Smelling Roses (Taking Babies on Errands)

I can relate to babies. I get over-stimulated in the supermarket the way babies do. I have a strange aversion to making lists and always believe I’ll be able to take a few minutes to march down each aisle, recognizing all I need to buy. Twenty minutes later, I’m in a zombie trance and have covered less than half the store.

(The hidden benefit to this is that my husband now prefers to get-it-and-go himself, rather than waiting an hour at home for me to return with the family’s groceries.) I don’t even attempt Cosco anymore. I appreciate the convenience of the gigantic store that has everything, but my temperament is better suited to a simpler time long ago (or a more European shopping experience) when one purchased items individually from the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

In a recent parent/infant class a parent asked me about taking a baby on errands. The mother said that her son objected to being placed in the stroller and wouldn’t sit in the little seat in the supermarket grocery cart. It’s not surprising that an infant or toddler dislikes accompanying mom or dad as they rush around doing errands. Babies are eager to move their bodies freely, and participate actively in life. It’s not a baby’s dream to get in and out of a car seat, and then tag along with parents through a blur of faces, sights, sounds and smells. Sometimes, even though it is inconvenient, an infant feels more included when he is held rather than strapped into a seat or carrier.

There will be times when it’s impossible for a tired baby to tolerate a restaurant, shopping trip or other outing. If our baby or child of any age is having a complete meltdown in public, it’s best (if at all possible) to stop what we’re doing and take our child home. This is not only out of politeness to others, it is the kind and thoughtful way to handle someone who is upset. I have left a few full grocery cartloads in the market over the years.

Infant expert Magda Gerber emphasized the importance of a baby’s participation in daily activities like diapering, feeding and bathing. Slowing down to include our child in the tasks that involve him, rather than distracting with a toy, pacifier or food while we hurriedly get the job done, transforms each chore into an intimate learning experience. Our child learns language in a pertinent way with all his senses, “Here’s the yellow washcloth. Would you like to dip it in the warm water?” He also gains confidence as he learns that his cooperation is valued. Rather than being expected to ignore the mysterious things being done to him while he shakes a rattle, he’s encouraged to participate in a mutual experience with another person. A nurturing relationship rooted in respect blooms between caregiver and child.

A young child has little opportunity to participate in a trip to the market or post office, but if we have no choice but to bring the baby along, I believe in making a concerted effort to stop and smell the roses. We do this when we slow down, adjust our perspective and see the world through our child’s eyes.  Rather than focusing on “making it work” by pacifying and directing our baby every minute, we let go of our agenda a little and share in the wonder of learning, imagining our child’s thoughts and responding more than dictating.

Let’s imagine we are in the supermarket. Instead of ignoring our baby as we rush around, or placating him with a box of cereal and saying, “Look at all these bright colors…hold this,” we take note that our baby is staring at a bounteous stack of oranges in the produce section. We wait while he takes in the view. If he’s still staring we might say, “You are looking at the oranges. Would you like to touch an orange?”

Sometimes we find a new appreciation for life when we slow down. Adults are used to hurrying. A child teaches us to downshift, and take in all that surrounds us in a new way. When my children were little there were countless times that I stopped and asked myself, “Why am I rushing?” Most of the time it was just a habit of expedience, and my children would then inspire me to stop and enjoy.

When my second daughter was 3 and 4 she loved to weigh produce in the market. I was impatient with her desires at times, but in retrospect I realize that she was giving herself math and science lessons as she noted the weights of the cantaloupe and the bag of broccoli.

Our children’s fascinations may surprise us, but when possible we should try to accommodate their interests. A mother in my parent/toddler class shared an ‘aha’ moment. Carrie had been out running errands with her toddler, Angus. Angus began to get grumpy. Carrie had the idea that she could cheer him by introducing him to horses at a nearby stable. When they exited the car, Angus noticed a gravel walkway. He was intrigued with the pebbles and squatted down to examine them.

