with you at the park, it was clear to me that you felt alone. Your friends couldn’t make the parenting decisions for you– and neither could those of us looking on. It’s overwhelming when we don’t know what to do, but we also don’t know where to turn. 

But hear me when I say this– I stand in solidarity with you. I may have fumbled through our introductory conversation, as well as my attempted encouragement for you, but as a mom of young children I want you to know… You are my people.

I, too, am tired. I, too, am overwhelmed.

I, too, wonder if I’m doing it all wrong when my kids embarrass me in public with gargantuan temper tantrums.

I, too, sometimes feel like I wish there was a “stop” button on mothering… even if just for a minute.

So, even though we can’t make your decisions for you, I hope you know that there are moms everywhere who have felt and are feeling your same feelings. We stand in solidarity with you. We remind you that this tantrum, this season, and these days won’t last forever. One day it will seem crazy that we stood in a park crying because of our child’s big feelings, but today we stand with you right in the thick of it.

In love and solidarity,



If you're the one crying...

Here are some words of encouragement for the rough days.

Here are some ideas for activities that might curb the tantrums.

If you’ve had more rough days then good days lately, find some words of grace here.

If you need some encouragement weekly, sign up for my weekly emails here.Weekly Encouragement Sign Up

I want to hear from you!

Have you ever had one of those kids embarrassing you in public kind of moments? Tell me about it in the comments!

My most recent one was in Hobby Lobby, which is generally equivalent to Disney world for this Southern Creative Mama– the true happiest place on earth. But Leona’s strong will devolved into a tantrum that really did have me thinking that everyone around me must have thought I was the worst mother on the planet. Every word of encouragement, boundary-setting, and discipline to Leona felt like it was on display like a museum– studied, judged, validated, or passed over.

I want to know how your moment felt to you!

(2) Comments

  1. Amanda Lewallen says:

    Great words! This has been me many times!

    1. Me too! Words I wish would have been said to me as well ❤️

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