I saw a really gut-wrenching scene at the grocery store this week. It was maybe 2pm on a Friday afternoon, and the store was busy, but not overly packed. I went about my business, and then got in line to pay, and did what we all do in the grocery store line nowadays – I fiddled with my phone so I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. That’s what it happened.

I noticed a woman in a line close to mine who was clearly having a bad day. She had a cart full of food, and a very, very cranky 2-year-old in the seat of the cart, just bawling. The look of desperation on her face is one I know all too well. Do you leave your cart filled with a week’s food and walk out so you don’t disturb anyone? Or do you grin and bear the judgemental stares until you can get through the line? I think this has happened to every parent at least once. No matter how well you plan things, how many naps, snacks and clean diapers you arm your little bundle of joy with, sometimes kids just snap and there’s nothing you can do.

Eventually the woman got through the line, and managed to pay. By the time she got to the front of the line, her (otherwise adorable) cranky baby had even calmed down to a category 1 tantrum, from a category 5. Why did the baby calm down? Because the sweet, understanding older lady behind this tired mom took the time to talk to them, and even gave the kid a candy from her purse. In a semi-crowded place, surrounded by people either giving her the stink eye, or people like me, trying to be sympathetic but also averting our gaze, one woman’s kindness was enough to defuse the situation so the mom could get done what needed to be done and get the eff out of there. I will admit, I was a little ashamed of myself for not trying to help too. I mean, I’m socially awkward as hell, and probably would have come of like a weirdo, but still.

It’s so easy to judge parents who are in these situations. It’s easy to say “I would have planned better,” or “I would have left the store,” but life is messy and sometimes stressful, and I don’t think I’m in a position to judge. Maybe this mom only had a two hour window to shop. Maybe her child has developmental delays, or wasn’t feeling well. Or maybe she’s just a bad planner who should’ve waited until the kid was less cranky. Either way, it isn’t my place to judge. Parenting in general would be less stressful and isolating if we’d all try to be a little more understanding. So the next time I see a parent in that situation, I’m going to try to show support (as awkward as I am). You never know the difference it could make.