Carrie, still in rush-mode, could not wait to show him the horses. She fidgeted impatiently for a minute. Then, when she was just about to call to him to follow her, she stopped. “Who is this about?” she asked herself. “Angus is content pursuing his interests. I came here for him. I’m the one who is anxious to move on to the horses.” She decided to allow Angus to linger as long as he wished. As she began to relax, she realized that the other items on her agenda could be postponed until another day. Several minutes later they took a walk to the stables and Angus saw his first horse, the sight of which excited him almost as much as the pebbles.

When I have the choice, I would much rather zip around alone to take care of errands. But when my children are with me, I try to take full advantage of their presence. I gain insights about my children when I observe their interests. I slow down and open my mind to an unbiased, innocent, ‘in the moment’ view of life. It feeds my soul.


 I share more in

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Janet,
    I am so amazed at your articulate, colorful, expression of your experiences. I feel so lucky to know you, and appreciate your dedication to your passion. This blog is such a wonderful avenue by which you can bring your experiences, your wisdom and insights, and your guidance to so many. Congratulations! I know this has been an amazing journey, and I look forward to watching your progression, including those books being written.
    Love you, Kris

  2. Wow. You put so many feelings and experiences that parents and children have, into clear and accurate language. I remember how difficult it was to learn to slow down and live with my baby in the moment. Now that they are grown, I miss the reminder to notice the world in such a simple and fresh way. Once I let go of my schedule, I found that what was good for them had benefits for me as well. I am loving your blog.

  3. I felt myself slowing down as I read this piece.I appreciate the way you articulate these ideas and I’m loving this blog!

  4. Beautifully written. I have been a mom for a little over a year and I need to remind myself to ‘slow down’ daily–it’s taken me a long time to let go of the rush rush rush lifestyle. If only I had read this article when my baby was itty bitty. I used to feel like everyday was a race against the clock: need to shop within 15 minutes or baby will get upset, need to get all the chores done during her 40 minute (if that) nap, hurry need to clean the dishes while the baby is playing alone!! I had so much anxiety about ‘accomplishing’ everything. I finally started to relax more when my baby turned 6/7 months old. I am much more in tune with her needs & desires now– her need to be herself and pursue her own interests on HER time, not mine.

    1. Kari, thanks, you made me smile. I’ve been a mom for 17 years and I still have to remind myself to slow down daily! Rush, rush is such a part of our culture. Have you noticed that when you are in the biggest hurry your baby is the least cooperative? They seem to pick up on our tension and dig their heels in!

      Dogs get us out for walks and children get us to slow down. It’s all good.

  5. Once again, you’ve given me something important to work on. This is something my husband is great at, and I have tried to follow his example, but this is a great reminder. Too often, I get annoyed when Charlotte won’t sit in the stroller or grocery cart, and I try to placate her with a binky or snack. I need to remember to be more patient with her

    You’re awesome, Janet!

    1. Thanks, Megan! But please don’t be hard on yourself! Slowing down is a just a way for you to enjoy those mundane experiences more, too. I think it’s great that your husband embraces that special time with Charlotte. How about letting him do the all the shopping while you relax?;-)

      1. Haha! I’m pretty sure he won’t go for that. Luckily now we live close enough to stuff that I can do one errand at a time. So, she isn’t overwhelmed.

  6. I just read your article through someone on facebook and it amazed me, exactly the way you should treat children..
    im only 21 and not even thinking about kids, but just interested in human behavior.. but this article almost makes me wanna have kids xD

    1. Very cool! That’s what it’s supposed to do. 🙂

  7. I love this. I will never forget a gift someone gave me at a shower – a grocery store cart cover, for sanitation (god, how did we all survive childhood!?), and covered in toys for baby to play with while you do your shopping. All I could think, as I politely said “thank you”, was, “for goodness’ sake – why would I need to provide toys at the grocery store? What could be more interesting than a world filled with colors and smells and things to talk about and people to smile at and connect with?”

