The Stages of Parental Degradation in the Grocery Store

by Janelle Hanchett

Hey lady. I see you. Staring me down in the condiment aisle while my 10-year-old blocks your view of the stone-ground mustards. Look. I get it. I’m there with my 4 kids at 4pm, one of them on my hip, the other climbing the cart, the other in your way.

I told him to move. You got your mustard. But yeah, my voice probably lacked a certain vigor you were hoping for. Or maybe you just glared at me because there are so many of us. I feel that, my friend.

But you gotta understand something here: I didn’t start out this way. I didn’t start out broken and weeping by the organic kale. When I walked into this place I was full of hope and promise, just like you. When I put my baby in the cart and purse in the basket, I wasn’t staring down the barrel of 15 years of questionable life choices culminating in four dirty-blonde children circling me like those bastards ‘round the fire in Lord of the Flies.

I was setting out on some good ol’ fashioned excess in the chain grocery store!

Perhaps you don’t have children, or perhaps you have children but are one of those mothers whose kids never act like Tiny Adorable Crackheads due to your excellent parenting, or maybe you don’t take them to the store because you have a nanny taking care of that sort of nonsense, or maybe you’ve (gently, lovingly of course) coerced them into submission, or maybe…yeah. I don’t know. Maybe you’ve forgotten?

At any rate, you need to understand the stages of parental degradation in the grocery store so next time you see a forlorn jacked-up mother (not like ON DRUGS just TIRED) you can eke out a tiny fake smile or even no face at all in place of the death eyes you threw me last week.

Stay with me here.

Stage 1: Hope and Promise.

Here I am, going to the store with my kids, getting groceries for dinner tonight, looking forward to our friends coming over. It’s 4pm. They’re coming at 5:45. Plenty of time!  Just need to get a few simple things. Ohhhh look at that cute baby and damn I missed them today. Sure! Get the Dubliner! I love cheddar!

“Georgia. Put the bread back. We already have bread.”

“Please stop poking the tortillas.”

“No skipping, please. Not here.”

“Where the hell is Rocket?”


I realized around the time I passed the bread aisle that Georgia was in “one of those moods.” It’s hard to describe. It’s a 4-6 year old thing. Around the hours of 4-6pm, before they’ve eaten, after a full day of school. They’re tired as fuck. They’re hungry. They’re WEIRD. They look at you with these sort of glazed-over eyeballs and you wonder if perhaps you’re talking to somebody who’s had a few too many. You touch their arms to get them to engage but, like drunk people, they start crying and you realize the only thing to do is GET THIS PERSON HOME before they wet their pants.

Or piss on your couch. Wait. Are we talking about college? No! Where am I?

Store. Right. So within just a few moments I realize we’re going to have one of those trips to the store and I move from “Hope and Promise” to Stage 2.

Stage 2: “Parenting”

Janelle, the kids are tired and hungry. They’ve been at school all day. They’re worn out. If you speak to them with kind-hearted reason, they’ll totally respond because they love you and aren’t total fucking sociopaths.

“Georgia, I told you that if you run around the aisles you have to get in the cart. So please come get in the cart.”

“I can’t. It’s full.”

“Rocket, please stop riling up the baby. I really need him to sit in the cart as opposed to squeal and flail uncontrollably.”

“Georgia, okay. Come here then and hold my hand.”

“Ava, can we talk about this later? I’m really trying to focus and I don’t want to forget anything.”


They are not responding to reason. You’ve said the same sentence 9 times. You’ve been interrupted distracted and physically assaulted (by the toddler) at least 10 times. What the hell is happening here I am so tired my back hurts I don’t have this in me WHERE IS THEIR FATHER?


Time for Stage 3: Parenting with subdued rage

You are breathing rapidly to contain the irritation while trying so fucking hard not to forget the shredded Parmesan cheese. Fuck parenting. They’re all terrible. Fuck learning moments. This shit sucks. I just need to get out of the store so I can tell these kids how bad they were and punish them somehow in some really effective method I’ll think of when I get there.

