Parenting Lessons in the Aisles of Target


Recently something really rare happened. I got to leave the house and run errands by myself! 🙂 That’s a real treat these days and I decided to take advantage of my freedom and stop by Target just to look around and check a few prices.

parenting lessons at Target

I was casually browsing the baby aisle when I heard her. An unhappy mom, in the toy section, speaking very loudly to a kid (or kids, I didn’t yet know).

“You can’t buy that, it’s a waste of money!”

“Do you even really WANT that? You don’t just buy things to buy things, you have to really want it!”

I was interested in the exchange right away, because I think a lot about how I want to teach my sons about money. I wasn’t exactly eavesdropping, since she was so loud, but I was definitely paying attention.

The mom was loud, bordering on belligerent. Everyone within a six aisle radius knew she was in a bad mood.

I try not to judge too much, because I haven’t been there. My oldest is yet to turn three and his main understanding of money is that we pay for things before we are allowed to take them home from the store. And like any parent, I understand how it feels to be totally exhausted and exasperated by my own kids. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had our moments.

But then I heard her raise her voice even louder and say “You’re a LIAR! You’re lying to me! You don’t really want it, you just want to buy something!”

I walked past the aisle she was in and finally saw who she was speaking to. A very small girl, maybe five or six years old. Throughout the entire exchange I never heard the little girl’s voice once, so she must have been speaking much softer than her mother.

Liar. That really stuck out to me. Strong, harsh words in my opinion. What impact are those words going to have on that little girl emotionally? On her relationship with her mother? On her relationship with money?

I made my way down to the massive Valentine’s section and came across another mom. This mom had two boys, just like me, so I gave her a friendly smile. Her boys were much older than mine, both probably in elementary school.

I quickly realized they were shopping for Valentine’s for their classmates and teachers, and that each boy had a set budget to work within. They were carefully considering all of the cool options, making sure there were enough goodies in a package to cover the number of friends in their class, but also checking prices and doing math on their fingers.

The younger of the two brothers kept getting distracted by the big heart shaped boxes of chocolates and exclaiming “Mommy, can I buy something for you? I want to buy something for you!” It was obvious this kid took great joy in buying gifts for others, not just spending money on himself.

His mother was very gentle, redirecting him back to the task at hand. She told him “maybe you can come back later with Daddy to pick something out for me.”

But this gentle, loving mom was no pushover. When the older of the two boys added up the cost of two large Valentine’s he wanted for his teachers, he was over budget. “Sorry, buddy. You can’t spend $16 on your teachers,” she said. “You can get that for just one teacher, or you can get something smaller for both of them.”

Her tone was calm, kind, and cheerful. She wasn’t rushing her sons, or pushing them to make the choice she wanted to make, and she was firm. The boy didn’t throw a fit, he just placed the items back on the shelf and kept carefully considering his options.

The younger brother, who had already picked out candy for his class, quickly chimed in “or you can have some of my money!”

Now that mom is doing something right!

Now, I don’t know anything about those two women in Target other than what I observed for a few short minutes. It wouldn’t be fair to label one a “good mom” and one a “bad mom.” But the interactions did give me a lot to think about when it comes to parenting and money. I know I want to be the kind of mom who is gentle and kind, but firm.

parenting lessons at Target

How about you? Have you witnessed anything interesting at Target lately?

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  1. If you heard me in Target with my daughter, I’d be somewhere in between these two. If she asks if she can buy something before we go, she brings the amount of money I say she can spend. Then we go to her two favorite aisles in the toy section, where she hunts for things in her price range. I let her get whatever she wants, as long as it’s in her budget, even though it’s junk. I don’t belittle her choices, but I do sometimes get a little frustrated when she picks something she already has five or ten of – hello Disney clip dolls! I try to guide her through the process like the “good mom”, but I’m probably not as patient as she sounds…
    Amy @ DebtGal recently posted…I’ve Fallen in Love with Personal CapitalMy Profile

    • I’m glad you don’t belittle her choices even though you know it’s junk Amy. That’s probably such a great lesson for your daughter to have such control over her own buying decisions. You sound like a great mom!

  2. Wow we really do learn some good lessons by just paying attention to people’s interactions with their kids in public. I love that the second mom was able to be firm and have those kids on a budget, but I suppose it helps that they are a bit older and over the tantrum stage.
    Julie S. recently posted…Gratitude and Goals Feb 12, 2016 #GratitudeGoalsMy Profile

    • I hadn’t taken into account the ages of the kids Julie, that’s a really good point! Sadly, I didn’t hear a tantrum at all when it came to the first scenario – but I also didn’t witness the full scene so I won’t assume! 🙂

  3. Interesting story. It was kind of harsh to call her daughter a liar. For some reason, I don’t like that word when referring to a child. Not sure why. I’m sure the first mother was having a bad day (I hope).

    The second mother was teaching her children some good lessons. I try to do that with my 4yo now. I’ll give her some money and let her count it, and pay for her items. I’m not exactly sure why I do it but I do. LOL.

