On Sunday I took my 8 year-old daughter to the grocery store after her Little League game to pick up something for dinner. She and I were both a little tired and grouchy, and beginning to snip at each other. She was cold and wanted to make it a quick trip; I shared, and magnified, her impatience. At one point we were in a narrow section between the olive bar and the bananas and my daughter stopped in her tracks, distracted by one of the many thousands of sugar ambushes that make any trip to the grocery store with a child utter hell.
“Will you please move so we can get a move on!” I said, my tone full of irritation, pretty deep in the obnoxious aggression quadrant.
An older lady to my left looked up surprised and moved her cart out of the way.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to my daughter,” I said with a laugh, embarrassed at what must’ve seemed to her an unbearably rude tone if she thought I was talking to her.
“But she looks so cute in her uniform!” the lady said with an understanding smile.
It was a small criticism kindly delivered, but an enormously helpful one. What she was saying, in the gentlest possible way, was, “Why would you use a tone of voice you wouldn’t even use with a stranger with your precious daughter?”
Maybe I was reading too much “Care Personally” into her smile, but her expression said to me pretty clearly, “Who hasn’t been annoyed by their children in the grocery?” She seemed sympathetic with the universal plight of all parents with young children in the grocery store. But her words and maybe a slight sadness in her eyes reminded me to take a step back and look at my child. She really did look cute in her baseball uniform. And the fact the lady speaking to me was older reminded me that my daughter’s childhood is fleeting, and in a few years I’d be alone in the grocery store.
Why in the world would I talk to her with a tone I wouldn’t even use with a stranger? I should use a more, not a less, loving tone with the people I love best.
I’ve been grateful for that lady’s Radical Candor ever since–as has my daughter!