“Georgia I swear if you don’t come here RIGHT NOW (gritted teeth non-yell) I am going to…(what? You have nothing but empty threats and she knows it.)”

“Put your hand on this cart AND DO NOT MOVE EVER.”

“Fine. Just give me the baby. I’ll just hold him.”

“No we cannot get seaweed, that grind-it-yourself peanut butter, more bread, eggnog, chocolate, flowers for daddy, balloons for daddy, anything for daddy, a succulent for nana, a coconut, some small peppers, or Altoids. NO WE ARE NOT GETTING ANY OF THAT SHIT BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL ASSHOLES AND I HATE YOU.” (Oh god I don’t hate you please never leave me.)

But what comes out: “No, kids.






NO. We’re not getting that,” as you smile at the old man who thinks your baby’s cute as he walks by.

“Actually, Rocket. Get the eggnog. Good call.”


Stage 4: Resignation to a failed life

This is where you come in, mustard lady. I’ve been here for 20 minutes with 3 hungry bored tired Americans and a baby who hasn’t nursed in 8 hours, currently on my hip making the milk sign, wailing intermittently, and pulling my shirt down. My 5-year-old is holding the cart as directed but attempting to fling her legs over the side while the 14-year-old holds the cart down telling her to stop and my 10-year-old is staring blankly at some condiment RIGHT IN YOUR WAY and I know it, and I tell him, but I’m resigned. I’ve surrendered.

He moved. Sorry for getting in your way. You’ll be fine.

Did you really need to throw me the death glare?

You think this is the moment I imagined? You think I’m enjoying this? I’m for sure not. This is a moment I endure to get to the next one. I’ve moved through the parental stages of degradation and now I’m in full-flight from reality FUCK IT ALL I don’t-even-care-anymore-get-me-outta-this-store mode.

When I finally make it to the checkout line, I realize I’ve forgotten the Parmesan cheese. When I send my kid to go, he runs down the motherfucking aisle, like a wayward 5-year-old, even though he’s 10, which proves to Georgia the great injustice of existence and she’s crying. While the baby tries to nurse and I try to pay and Ava gets pissed at Rocket for just being so annoying on purpose all the time.

When we get into the car, I whisper “Jesus Fucking Christ” under my breath but definitely loud enough for the kids to hear. Then I inquire “WHY WERE YOU SO BAD IN THE STORE TODAY?” and demand that nobody make a single utterance – accidental or otherwise – until we get home.

Then I move into Stage 5: Pretty much okay again.

Let’s make dinner. We have eggnog!


So what I’m trying to say here, lady, is that sometimes you catch people when they are not 1000% winning at life and most likely, they’re struggling with their reality as hard as you are struggling to understand how somebody could possibly suck this badly at life.

Most likely, the loser in the grocery store with the unruly kids will be back to Stage 2 (“Parenting”) or even Stage 1 or 5 within mere moments, and we can all just move along in our respective lives without Laser Eye Death Beams.



Well forget you then.

I’m at Stage 4 in this relationship.



  • Sarah

    I agree. Eggnog rocks.

  • Heather in Oregon

    I only have two and this is pretty much my reality as well minus the baby on the hip. Why the fuck can’t they remember not to run in the grocery store? It’s not like they’ve never been told before, only every single goddamn time we go to the store probably 10 or 15 times each trip. And walking backwards? Asking for the same things they ask for everytime that in almost 10yrs of parenting I have never yet let them have but hope springs eternal. I always start out hopeful and they are great in the store about once every 3 months thus ensuring that hope continues just in case it happens 2x in a row. As we get to the 2 aisles before the checkout I’m pretty sure my eyes are starting to pop and I’ve got a non-stop flood of hissing at them going. We go somewhere that we have to bag our own groceries and by the time we get to that point I’ve given up and resigned myself to winning the shitty mother award because all I want is to get out of there. And inevitably there is someone who makes a comment or gives me death stares.

