When I first became a parent, shopping with my tiny infant daughter was a breeze. For the first month, I was proud to discover that my baby was effortlessly “easy” and slept through the entire excursion without so much as a hiccup. Cashiers cooed, fellow shoppers beamed, and all was right in the world of produce browsing. Shopping as a mother seemed like no big deal, and my spouse and I praised each other for having caught onto the knack of the whole child rearing gig so fluidly.
And then, our daughter developed a personality. She wailed, she wiggled, she writhed in her seat, she waggled her tongue at grumpy old women, and she wanted EVERYTHING she saw. She was “that child”. She had no ambitions for magical compliance, leaving me looking like a wild eyed zombie with enough random items in my cart to supply an entire white elephant gift exchange.
I have since given birth to two more beautiful, personality-filled daughters. Through many a tearful and harried shopping trip, I have gained a good deal of humilty and compassion for my fellow parent-shoppers, as well as quite a few practical tricks for making the weekly jaunt to the grocery more pleasant for the whole family. I’ve listed several suggestions that we’ve found to be tried-and-true boredom busters and compromises to make sure you make it home with all your groceries and your hair.
1. Shop with a list, ordered to fit the layout of your grocery.
This is my #1 criteria for a semi-harmonious shopping trip! Nothing invites frustration more than trying to focus and plan on the fly while simultaneously trying to parent; in fact, it’s almost impossible. A body is bound to forget something or lose one’s cool if it’s brain is pulled in two directions without a mission. If you’re like me, you need all the extra brain power you can get, minus the distraction of making a meal plan on the fly! Lists and a good game-plan are our friends. They keep us efficient, and get us in and out of the store in a time frame that’s realistic for everyone.
2. Expect your kids to act like kids.
We can tell them to “be on best behavior” until we are blue in the face, but children can only act as orderly as the situation and their own maturity enables them to. If we take a four year old into a store with nothing to do but get into mischief, can we really fault them for doing so? If we want a different outcome, we as adults are responsible for changing the variables! Having unrealistic expectations will only set us up for angry feelings, and lots of tears from everyone. Be aware of what behaviors are appropriate for your child’s specific developmental level, and adjust your requests/demands accordingly. (For example, most two year olds aren’t capable of walking through a store calmly without impulsively removing items off the shelf. A better plan might be bringing a toy and having them sit in the cart.)
3. Bring a snack, or feed them beforehand.
I’ve found it amazing what a little bit of food can do to improve a child’s mood and ability to censor themselves! For older kids, I keep a box of raisins or nuts in my purse with a bottle of water, for a younger child, a spill-proof cup of juice or milk can go a long way. Having a snack on hand keeps blood sugar stable, as well as being easy entertainment for at least five minutes or so!
4. Wear your baby!
Babywearing is all the rage, and studies show that it can help support cognitive skills and bonding in infants. (Infant carriers are easily purchased or improvised.) In the grocery store, baby wearing serves another helpful purpose: contenting and lulling your baby while you are able to continue shopping with your hands free! This is especially a plus for parents who are also caring for older siblings. As a bonus, it frees up the seat in your cart for a toddler!
5. Be ridiculous.
Grocery shopping can be a chore for adults, and mind-numbingly boring for preschoolers. Banish bad attitudes by allowing for a little subdued silliness! Allow your child to dress up in a silly costume, to sing goofy songs while shopping, or to pretend to be a super spy who quietly sneaks down the aisles with you in the cart. Play rhyming games together while you check items off your list, and take time to hear about your child’s latest dream, favorite show or story from school. Pretend to shoot flying monkeys from the ceiling. Chances are, your fellow shoppers may be cheered at the site of a 3yo in a lion costume, or a goggled superman singing show tunes from Annie. Lighten up!
6. Shop during your child’s best time of day.
Every family has a witching hour during which delightful members become surly miniature ogres. Taking a child out during this time is asking for trouble. Picking their best hour or two of the day will set them and us up for a great time, and give everyone a good chance to be the best version of themselves. For my children, this is early in the morning. For others, it may be later in the day, after any nap times.
Obviously, these ideas are what work best for my family. Every parent and child are unique with individual needs! Thinking creatively or individualizing these general suggestions can be a great jumping off point towards getting your shopping done while considering everyone’s needs. You may even find yourself looking forward to shopping trips, once you find a system that works well for you!