Dear Stranger In The Store Who Grabbed My Son

Written by Nicole Hastings

Dear woman in the store who grabbed my son:

You may have been brought up in a different generation, maybe brought up in a different household, or maybe you were just having a bad day, but when my five-year-old son was having a meltdown while we were trying to leave the store and you grabbed him and shouted at him that he should “be taught a lesson and listen to his mother…” you made matters worse for me, for him and possibly, for you too.

You see I rarely go out grocery shopping with all of my children—twin five-year-olds and a two-year-old—just the thought of it raises my blood pressure, so it took a lot for me to even get there. It took even more to:

  • follow my list;
  • make our way through the store without any major upsets;
  • try to instill lessons to my children on how to budget by following the list closely;
  • teach them how to choose healthy foods by loading up on fruits and veggies; and
  • try to be patient and move through obstacles without losing our temper (that lesson was for me).

And we did it, even though it took an hour and a half and three potty breaks, we made it through the checkout line and my kids had waited so patiently to spend their chore money on the little vending machine toys. We had finally made it to what their good behavior got them to—the row of metal machines that contained all kinds of stickers, super heroes, critters and creatures. There was also the “claw” game, where you take a gamble and try to grab a stuffed animal. My son chose to spend his 50 cents on the “claw” game, while the other two chose the vending machine toys. They chose the more reliable purchase, while he decided to take a gamble. I went ahead and let him, knowing his stuffed animal of choice would probably not be grabbed.


This was a perfect opportunity for a lesson in wise spending and disappointment that once the money is spent, it’s spent.

He, like I predicted, did not get the toy and he, like I predicted, had a meltdown when I told him he had no more quarters to try again. He saw his brother and sister playing with their purchases, while he stood there with nothing. He reacted externally the way we adults act internally when we spend money on something we probably shouldn’t have—in an epic tantrum. I was trying to empathize while also gathering my other children to make our way slowly through the door and you, lady at the store, came along.

You were in a hurry and didn’t see my tiny two-year-old following us out the door, slowing you down as you tried to hurry past us with your cart. You told me that I “should watch my children more closely and they are out of control.” I replied to you, politely over the screaming of my son, “She’s two. I have my hands quite full at the moment and you could go around us.” You did, you did go around us and you were on your way when you stopped in front of my cart. I thought maybe you were going to give me a word of encouragement, but instead you grabbed my crying son’s shoulders and stuck your finger in his face and yelled at him that he should “be taught a lesson and listen to his mother.” Not only is grabbing someone else’s child, a stranger’s at that, is not appropriate on so many levels, but, dear lady at the grocery store, what you didn’t see was that my son was learning a lesson—many lessons, in fact. He was learning that we don’t always get what we want, learning that it was OK to express disappointment, but screaming and throwing a fit was not going to make his mom give in, learning that sometimes it’s not fair that we don’t get the return we expect from something we worked hard and invested in, and he learned, thanks to you, that not all adults and strangers have learned their lessons yet.

We made it out of the store, and yes, I saw your glare from across the parking lot as I loaded my three children all under the age of six into the car by myself, as well as the now melty groceries. And I felt grace towards you, because believe me, I too, wanted to grab my son and tell him to knock it off, but I didn’t because I knew there were lessons to be learned—for me, for him and I pray, you will learn yours as well.


The tired, sweaty, out-of-breath single mom with three little kids

About the author

Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a certified Grief Recovery Specialist who lives in Denver and is a widowed mom to three children under seven. With a background in journalism and a sudden need to “figure out what to do,” she turned to writing about her experience with a husband with cancer, caregiving and widowed parenting and overcoming the aloneness of all of the above. She believes the art of storytelling brings people out of the dark into the light together to share in joy, humor, suffering and pain in life. She hopes that by sharing her story with transparency and heart will bring others hope and empower them to share their own stories.


  • I am so sorry that this happened to you, Nicole. This woman was obviously projecting her own misery onto you. Unfortunately, your small child felt her wrath of bitterness as well. As a mom who has dealt with her fair share of public meltdowns, know that you did the best you could in a difficult situation. It took energy and patience to take on what you did and a loving nature to put your children first when considering that a well-learned lesson was worth the cost of your own anxiety. You handled yourself with grace and for that you should be happy and proud. In regards to that woman, she crossed your path briefly, which was miserable and unfortunate but she has to live with herself all the time–poor her.

  • Oh, give me a break.

    No, that woman should not have grabbed your kid, but based on what you wrote, you weren’t doing anything to stop your kid from screaming. You wanted him to learn that you don’t always get what you want, which is a good lesson, but apparently, you had no problem letting him scream his dismay for the entire grocery store to hear. I have a problem with that, and I’m sure every other person in the store, witnessing your kid’s meltdown did as well. My mother would never have allowed either of her children to act that way in public no matter how old we were. We started screaming; we left the store.

    The fact of the matter is, you knew he probably wouldn’t get his toy and the entire situation could have been avoided had you warned him of that outcome and told him that he could only play that game if he did not throw a tantrum when he did not get a toy. If he started to cry, all you had to do was leave the store. Simple. It isn’t politically correct to say children need to be trained in how to behave the same way we train dogs and cats, but really there is no difference. Conditioning techniques work. If his behavior has the same reaction from you every time, he will change said behavior. By not scolding him, your actions told him that screaming will get him what he wants. Had that woman not said something, chances are you would have given into him just to get him to stop crying because that’s what most people do. Not to sound like Barney Fife, but you need to nip that type of behavior in the bud or it will only get worse.

    We’re probably close in age (based on how young your children are) and I cannot stand the way Gen X and Older Millennials let their kids do whatever they want and bristle when someone else says something about it. That older woman was wrong in how she did it — she should not have confronted your son (unless his tantrum was in some way endangering him or other people, which I doubt was the case), but your unwillingness to stop him from throwing a tantrum was wrong too. Apparently, he is not the only one who needs to learn a lesson.

    • She was leaving the store. The lady grabbed her son as she was trying to get out the door not inside the store. The older woman was completely out of line.
      I agree causally shopping and acting like it isn’t a big deal while a child is throwing a fit isn’t ideal.
      But real even if you are passing a family with a screaming child you don’t know the whole story. Maybe the parent had just being trying to diffuse the situation and needed a minute to take to calm down before moving forward, maybe the child has autism or adhd that causing them to act out. There are a million reason a child could cry in public and they usually don’t equal poor parenting.

  • I would have been furious!!! I am so sorry. I could picture myself in your situation as I have been in it before and I know I would have both like a child being punished and like a momma bear about to attack to protect her cub.