Our dinner table can often be loud and messy, and eating out is risky business. But this particular meal in a small town restaurant was one for the books. We had stopped to take a break from our four-hour road trip with three kids under six. We had spent the weekend at the beach, and everyone in our car was overtired and on edge. So we weren’t too surprised when our quick trip to a restaurant with our tired crew went south within moments of entering the front door. 

Before we reached our table, our oldest was in tears. He heard “biscuit” when we ordered “brisket” and upon finding out no biscuits would be served, he decided we had crushed his lifelong dreams of biscuit eating. As one stopped crying, another one started because he had changed his mind, and now wanted chicken instead of grilled cheese. Meanwhile, the baby refused to eat because he wanted whole chicken strips, not cut. 

You get the picture. 

So when a man approached our table, I held my breath, bracing myself for what was to come next. Surely, he was about to pass along some unsolicited and judgmental advice about how we could be doing better. 

But what came next shocked me. 

He actually complimented our three boys on their manners. We genuinely thanked this man but, after he walked away, my husband and I looked at each other completely confused. We were shocked.  Moments earlier, two-thirds of our children were in tears, and I felt far from earning a gold star for our parenting skills. So what did he see in us that sparked his desire to pay a table full of strangers a compliment? What did he see in us that I couldn’t see myself? 

What I saw at our table was a tired team of parents just trying to scarf down a quick bite while keeping our three kids quiet enough to not disturb the tables around us. Did he see the tears burning in the back of my eyes? Did he see my shoulders sagging in defeat by my tiny crew? Did he pity us or did he simply look past the chaos of our table and see the good in us? 

I’d like to believe he saw us trying to address the issues at our table with grace. I’d like to think he saw past the fits my kids were throwing, and saw the potential of their sweet, kind hearts.

I doubt this sweet, gray-haired, man knew the impact his words had on me that day. He made me smile, when I honestly wanted to cry. When I felt we were failing, someone else saw us thriving. 

Now that’s perspective! 

No child is perfect 100 percent of the time. No parent is either. That doesn’t mean we’re failing. There is value in the effort teaching, and also value in learning from our mistakes. Teaching manners involves lots mistakes at the table. 

What took him less than 30 seconds to convey, filled our hearts with so much joy and changed the entire mood of our table. Our kids heard the compliment, and immediately rose to the occasion. He saw the good in them. And in us. He saw two tired parents continuing to teach manners even though we were exhausted, and he saluted us for it. He offered grace, when we had none to give to ourselves. 

So to the man who stopped to say, “Good job, Mom and Dad! Your boys are so well-behaved.” 

Thank you! 

From the bottom of this tired mama’s heart. Because although you may not remember us, we sure remember you. And on my hard days in the trenches of motherhood, I still remember your sweet face and your kind words, prompting me to keep up the hard work because it does, indeed, pay off. 

Parents who are trying DO stand out. 

Even when we feel like we’re failing. 

Michelle Tate

A native Texan, born and raised, I married my college sweetheart, and now spend my days raising our three young boys. In another life, I was an elementary school teacher, before diving deep in my true passion for my own babies and writing.