Last night, I made a run to Target at 8:30 p.m. I needed to pick up a few things for a holiday party we are hosting this weekend, but of course by the time I made it to the register my cart was overflowing with holiday items, toiletries for my three teen daughters, and yes, even a “Ho Ho Ho” throw pillow.

The store was on the quieter side, and I was relieved when I saw a teen boy standing outside his lane. “I can take you here, ma’am,” he said.

The first item he took out was the Christmas pajamas I picked out for my dog (stop rolling your eyes). We bonded over our pups and how they were both unruly. He was a sweet kid.

When he rang up my 5-pack of holiday wrapping paper, I told him: “No need for a bag, I’ll just pop that in my cart.”

He smiled and replied: “I can always tell who are the nice and easy customers even before they get to my line.”

“Really?” I laughed. “Lots of old, crotchety ladies, huh?”

“Well, not really. It’s often moms who are the hardest.”

At first, I thought he was joking, but I could tell by the expression on his face that he wasn’t.

“Moms?” I asked. “Like with their kids with them?”

“Yeah. I mean, I get it. I’m the oldest of five and my mom works and is pretty stressed, but I’ve never seen her be mean to a retail worker or waitress or anything. It’s just hard when you’ve never worked before and people start yelling at you.”

This was his third retail job, and he went on to tell me about a young mom who, when her coupon wouldn’t work, left all her items on the belt and walked out. Another yelled at him because the grocery store set up a Pokemon display near his register and she was mad that she had to tell her kids no every two minutes about buying the cards. Apparently, the worst was the mother who asked to speak to the manager about his job performance because he could not locate the toy her son wanted with his kids’ meal.

As he continued scanning my items, I remembered a few times when I had been curt because I wanted to get home to put my kids down for a nap, or I was frustrated because my free time was cut into because of a register mistake.

And at that moment, I realized: this Target cashier could one day be my daughter. It could be your son.

And we’re the moms. We’re supposed to be better.

I don’t know when we went off the rails as parents. I don’t know when we thought yelling or belittling or undermining young people just trying to do their jobs was OK. I don’t know when we started screaming at 14-year-old soccer referees or 16-year-old grocery baggers or 18-year-old Target cashiers.

But we’re the moms. We should know better.

I get it. As moms, we are overwhelmed and undervalued. We are sleep-deprived and anxiety-ridden. We are all the things to all the people. We carry the mental load, and it is heavy.

We just want to get through to bedtime, and during the holidays that feeling is exponentially greater.

But maybe we need to remember that our babies will one day be entering the workforce, and how would we want them to be treated? And what are our kids learning when they see us treat others this way?

I’m a little embarrassed to share my Target total, but at the end of my tab, I added a $10 Starbucks gift card. As the young man handed me my receipt, I handed over the gift card. “Have a frappuccino on me. It’s for dealing with all of us crazy, stressed-out moms.”

“Oh, no, ma’am. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything,” he stammered. You could see he was nervous about getting in trouble.

“No, I’m sorry,” I told him. “Have a great holiday.”

We should always be kind when we can—especially to those who have to work when all they want to do is be home with their families—but maybe this season we can offer a little more grace to our youngest workers.

They are going to make mistakes. It may take them a little longer. And they have a lot to learn.

We should be kind to everyone, but let’s remember that teenagers are just starting out in this world, and I don’t think we need to make it any harder.

Because we are the moms. And we can change things for the better.

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.