    I haven’t learned much lessons in Target recently, except I have to get out of there before I spend too much money!
    Healing Mama recently posted…What I Know About LoveMy Profile

  4. I want to be like that second mom, and I hope I succeed in that! But I know that I’ve been that first mom on more than one occasion. Not calling my kids liars… but taking them to the store at the last minute in frustration, certainly! Which isn’t fair to them, because I’m the one who failed to plan ahead.

    But I definitely get your main point. We need to carefully choose how we teach our kids about money. If we are always stressed about it, that is going to pass on to them in a very bad way.

    Isn’t it funny the things that come to you at Target? haha! My 2 year old always wants to kick the giant (concrete) red balls out front. One of these days he’s going to do it before I can stop him…
    Jamie @ Medium Sized Family recently posted…5 Ways We’ve Saved Money This Week 22My Profile

  5. E, I LOVED this post! Isn’t it so interesting how our words have power? When we’re caught up in the moment in our tiredness, impatience, or anger, it’s hard to listen to the words coming out of our mouths.
    Kristina Grum recently posted…How to journal with your child to foster a deeper connectionMy Profile

    • Thank you Kristina! I do wonder how that mom felt later on, after she reflected on the situation. Maybe she was having a really hard day. Thanks for reading!

  6. It seems being at the store with kids will bring out the worst in most of us!! Kudos to the mom who kept her cool and TRAINED her children. Great story! Thanks for linking up at Frugal Friday! 🙂
    Ann recently posted…My Favorite Menu Planner and Frugal Fridays 15My Profile

  7. How interesting to see those two interactions back to back. I do think modeling good decision making is important. (And hard!) As they get older, though, their personalities factor in, too. Our 11 y.o. is a natural minimalist. He doesn’t want much, and he’s usually patient about saving for what he does want. Our 7 y.o.? Hand her $10, and she NEEDS to go to Target now to spend $10.01. Curious to see how this plays out over time …

    • Such a great point Abby! I can’t wait to see how my boys personalities develop. I have been able to watch my step kids develop over the years. My stepson’s life was changed the day he figured out he could spend all of his money on candy and not have to share it! 😉

  8. This is such a cool story. I don’t have kids myself, but I have definitely wondered a lot about what the best way would be to teach kids about money in a way that would be effective and that would also motivate them to *keep* paying attention to money as adults. I think my parents did a good job of teaching me about money when I was a kid, but somehow when I got older I sort of stopped paying attention to it, and it took years for me to become interested again. (Then again, this may have just been due to my own rebelliousness and not have had anything to do with their parenting style!) In any case, it sounds like the Valentine’s Day gift conversation was a very positive and educational one for those kids.
    Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless recently posted…Financially Savvy Saturdays #129My Profile

  9. Both moms reactions are why my daughter gets an allowance and has gotten one since she was 4…it forces her to make choices about money. She wants stuff all of the time, but by having an allowance I can say “Is that what you really want to do with your money? Do you have enough for that? If you buy that, what are you giving up later?” Sometimes she makes silly choices, like buying one-use dollar store toys. Other times, she makes good choices, and I know I’m doing the right thing.

    But without giving her choices, I think our interactions about toys and other things my daughter wants would get a lot more confrontational and frustrated. I admit that saying “You’ll have to same your money then” is a lot easier on both of us than saying no when she asks for things she doesn’t need. We both have an out…she can save the money and buy the thing later, or choose not to save it. But I didn’t have to say no, I just had to say you can get it later if you save for it.
    Emily @ JohnJaneDoe recently posted…My Own Changes in Latitudes, Changes in AttitudesMy Profile

    • I love that you started giving an allowance at age 4 Emily, I have been wondering when to start with my kids (almost 1 and 3). Thanks for sharing how you teach your daughter about money, I think you’re doing great!

  10. I completely agree with you. I want to be gentle but firm with my kids on all fronts, but especially when it comes to money. It sounds like the first mom may have been having a hard day. Its so hard to know what really is going on without prior knowledge, like you said. I hope for the sake of the little girl that it was a one time thing deal. Regardless, it sounds like these two women have given you a lot to think about. Funny how a 5 minute observation can effect how we raise our children, huh?
    Tori recently posted…To the Moms Trolling on FacebookMy Profile

  11. You can learn a lot from the aisle of a store. Great observation.
    Lowanda J recently posted…Random Sparks and A Boredom BusterMy Profile

  12. Yowza! Reading this post made my teacher hair stand on end. I find that I can often control unruly children in stores and restaurants by applying my finely honed skill – “The teacher knock it off stare.” But when I read about parents acting so cruelly, it makes my skin crawl!

    • It was an uncomfortable moment to observe Lynn! I have a pretty good “knock it off look” but my kids are still too little to care 🙂

  13. Yikes, that’s rough on both mom (being that frustrated, I’ll assume the best here) and child (being berated publicly like that). I hope that was the worst of it and a one-off.