  • Jay

    You are absolutely amazing — I can’t explain just how much I love your writing, but I can say that the number 1 reason is this: you have the balls to tell the TRUTH and if there are parents out there who say it’s not true, they are lying or brain damaged.

  • Dawn

    This is why my husband and I get up early, leave our 12 year old to babysit and go before they know we are gone. On a Sunday. Because peaceful shopping is better than sleeping.

  • Phillipa

    I love this more than I can possibly explain.

  • Dorothea

    I feel ready to run away pretty much any moment of every day. Parenting is hard.

  • Doni

    Yes, to everything but the eggnog. I really don’t understand eggnog.

    Everyone survived. I’d say you’re winning at parenting! <3

  • Lou Taylor

    As usual your piece struck a chord and I am ashamed and humbled. I probably wasn’t the glaring bitch in the grocery store but I could have been… many times. Mea culpa. Parenting isn’t for sissies and that may well be why I never tried it. I like to think of myself as a warrior woman charging through life and taking few prisoners but in reality I’m actually a pussy and a selfish one at that. The thought of having children and the sacrifice involved has always scared the crap out of me. I applaud you and all mothers and in the future I promise to give overwhelmed mothers the respect and understanding they so richly deserve. Thank you for bringing to my attention what an impatient asshole I can be. Keep those cards and letters rolling in! You’re an amazing writer.

    • Peggy Miller

      Hey, gold stars and rainbows and extra wine and cheese for you for owning up and thinking and for wanting to be a better person. (Seriously, not sarcastically. It’s early and I fear I don’t have word skills yet.) You’re not a selfish person for making different life choices than us parental-types, you’re just on a different path. Carry on being a woman warrior–you truly are.

    • Emily

      I agree wholeheartedly with Peggy! (But I’m replying to you so you see it.) As a parent and a former kid-judger, I feel pretty confident in my approaches with my kids and I don’t love when I get a glare but, for the most part, I’m happy enough to take the hit in return for parenting my kid the way I know is right for us rather than change my parenting to match the preferences of every random stranger we pass. But man, it lifts some stress to know that anybody, anywhere has thought back on one of those glares and thought, “You know, there was more going on there than [insert inconvenience] and I was probably too hard on them.” And believe me, there’s no one to better teach you what an impatient asshole you are than your kids (and by you I mean me, of course)–even though sometimes you weren’t that much until they kicked you in the tits as you left church because the goddamn goldfish you offered them wasn’t handed over by the Sunday School teacher.

  • Jan

    Too funny! I am still laughing and remembering the good old days of raising kids 🙂

  • Shelley Garcia

    Can I just say “I freakin’ love you”

  • Christina

    Oh I live in Stage 3 quite often! I am in tears reading your blog again, but this time in total out loud laughter and might I add snorting! Thanks, you made me snort at my computer!
    Brillant you are!

  • Lou Taylor

    *Laser eye death beams…priceless.

  • Monica

    I get this, you get me/us. I am raising my 2 and 5 yr old grandkids, the 5 yr old is on the Autism spectrum, taking them together to the grocery store is a shit show, end of story. God bless you for having and taking all four of your beautiful kids.

  • Erin

    OMG. The latest post on my blog is about the grocery shopping trip from hell that made me hate humanity and broke me. It was the first time I took all three of my kids out. Solidarity, sister. The end of that trip ended with ALL FOUR OF US crying sitting on the ground outside the grocery store. I’m glad I’m at the “Why where you all so bad?” stage now, it’s still hell but it the store doesn’t completely break us now.

  • daniel

    Yup. Been there. Oh wait, still am. 18 months, 5, 8, 10 and 12 years old. I am fucking THRILLED when I have only 3 in the store. The only thing you forgot to mention is the Death Grip followed by the twitchy eye. I think that is the transition from stages 3 to 4.

