Here’s the scene:
Crowded parking in front of an upscale grocery store on a sunny Saturday. Older couple leaving store, walking towards their car, carrying canvas grocery bags filled to the top. New station wagon, Mom driving, with two little girls in car their seats, pulls in to the open parking space beside elderly couple’s car. Couple place bags in the car and get in the car, fastening their seat belts.
Meanwhile, Mom has parked and opened the passenger door to retrieve her children. The children are engaged in asking Mom a lot of questions about what they will be doing in the store and after they get home. Mom is patient and willing to answer all their questions. The girls linger in their car seats, both the driver’s door and passenger doors are open. Mom continues to talk with her daughters, answering their questions and allowing them to remain in their car seats.
Finally the girls disengage themselves from their car seats and gradually exit the car. As they hold hands and proceed to walk behind the elderly couple’s car, they stop and more questions and answers ensue. Finally, Mom and two daughters walk away from the parked cars, towards the store front.
Absolutely charming picture of an engaged Mom with her children, right? Right. She was caring and totally involved with her children.
I watched all this unfold. It was noteworthy that the mother never acknowledged the elderly couple, who were patiently waiting for her to extricate herself and her children safely from beside their car. The mother also never mentioned to her children that the elderly couple were waiting for them to leave the car so that the couple could also leave.
My sense of all of this was that in being totally attentive to her children, Mom missed a wonderful opportunity to teach her children to be aware of others. To teach in a very small way that we share this world. That the acknowledgment of a kind act of patience is part of being responsible and reciprocal (Refrigerator Rules). This doesn’t mean that she should have done anything other than to verbally note to her children that she would be pleased to keep answering their questions, after they left the car, so that others can also get on their way; and then, smile at the couple and say “thank you”–teaching her children to be aware of others and that it is polite to be gracious to people who you don’t know, or who may not even hear your kind words.
In missing this teaching opportunity, mom was also giving a lesson (teaching) in how to attend to your own needs without having to recognize the needs of others.
It was a small, insignificant moment in all of their lives. Perhaps these “insignificant moments” add up to more telling behavior. How and when do we learn to use “us” and “them?” How do we promote the need to care for self before others? Where does it start? Is this one small way in which to decrease the expanding sense entitlement in our society?
Be gentle with your children and their world.