    Mostly I shop online for kid’s stuff but I can’t bear to shop Target online, their site is terrible! What I’m planning to do with our little one is to teach hir that money is a finite resource and that we must be in charge of our spending rather than letting it control us. Baby steps for babies!
    Revanche recently posted…Just a little (link) love: rare unicorn editionMy Profile

  14. My kids are still pretty young (6, 3, and 2), but we are starting to help them think about their view of money. My 6 year old is allowed to do a few extra chores for small amounts of money (example: weed a section of the flower bed for a quarter). He saves all of his money up. After a couple of months he had seven dollars. I was really proud of the way that he used the money to buy Christmas presents for his little brother and sister. He understood how hard he had to work to get the money, but then wanted to use it for others. A proud mama moment. 🙂
    Sarah@TheOrthodoxMama recently posted…5 HUGE Blogging Mistakes I’ve MadeMy Profile

  15. Great post. Life lessons are everywhere – even in the isles of Target. Thanks for sharing with us at #SnickerdoodleSunday! Tweeting to share. Have a great week!
    Laurie recently posted…Snickerdoodle Sunday #118My Profile

  16. What a great lesson on parenting! I wish that loud mom could have seen and learned from the mom who was doing it right 🙂

  17. Wow…I really loved this post! What a great lesson about not only money but how we need to choose our words to our children wisely. I feel so bad for that little girl that was called a liar. I’m not saying that I’ve never raised my voice to my girls but I wouldn’t use harsh words like that. Usually it’s “Hurry up…I don’t want to spend three hours in the toy aisle” LOL!
    Lisa @ Fun Money Mom recently posted…Share The Wealth Sunday Blog Hop #43My Profile

  18. Enjoyable read and just makes me feel good about not taking kids shopping,lol! Thanks for sharing on #overthemoon
    Jennifer Abel recently posted…Over The Moon Link Up # 10My Profile

  19. I love the lessons the second mom was trying to instill in her kids. She sounds like my dad when I was younger 🙂
    Jenn Peters recently posted…Fudgy Cake Mix Brownies RecipeMy Profile

  20. Oh man, I’ve definitely heard some crazy things while at the store. My son doesn’t really understand buying things at all yet, but he does get the whole, “let me hold that thing right this second or I’ll scream” aspect. I try to be as understanding as I can, but there are definitely days when I’m pretty sure other customers are shaking their heads at me. Granted, my son’s only 21 months so it’s a big difference obviously.

  21. Oh my. What a contrast. I too am struggling with my daughter wanting to buy the whole store every time we go in. We’ve had a few melt downs where I’ve tried to rationalize with a 5yr old 🙂 I can definitely take some notes from the second mom with her firm and consistent manner – I strive for to be like that and not loose my cool. The first mom…not so much. Not sure of the whole interaction but liar accusations seems a bit strong. Thanks for sharing.
    Minh recently posted…Tips to SAVE Money on Kids’ ClothesMy Profile

  22. I’m pretty sure I’ve been both over the course of my time as a mom. I think when my Bigs were young there were so many issues I was dealing with that I flew off the handle more often and also didn’t have a lot of examples of parenting. Over time I’ve seen how easily those brief encounters and words can be harmful and I have thankfully grown. My kids hear me apologize alot…and I thank them all the time for allowing me some grace.


  23. Great parenting lessons, and very interesting post – thanks for sharing! #lifelovinglinkie
    laura dove recently posted…For Eva, on your fourth birthdayMy Profile

  24. I loved this post so much, because I feel like all of us who read this had to consider if we are the first mom, the second mom ,or somewhere in between. Perhaps, if we could see our own behavior with our children we would cringe and reconsider our actions.
    A few years back while out with my husband and kids there was a mom who was so upset: she was rude, annoyed, and just not happy and the kids were getting it in front of all of us. She wasn’t abusing them, touching them, or screaming, she was just not being polite or caring. I don’t think she was a bad mom, she seemed like a stressed out mom.
    That day has touched me, I don’t EVER want to come off as that mom. She seemed annoyed by her kids, to be there, for dinner as a family. To this day I say I don’t want to be the Johnny Rockets mom, and if my husband is getting upset or frustrated I remind him of how we felt with the Johnny Rockets mom.
    I’ve learned plenty lessons at Target 🙂
    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing with us at #MMBH!!

    • Thank you for reading and for such a thoughtful comment! I have witnessed the “Johnny Rockets mom” too, in several different places! I don’t want to be her either, and I definitely don’t want my children to feel like I don’t want to be with them!

  25. I find there are always interesting lessons to be learned by observing others in store aisles and parking lots. I try not to judge, because everyone has their own parenting style, but hearing a parent call their child names like a liar is really sad. I hope for that child’s sake the mother was having an off day or something!
    Celeste recently posted…Where to Craft When You Don’t Have a Craft RoomMy Profile

  26. I love people watching like this. I know it’s not fair to judge as you don’t know the situation that has led to the scenarios, but it is fair to take learnings for yourself about how you would like to do things if that situation ever occurs. It horrifies me when I hear parents swearing at their kids though. THAT is inexcusable.

    Sally @ Life Loving
    Life Loving recently posted…The Dubai FountainMy Profile

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