  • another janelle

    next time just leave the 12 year old in the car with the other kids and just take the baby in. save yourself the stress!! 12 year old female in most cases should be old enough to watch the kids. or would that be considered “abuse” in the US? lol.

    • Tracy

      Here (Texas) it’s “abuse” unless the oldest is 14. Plus the car needs to be on most of the year and leaving them in a CAR with KEYS is insanity itself.

  • Sarah

    There may be another reason for mustard-lady’s glare. She may have forgotten what it’s like to have young kids.

    I have two teenagers. I had my last baby 15 years ago–do I remember how shitty it was? Sort of, but not really. What I feel pretty regularly is a great sense of I-am-so-effing-glad-it’s-over and thank-God-it’s-almost-over. Seriously, when I dropped my oldest son off at college two year ago, I felt the greatest moment of, “Ahhhhh!” Did I feel bad he left? No! Age 17 was the worst age I actively remember, but also wasn’t so bad because I could send my kid to get the GD groceries.

    That all said, I could be mustard lady, even if I do have kids, even if I raised those kids by myself (which should make me more beneficent, I suppose).

    Reading your post reminded me–I was that mother at one time! I’ll try never to be mustard-lady again.

  • Lauren

    Reminded me of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College. Went “viral” not too long ago as the “this is water” video, but it means so much more.

    I confront this from the perspective of your nemesis in the store. It’s orders of magnitude worse where I live, Hong Kong, aka Dante’s purgatorio (but still probably better than China Regular) of aimless masses drifting like molasses blobs, completely unaware of their surroundings. (expounded on here:

    But, per DFW’s urgings, the well-organized mind has to work to dissociate itself from this solipsistic outlook. Why is everyone so ugly and slow and fat, why am I surrounded by IDIOTS, why can’t that woman get her devil children under CONTROL, how DARE she let it press all the buttons in the lift and then TOUCH me with its fat, disgusting little disease-carrying fists, if I were a parent I would be LEAGUES BETTER at it despite no evidence to support this claim, and WHY is this happening to ME?!!!

    Have to remember to take a deep breath and consider that everyone is going through something. …Even though there are cultural differences out here that entail people just not giving an iota of a shit about other people’s space.

    Anyway. Making a mental note to glare less today. And to postpone procreating for a few more years.

  • Lorrie

    “Put your hand on this cart AND DO NOT MOVE EVER.” In a grocery store twenty-something years ago I said those words to three children, and one was not even mine. They all lived, and so did I. You’re doing better than you can even know. Thanks for memory and reminding me (always) to try not be a dick.

  • Lizzie

    I hear you Janelle. I glared at some crotchety old people the other day in Souplantation because they were looking so offended by the bouncy happy joy my five year old and her five year old friend were exuding in the restaurant that has all you can eat mac ‘n cheese, garbanzo beans, soup, AND bottomless strawberry lemonade. Doesn’t this sound like a place designed for kindergarteners? Yet, it is also the hangout of every blue haired snowbird in the Coachella Valley, especially the grouchy ones I guess. So when grouchy old fuckers look at joyful children with DISDAIN because they have to stand there holding their trays of food for an extra 20 seconds while the children twirl in the aisle, they are for sure going to feel the heat of my glare.

  • Mary Kate

    Another gem! I have 4 and 6 year old boys and it’s like going to the store with drunk monkeys at that time of day (or any other time, let’s be honest). I wonder if “death eyes” lady has a blog. You could spoof her side of the shopping trip – that would be hilarious! Keep it coming!

  • Anne-Cathrine

    I always try to help mothers with small ones out when I see them frazzled out and about – because I remember oh so well how it was! (I now have a 12 year old and a 14 year old – it DOES get better!)

