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Offering Grace to Families as a Childless Millennial

Children eating at a pizzeria

Well before Julia and I started Kaleidoscope Learning, I worked at a medium-size law firm in Northeast Minneapolis. Almost all the attorneys and some of the paralegals were middle-aged and had families of their own. Most of the support staff (I was a Salesforce admin) were young Millennials, fresh out of college and excited about entering the legal profession. Our branch was a small office, filled with 8-10 people, so we all became familiar with each other's homelives, including names of partners and children, hobbies, vacation plans, and home-improvement projects.

One summer afternoon, in celebration of a fellow staff member's birthday, we all walked down the street to a local restaurant. Midway through the meal, a fellow childless 20-something staff member recounted her recent date-night with her fiancé. They went to a very trendy, upscale restaurant, and she wanted her experience to be worth the amount of money she paid for her plate. With exasperation in her tone, she went on to explain that her night was "ruined" because a couple at the restaurant brought their two young children, and they acted as young children do: loud, wiggly, giggly, and emotionally expressive.

As this particular co-worker continued talking, I looked around the table, and I saw a wall of blushing faces and ducked heads, clearly averting eye contact. The parents of our small lunch party stayed relatively quiet, and it became apparent to me that, at one time or another, they had been in this exact situation: their young child "created a scene" at a public location, and gazes of annoyed on-lookers descended upon them, which evoked embarrassment and shame.

I still think about that lunch from time-to-time. I remember quickly changing the subject to end the uncomfortable energy. Looking back, I was always miffed by my co-worker's comments because she was quite open about her intentions of expanding her family after her wedding. Perhaps she believed when we became a parent, she would "never let that behavior occur." I always wondered why she did not offer grace to that family, who probably went to great lengths to have their children blend seamlessly into the ambient noise of the restaurant.

One could receive the "World's Best Parent Award," and inevitably, their child will act like themselves in a public place: wiggly, giggly, emotionally expressive, and practicing their new voice. If you, reader, are a parent or caring adult of a young child, you probably have been in this situation too.

Anecdotally, I find that childless Millennials are quick to be annoyed by families. We saw this tension bubble to the surface during the Pandemic (this is, of course, separate discussion). And while I certainly think there are instances where a parent might have to take action or even blame for their child's behavior, it certainly seems, as of late, we are failing to extend grace and understanding to families of young children. Perhaps this is a symptom of our gravitation towards individualism as a country or the declining birth rate.

Regardless of the roots of this behavior, the next time you find themselves in this situation, I urge childless Millennials to consider pausing and thinking about their reactions before throwing dagger eyes or rude comments towards families with young children. Not only are those children paying attention to your emotions and actions, but potential future parents are too. For me, my distant-future could hold parenthood, and, because of this, I try really hard to "pay it forward" by offering grace to families now with the hope that people do the same for me when my child melts-down in the grocery store. Parenting is hard enough, and with parents and non-parents alike, we all deserve grace and understanding.

In a small pizza joint on a warm, July afternoon, a baby (about 10 months old) started screaming at the top of his lungs. I was with my partner, enjoying an early dinner before we continued on with our evening. Over and over again, the child made his presence known to us. However, instead of being mad or upset that the child was "ruining our vibe," we couldn't help but laugh. The baby was clearly going through that random-screeching-after-finding-their-voice phase, and I could see that panic was beginning to set in on his parents' faces. My partner and I simply leaned over to them, offered kind smiles, and joked, "that's how I feel when I'm waiting for my pizza too." The parents' concern melted from their faces, and I could genuinely see that they were relived to receive a kind, understanding comment.

This article was written by Kaleidoscope Learning's president Jennie Lynch.

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