I beg to differ. That's all.
I've always shopped with my kids. I can count on one hand the number of times I've done a full weekly grocery shop without a child since Ellie was born. And, 96 times out of 100, I enjoy it. By avoiding taking her small child grocery shopping, a mum misses out on a huge opportunity to teach and bond with her toddler - and the toddler misses out on a huge opportunity to bond with, and learn from, his or her mum.
I'm not qualified to say any of this with any kind of authority. All the experience I have in the world comes from my own two children; I mostly find it pretty easy, and I don't know how much of that is me (in teaching them how to behave, and in the attitude I have of enjoying rather than stressing), or how much of it is them (being mostly good, mostly easygoing kids). Maybe I've been doing something right; maybe I've just been super lucky. I don't have some amazing secret that will revolutionise the shopping-with-kids experiences of mums everywhere. I just have some things that have worked for us.
Which, of course, I'll share.
1. Set yourself up for success.
Don't go when the kids are hungry, or tired, or already grumpy from other battles. This rules out large portions of the day, I know. I used to shop in the afternoons when I just had Ellie - she was freshly up and dressed after a nap, ready to face the rest of the day, grazing on a late lunch in the trolley while I shopped. It worked, except for the whole thing of every other mum and her kids dropping in at that time after the school pick-up. Oh, and I wasn't a huge fan of getting home weary, just in time to start the dinner-making rush.
With a toddler and a baby, I've found our optimum supermarket time is first thing on a Monday morning. I set myself the goal of being at the shops by 10am, with bonus points if we're out of the house by 9:30am. As I've discussed in previous posts, I prepare as much as I can the night before - breakfast things, nappy bag, snacks, muzzles...
I take snacks. Looking at all that food makes me hungry - of course it's going to do the same for a toddler. I'm not giving her a constant stream of snacks to keep her quiet - but if she asks, I've got something on hand. It's only fair.
And for goodness' sake, shop from a list. I grabbed one of those lists supermarkets have that show the order everything is set out in their store, and I used that to set out a master list - it's got everything I might need to buy, listed in order of appearance through the shop, divided into sections (fruit & veg, deli counter, meat, dairy, shelves, baby stuff, laundry, frozen, etc) - so when we get there, I just work my way through the list in order.
Because here's the thing: I find that the less I have to think about grocery shopping while I'm grocery shopping, the more I enjoy having my kids with me while I'm grocery shopping. So, I do my thinking in advance. Meal plans, ordered shopping lists, and all.
2. Enter in a positive mood - manufacture one, if you must.
Seriously, do yourself a favour - don't take your kids into the supermarket if you're already feeling frazzled. Take a minute to rally the troops. Make full use of handy kids' ride-on things, babychino sellers, petshop window puppies, and other such moment-of-peace inducing goodies near the supermarket entrance. It doesn't have to involve some kind of elaborate treat, or even the spending of any money at all, but you do want to get your kids into the best possible mood. Be fun with them. If they've been good for the last four seconds, praise them for it. Stay positive - you're encouraging a positive frame of mind and reinforcing good behaviour. Don't be tempted to give them a pep talk involving a list of all the things they're not to do in there, because (a) you're setting up self-fulfilling low expectations, and (b) you're giving them ideas. Cut it out. They just need to go in focusing on how much Mummy loves it when they're good. And how awesome it is to be spending this time with Mummy.
And don't forget to mentally prepare yourself.
- I will not heed the disapproving glances of strangers when my child randomly screams. They do not know my child, they do not know how I'm parenting my child, and their opinion makes no difference to my life. They will move on and be unaffected by this moment; I should do the same.
- I will not freak out if my child touches something on a shelf. If a supermarket puts things on shelves within reach of small children, small children will touch those things. The supermarket people surely know this. And meanwhile, my child is exploring and learning about their world.
- I will not see this shopping trip as a job I need to get done, but as an expedition we're going on together. I will remember that it is a valuable opportunity to spend time with my children in a unique setting. I will pause to talk to my child when my child wants my attention. I will enjoy my child's company. My child will be good company, and I will laugh aloud when he/she is funny.
3. Share the load, Mr Frodo.
Start in a section your kids might care about. Fruit and veg works for us, because I have a small grocer-in-the-making tagging along. "Ellie, can you find the bananas? Where might they be?" She's a champ when she finds them, it's an easy first task to have some success with, and she starts to wonder what other wonderful delights we might come across on our travels.
Do yourself a favour, though - if you're going to be buying something your child really loves, but you won't be getting to it for a few aisles yet... don't mention it until you're nearly there. Trust me on this. Many's the time, mid-supermarket, when I've started a sentence to Ellie with: "Seriously, if I hear you say 'pony lollies' one more time..."
4. Have a system for dealing with temptations.
I never avoid the confectionary aisle. I never avoid the toy section - in fact, we pause there to browse, just for fun. And then we move on. Because:
"Those things aren't for us." She seems to accept this way more easily than I would ever have expected.
When we're moving away from the toys, or some other area she's particularly interested in, I give her a few moments to prepare before I ask her to come. "Ellie, we're going to keep going really soon, so just get ready." Then, "Okay Ellie, let's go," while already beginning to move off - I find that if I assume she's going to come with me, more often than not she will.
Also, I don't hide from Ellie the fact that I'm getting bananas, or twiggy sticks, or "magic cheese", or any of the other things I think she might start asking for immediately. She does often ask for one of these if she sees it go into the trolley, but it's fine - I have a response that works beautifully, even if I do have to repeat it a few times. Here, say it with me:
"We have to take it to the lady first."