  • Jamie

    I was once approached in the grocery store while my toddler was having a tantrum (he’s two-and-a-half, I’m pretty sure tantruming is ALL they do at this age), by some ridiculously overdressed business-type woman carrying a briefcase in one hand and talking on her cell phone with the other. She says into her phone “Hang on, I have to deal with this” as if she’s a security guard and she’s just caught me stuffing oranges into my purse, marches up to me and my flailing screeching toddler, TAPS HIM ON THE FUCKING LEG HARD ENOUGH TO LEAVE A LITTLE RED MARK and says “Ma’am if you can’t get your son under control maybe you should give him to a family who can take proper care of him and give him some good old-fashioned Christian discipline.” She made it out of the store alive only because I was so absolutely dumbfounded that someone would have the nerve to not only SLAP MY FUCKING CHILD, but accuse me of not taking proper care of him because -I- don’t hit him. Fortunately one of the dudes who stock the produce saw it, let her have it while I stared open-mouthed in shock and then escorted her from the store under threat of calling the police for assaulting a child. It was an incredible experience. Pretty sure that kid got employee of the month that month.

    • Susan

      OMG You have gotta be joking…
      I had a lady insist that my toddler was cold because she didn’t have socks. I told her I don’t care. We were getting one thing. Then she went and found a blanket in the baby section, then hunted me down, and told me that I needed to buy this blanket for her. She is lucky I didn’t punch her in the face.

      • Jannan

        I love you guys! Someone told me to put an extra blanket on my girls even though it was 80 degrees out! I could have stuffed said blanket down her throat.

  • Summer

    Ohmygod…I feel this way every time I enter the grocery store w/ my kids….and I only have two. Your’re awesome.

  • Molly

    OMG. So many times… So many times…
    For this exact reason I try to be as nice as humanly possibly when it is obvious that people are having a bad day. In public, in stores, in restaurants, anywhere. “Sometimes people are not 1000% winning at life” — Yes!

  • Sarah

    I agree whole heartedly about the phases. I wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea to take my kids anywhere after the screaming, begging for toys, fighting with each other, shoe throwing tantrums, and basic noncooperation that seems to happen every time I arrive at the store….each time the reset button that goes off in my head tricks me into believing I won’t want to kill all things by the end of the trip. The kids know I’ve had enough when I start to whisper,”Too many moving parts!”, while people look at me with pity mixed with horror. I want to console them and tell them I’m a good mom, they are good kids who just lose their shit every time they see the red glow of the bullseye…then in exasperated defeat I go grab a bottle of wine and crackers to eat my feelings when I get home.

  • Kari

    LOL…all of that happened once…except I only had two kids…after that one time. They stayed home with the father or I hired a sitter. My mind couldn’t have dealt with that twice…I admire you for not snapping.

  • Christina

    Can’t wait for the next post…Have a great Thanksgiving.

  • Denise B

    Oops. That asshole lady was probably me, having suckered my partner into thinking my kid-free alone-time grocery shopping was an odious chore. I was happy and quiet and even picking up extras when you guys came along. The death glare wasn’t judgement, it was habit, as your kids sound and behave exactly like mine. If you’re ever alone in Target, having a Starbucks and wandering the aisles when you happen upon us, noisy, insolent, a little dirty maybe, please feel free to return the glare.

  • Kate

    See my problem is I get to stage 4 is it? The one where you manage to make it out of the store and let the rage loose and then I don’t make it to any of the other stages…

  • kate

    ugh, i hate egg nog. (death eyes)

  • emm

    Yes, all of this. 4, 2 and 1, the 4 year old is autistic. Were also mixed ancestry so they all look different. We get a lot of weird looks, Mr 4 hates haircuts so bar 9 weeks of the year, he looks a little wildebeestesque. The plus side of these ages is, I can shove apples in their hands which they then shove in their mouths, without the apples id be fucked. Thanks for this.

  • Laura

    So yeah, rewind 16 years, SIXTEEN!!

