I think taking the kids with me on my grocery excursions is a valuable thing to do. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t exhausting. But, my kids are homeschooled, and they do need to get out just as much as I do. Plus, they are homeschooled, so they think going to the grocery store is a grand day out. Plus, I am a homeschooler, so I think it counts as a field trip and “real life learning.”
Over the 12 years I’ve been grocery shopping with kids in tow, I’ve learned some tricks and techniques.
- First and foremost, never think to yourself, “We’ll just make a quick stop at the store before x.” There is no such thing as a “quick trip” with children alongside. Most of the frustration of shopping with children stems from this assumption that it shouldn’t take much time. Give yourself an hour for a “quick trip” or two hours for a “grocery haul,” and you’ll save your sanity. It doesn’t usually take me that long, but that’s how much time I estimate, so that I don’t hyperventilate when it takes us 15 minutes simply to get from parking to pushing the cart into the store.
- Prep the children in the car, in the parking lot. A good deal of frustration also arises from a parent’s assumption that the children know what is expected of them at the store, when they actually don’t know. And just because you’ve told them before doesn’t mean they don’t know today. That was a month ago, this is today. Reminding them cheerfully of the ground rules (“If you aren’t going to buy it, don’t touch it.” “Hold on to the cart.” “Watch out for other people.” “We aren’t buying anything not on the list, so don’t waste your breath asking.” “If someone says ‘hi’ to you, you must look at them and say ‘hi’; you may not be rude and ignore them.”). This preparation before they are in the midst of trial and temptation and trouble helps immensely.
Oh, also, it is a kindness to make sure the children are fed and watered before leaving. Its budget-trouble when the grown-up shops hungry; it’s meltdown-trouble when a toddler shops hungry.
As soon as they are even remotely capable, give the children jobs. They love to help, to be needed, to contribute. My kids have
- written bulk tags
- bagged onions and apples
- retrieved cans off the shelf (when they can read)
- decided whether we buy green or red cabbage
- moved everything from the cart onto the
- bagged the groceries
- helped carry the groceries into the house (often item by item instead of bag by bag)
A great byproduct of having the kids help out in these ways is that much more frequently than “You’ve got your hands full,” I hear from fellow shoppers, “Looks like you have a lot of helpers!” My theory is that people just feel like they have to say something when it is obvious that they’ve noticed you, so they say the easiest thing, the first thing that comes to mind. They aren’t usually trying to be irritating or negative, they just say what comes naturally. If it is the children happily helping, they tend to comment on that rather than their sheer numbers.
That has, at least, been my experience, in a town where 3-5 kids is common, people are friendly, and where I don’t have an unusually large family.
One important thing I have noted over the years is that, for the children, behaving and helping at the grocery store is a skill that gets better with practice and declines when not practiced. So if I want to be able to take the children with me to the grocery store and maintain my sanity and blood pressure in the process, I need to take them several times a month — that is, more often than not. When they are accustomed to the errand and know the routine, it’s actually usually pleasant to have a couple extra sets of hands to help.