Magic words. She knows she can have a sample, but not yet. I try to be consistent in letting her have a bit of whatever it was after we've paid and walked away from the checkout - it's a treat for being good, sure, but also it's reinforcing the "take it to the lady" message for next time. It works. She hears those words, and until she forgets (because she's 2), she's cool with it.
In fact, knowing she has one of these things coming can help her handle us not getting something else that may have caught her eye. She wants those chips? "But Ellie, you're going to have that banana after we've been to the lady, so you don't need chips." Oh yeah.
5. Notice how fantastic your child can be.
Grocery shopping is a huge opportunity for your child to do wrong. It's also a huge opportunity for them to do right. Notice it. Appreciate it. Love them for it. And let them know.
Sometimes, when we're walking along an aisle, Ellie will say to me, "Mummy, I need to run." And she does need to - it's like a compulsion. You can see it in her. So, as long as it's a reasonably deserted aisle, I say, "Okay, but stop when I tell you to, okay?"
(Questions like that, I expect a "Yes, Mummy," or some similar acknowledgement, before she can move off - just so I know she heard, and she knows she's accountable.)
And she does. Off she dashes, little arms pumping, until she hears, "Ellie... STOP!" Kid's a champ.
Oh, and she's funny. I love getting a twin trolley so she can sit next to Owen and entertain me. My favourite supermarket conversation recently went like this...
Ellie: "Oh, we need those chips."
Me: "Um, I don't think we do, actually."
Ellie: "Sometimes chips are nice for children."
Me: "Know what else is nice for children? Sitting quietly in the trolley and not asking for things."
Ellie: [throws her head back and laughs maniacally] "Oh, that made me laugh!"
But I also love letting her use her legs. She counts things, and lines things up, and turns things so the labels are at the front, and puts things back in the right spot if they've fallen. If I remember to just relax and let her do her thing, she moves on quite happily, soon enough. If I nag her to hurry up, and let myself start getting stressed, of course she's going to dawdle even more. Like I said: she's 2.
Once, when Ellie was a fair bit littler, I watched her move the number cards along a shelf in the fruit and veg section: a few seconds' work, and watermelons went from $0.69 a kilo to $69 a kilo. I could have worried. I could have told her off. What did I do? Had a giggle and moved casually away. Because come on, that's funny! And besides, if anyone sees watermelon on offer for $69 a kilo and actually believes it to be the correct price... they don't deserve watermelon. So there.
6. The Home Straight, or, Taking It To The Lady.
Job done, right? You've braved the supermarket with your children. You've gone in prepared, both practically and psychologically. You've encouraged them to share in the experience. You've met their social, intellectual and nutritional needs. You've gone through your systematic list, and you've got everything you came for.
Now, for fifty bonus points... survive the checkout.
Here are some things kids love:
- being next to a huge rack of treats that they're not allowed to have (I mean, "that aren't for them").
- being spoken to by over-friendly strangers.
- waiting again, while Mum is busy handling all the things they've been wanting for the past half hour.
So, fair enough, checkout time isn't heaps fun. But here are some more dot points, because I've just recently figured out how to do them. These ones are for you - insert them into your brain, replacing your pre-existing thoughts about taking kids through checkouts:
- Do not ignore your kids, or get snappy - do not put yourself under pressure to hurry up. You are allowed to be slower than the person behind you would like you to be. Maybe they've had kids, in which case they get it. Maybe they'll have kids one day, in which case they'll get it and feel bad about all the times they judged people like you. Maybe they'll never get it. Who cares? If they're in such a hurry that they can't handle you taking as long as you need to take, they can move to another checkout. Or abandon their shopping and run away. Or whatever. Do not assume they are annoyed - and if they obviously are annoyed, just roll your eyes right back at them and continue with what you're doing. Like all other judgemental passers-by, they will move on. So should you.
- If you have small, light, relatively unbreakable items, let your child help you put them on the belt or counter. It's exciting. And it's nice to still be involved.
- If the checkout person tries to engage your shy child in an interaction they're not keen on, don't push them to respond just to be polite, but don't excuse them as "shy" either (if they hear you tell people they're shy, they'll think of themselves as "shy" - maybe they are; but this still won't help). It's shopping day - they're having a long, tiring day. Say that, in their defense. It's fair enough.
- Do not forget that thing you promised them. You've taken it to the lady (even if the "lady" turned out to be a man) - now it's time to produce the goods.
Make grocery shopping the last job on your list. Groceries, checkout, car, home. That's how they need it to go. Remember, even if they seem to have coped really well, it's been overwhelming for them. Don't be tempted to pop in one more shop before you go. Do them (and yourself) a favour: get outta there.
8. Home sweet home.
No one who's just been shopping with small children will pull into their driveway and breathe a thank-goodness-that's-over sigh of relief. Because they're busy mentally preparing for the imminent onslaught: unloading the car of big heavy awkward shopping bags and tired heavy awkward children; getting those tired kids settled in back at home; dealing with toilet emergencies (theirs and yours) and sudden desperate thirsts and babies who need feeding and toddlers who need naps; unpacking all that shopping before it's pilfered by the little gutsies.
Sure, it's an onslaught. Sure, it's exhausting. But then, suddenly, your worn-out children are either asleep or settled in some quiet activity, your kitchen is neatly restocked, your to-do list is temporarily looking pretty satisfied, and the kettle has just boiled.
You did it.
Now, time for a quick Facebook status update to let the whole world know how great your kids are.