    I remember, with some degree of guilt (maybe more than some) the day my twin three year old adorable, sweet, baby girls pushed me to the point of pulling out the ultimate threat in my armory of consequences — note the word consequence, not punishment–lol–yeah…. “The SPANKING!!!” And, before you judge, you non-punitive and non-corporal theory parents,I don’t believe in spanking either! It was in my toolbelt from memories from my childhood (though, somehow I never got one but know for sure my older sibs did–“watch and learn, little Laurieboo, watch and learn”). And, when I say spanking, I’m talking, on the bottom with my hand, one pop, over clothes. By the time they actually got it, it had been a good 15 minutes from time of threat, so I wasn’t even pissed anymore. But “they” say, ya “gotta follow through”…FmyL.

    Guess where we were, just guess. The grocery store!!!

    Like it was yesterday, I remember it, and the other two incidents: 1) The night Thing 1 kept getting out of her bed. She got a, “I’ve fuckin’ had it with you, godammit”, diaper pop. Same kid still won’t go to bed at a decent hour but, c’est la vie, she’s doing great in college and sweet as pie. (@Renegademothering, did I miss the one about bedtime or is that forthcoming?); And, 2) The day I pulled the car over, I PULLED THE FUCKING CAR OVER! Then, pulled my 7 year old son, so sorry bud, and popped his bottom. We were on our way to “critical grammas” house and he would not shut his (brilliant) fucking, sassy mouth up. In retrospect, he was probably hangry. We’d come straight from school and we were headed to mom’s and I KNOW I was already anxious. It’s plausible it was the eve of a holiday which meant extended family in town– aka fucking circus of bullshit and chaos. Not once has a holiday been peaceful –ever, ever! And, when I say not peaceful, I mean someone totally loses their shit and storms out or locks herself in a bathroom, or steals aways intermittently to smoke coping weed and then stirs shit up while doing dishes cause they are coming off their buzz — fuck me sideways, not peaceful–But, I digress. Poor buddy. I think at 22 he’s still a bit afraid if me. But,yup, the grocery store was the last straw that day, too.

    What the hell?

    Hang in there @renegademothering, you’re doing great! I know cause I can tell you love them fiercly, well beyond your “flaws”. It must have been my savings grace cause mine are freakin’ awesome!

    So, if no one is frequently whispering it in your ear, “you’re doing great, @renegdemothering”, you are. You are.

    Fuck!! Now, I’m feeling shit.

  • Dani

    Is eggnog something different in America? Because in the UK, it’s got a shitload of alcohol in and all kids hate it (which is probably a good thing).

    Not all I took away from this, but everything else I want to say has already been said and it’s too early for me to English to a level where I could make the same thing sound new and interesting enough that you wouldn’t die of boredom when you read it. You know I think you’re the dog’s bollocks.

  • Barb

    Amazing. I have 1 kid and I already feel like the going to the grocery store is like working with a time bomb that is ticking down to explosion. i come armed with an arsenal to try to distract him until i finish, but it never lasts long enough…and then have to try to involve him (here, hold the list! what’s next on the list?! don’t chew the list please! i just want to see the list to make sure we didn’t forget anything!) i’ve always hated grocery shopping…sigh. thanks for the laugh!

  • Robyn

    I feel your pain! Mine are a little older now (6 & 7) but they still manage to drive me completely bonkers when I take them shopping, especially when it’s busy and I’m in a rush. Somehow one of them always needs to go to the bathroom when I have a trolley full of groceries. The only thing I’ve ever found to keep them behaving themselves is to let them each pick a piece of fruit and go through the checkout and pay for it themselves. They are then busy, fed, and not near me. Everyone’s a winner!

  • Sue

    Unbelievably hysterical! I am a mother, my child is 51 years old, I’m 71, and while I don’t remember what I ate yesterday, I have NEVER Forgotten even One single time she acted out in public. I’m there, Hunny… Keep on keepin’ on… Sending love and hugs…you are AWESOME!