April Moments

Maybe, just maybe, telling the story is just as important as the story itself

To the mom who yelled at my toddler at the playground

To the mom who yelled at my toddler at the playground:

I’m sure you don’t know how hard it is for me to make friends. I’ve struggled in that area for as long as I can remember.

Making mom friends is especially difficult for me. It always has been.

Almost two years ago, after my third baby was born, I quit my outside-the-home office job to stay home. I call myself a work-at-home mom because I’ve built a successful freelance writing business.

However, staying home has unique challenges. Being that you were at the playground this morning as part of a moms’ club, I imagine you might relate to the occasional feelings of isolation.

I’m sure you don’t know how big of a step it was for me to join a local parents’ group. I’m in a different group than the one you belong to, but sometimes just showing up to meetings and play dates is hard.

For me, even though I often feel desperate to make mom friends, showing up comes with all kinds of insecurities. Will the other moms judge my unwashed hair? Will I remember the other parents’ names? Will my toddler play nicely with the other kids?

You see, mothering this third child has been a different experience than it was with the first two. I worked outside the home when my older kids were babies and toddlers. They were used to being away from me at daycare. They had plenty of opportunities to play with other kids their age and size.

But my third — he’s had me mostly to himself for almost two years. Sure, he’s played with cousins and neighbor kids, but he’s still learning how to interact with others.

Just yesterday evening, he hugged our neighbors’ daughter so gently, multiple times. She’s turning 1 year old this week, so she’s a good bit smaller than my toddler who will be 2 next week. It was the sweetest thing — the way he laid his head against hers.

But you didn’t get to see that gentleness.

I saw what you saw at the playground this morning. Granted, I was standing a little farther away than you were. But I was watching. I saw my toddler push your little one down. I admit, it was anything but gentle. It was quite an aggressive push.

And when I saw it, I ran. Like, all-out sprinted toward the scene. And right before I got to my toddler, I saw you put your pointer finger in his face and heard you shout, “Who do you belong to?”

It was appalling how rude you were to my little guy.

I remember scooping up my son and saying, “He’s mine. I’ve got this.”

Still in a partial state of shock, I said to my toddler, “That was not nice. We do not push.”

toddlerNow, my son talks quite a bit for his age and when he’s with people he knows, but I knew the chances of him apologizing to your child were slim to none. Still, I felt like it was the right thing to do, so I did my best to explain to my toddler that he needed to say he was sorry.

Sheepishly, I approached you and your little one, outwardly asking my son to apologize. Inwardly, I was dying of embarrassment and shame and wanting the whole situation to end.

At first, I thought you were going to be gracious when you said to your child, “Look! He’s going to say he’s sorry.”

Not surprising to me, my son didn’t say anything. Probably for several reasons: 1) He didn’t really understand the situation. 2) He’s not a performing monkey who speaks on command. 3) You had yelled at him and possibly scared him.

I tried to fill in and apologize for him. But your abruptness came back when you spat, “Good luck with him!”

I picked up my kid again. It’s difficult to describe all the emotions that were rising in me at that moment. But mostly I was feeling like a failure. The tears came almost immediately, and my only goal was to escape.

I walked past the group of moms I was trying so hard to befriend and, with a wobbly voice, said, “I’m sorry. We’re going to go.”

I imagine they saw what happened, and several of them tried to stop me with their voices.

But the barrage of tears was coming, so I continued walking toward my van. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold myself together for the rest of the moms’ meeting.

You probably saw two other moms from the parents’ group, who I will call V and T, approach me. Just so you know, they weren’t saying anything bad about you.

I think V and T felt like they couldn’t let me leave without at least trying to comfort me and asking me to stay.

I listened as they said encouraging things like…

“This is what our group is about — helping moms and kids.”

“Your little guy doesn’t understand. He’s still learning.”

“Please don’t feel like you have to leave. You are welcome to stay for the rest of the meeting.”

Still overwhelmed by my emotions, with tears spilling from my eyes, I thanked them but told them I wanted to leave. I knew my toddler would return to the playground, and I just didn’t have the energy to possibly deal with more negativity from you.

Plus, I was just embarrassed. Embarrassed that I was full-on ugly crying in front of the moms I was attempting to befriend. Embarrassed that my kid pushed your kid. Embarrassed that I was running away from the situation but not knowing how to stay and be a functioning human being.

You might have seen me leave. You may have boasted that you won. You might have even felt victorious or prideful.

As I got into the driver’s seat, I continued sobbing. In fact, I cried the whole way home. I’m not necessarily proud of it, but it’s the truth.

I cried because the situation attacked some of my biggest insecurities.

That this third child of mine doesn’t play well with other kids. That it’s my fault because I’m home with him all day, and meeting other parents and kids feels like so much work.

I cried because seeing my toddler push your little one raised a big worry: What if my kid grows up to be a bully?

You might not think so, but I really am trying to raise kind humans. I am far from perfect. I make plenty of mistakes, and so do my kids.

V, one of the moms who stopped me in the parking lot, told me that you have two older kids. I found that surprising. Judging by your reaction to the push, I thought for sure you were a first-time mom.

Have your older kids never pushed each other or been rough with your youngest?

I’m not excusing my toddler’s behavior. I know it was wrong that he pushed your child. I plan to keep teaching him how to act appropriately with other kids.

I might never encounter you again. Honestly, even if I do see you again, I can’t say that I will recognize you. I was so confused and overwhelmed and embarrassed that I don’t recall what your face looks like.

You can judge me for that if you want. But it’s the truth.

V also gave me a wonderful perspective to consider. She said maybe you were having a really bad Monday morning.

So, if I did have the chance to talk to you again, I want you to know that I forgive you. For yelling at my kid. For being rude to me.

Because I understand bad mornings. We have more craziness during the getting-ready-for-school routine than I would prefer.

And I’ve let those bad mornings get me down many times. I’ve let them dictate my words and my actions.

Maybe that’s what happened to you, too. Maybe we have more in common than I thought.

Yes, I escaped. Yes, I cried.

But I forgive you. Because it’s the kind thing to do.

Kind humans. I’m really trying.

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8 thoughts on “To the mom who yelled at my toddler at the playground

  • Katin says:

    This spoke to me on so many levels. I’ve been on both sides of the whole child being pushed and child pushing others and the most important thing is to set the example of how you want your child to interact with others. You did good. Thank you for sharing this experience and perspective!

  • Bill O'Connell says:


    I’m recommending your blog to my dauagter who is staying home with her second son. She has a three year old and a six month old, so I think she is your natural audience.

    I think your writing is excellent, but I seem to recall it always was.

    • Thanks for sharing my blog with your daughter, Bill! She can also follow my Facebook page; I do more writing and sharing there because it’s often quicker than blogging.

      And what an incredibly kind compliment about my writing! Thank you — I learned from some of the best. 🙂

  • Carla Neely says:

    Wow this story is amazing. I must say I am surprised that a mommy group would act this way. April, you are a great mom with wonderful parenting skills. I guess just take it as lessons learned. Kids will be kids pushing and etc is part of growing up. Chin up and mommy on!

  • Karri Baker says:

    I’m proud of how you handled the situation. You were very gracious towards the other parent. I’m not sure I would have handled it the same way had someone stuck their finger in my little ones face and yelled at him. I’d like to think so but I doubt it. They’re not perfect and are all learning at this age. You did the right thing. Thank you for sharing.

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