  8. Janet, you are so wise! I was so lucky to have been a parent who was not expected to be out earning a living during the time she was young. I think that has a big impact on our sense that we have to rush — our time is just to little in our own command any more — but we must take control of it for the sake of our kids. That’s our schedule, not theirs; our agenda, not theirs. All people need the opportunity to live at their own pace and pursue their own course: that’s what I learned from being a parent. I learned to always make my own schedule quite “flabby” to allow room for hers.

  9. I love your site so much have been learning a lot from it. I do enjoy going grocery shopping with my son and he loves it too, it takes longer than it would if I went on my own but he gets to participate in the process and he feels so good about himself because he knows he helped me 🙂
    Thank you for the reminder of slowing down, there has been other type of outings where I have rushed him and then I realize that as long as he is allowed enough time to explore he will be more willing to accept when I say is time to go 🙂

  10. So what do you advocate for those of us who don’t have the luxury of putting off grocery shopping till our child feels like it? A sitter? Wait till dinner has been made, the house has been cleaned, and your children have been put to sleep before venturing out to a 24 hour grocery store at 8, 9 pm. Reading your blog doesn’t give me much hope of being the parent I want to be.

    1. Carmen, I’m sorry you understood this post as advice to postpone errands until a child “feels like it”. Seldom do infants and toddlers feel like shopping. What I was trying to express was the idea of slowing down and including your baby in the experience. Even a baby who doesn’t “feel like it” deserves to be asked to participate in whatever it is we are asking them to do.

      I would sincerely like to hear more about what you mean by “being the parent I want to be”.

  11. I totally agree with this. My son loves to be in the baby carrier while we shop. He enjoys me talking with him about the different items in the farm market, and why we are buying them…what we will make with them. He likes to touch, feel and hold the different fruits and vegetables. I talk to him about the entire process, what we need next, what we are doing when we come to the cash register, how we pay the cashier, and that we now need to put the fruits and veggies into bags to take home with us to cook with. He responds extremely well to all of this. I do find that small trips such as to the farm market, to the butcher, he does fabulously well… however, trips to the larger grocery store are much more challenging for him. I try to take those minimally but at times I do have to go. I still take him in the carrier, and talk him through each thing we are doing, he touches things, carries things, but often by the time we get to the cashier he is just done. I wish there were other options but sometimes there aren’t, and we just do the best we can! He still loves helping me unload the groceries once home!

  12. The Trader Joe’s in Portland, ME not only has tiny shopping carts (in 2 sizes) for the little ones to “help” with the shopping, they have a scavenger hunt for kids. They hide stuffed animals up in the displays and when you find all of them, you get a prize. It it great. They also let the kids help unload the groceries, too. It makes for a very pleasant experience.

  13. Bookmarking this for the future. You should write a book Janet!

  14. Someone shared a link and I really liked this. And since I am a singer, and that’s how I relate to the world, this is the way of singing … Most singers like increasing the tempo when you are in trance. Sometimes you have slow down to appreciate the beauty of the harmonies around your singing.

    Keep singing!

  15. I’ve found with my baby, he actually behaves better while we’re running errands. I think he gets bored when we’re stuck at home all day and loves the advendture of being in a new place. But I have noticed that when I am rushing and stressed, he doesn’t enjoy himself as much and sometimes gets fussy. I will definitly try to remember your advice and help make it about him more often. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Janet, Thanks for this nice post. I quite enjoy errands with my son when we have the luxury of not rushing. He LOVES the grocery store, talking about all the different items on the shelves, which things he’s tried and what they are for, how we choose which to buy.

    I also loved the anecdote about little Angus. I am always amused when I take my son to the zoo and observe other families. Their child is entranced by the polar bear and surely would be happy watching nothing else for a while but the parents hustle the child along to see more animals. It is the same in the children’s museum here – “let’s see what’s in the other rooms.” I try to remember to measure the value of an outing not in how much ground we cover but in how much fun we have or how much we learn.

    (Also I have found a great way to allow myself the freedom to not “see it all” is to be a member of these local cultural institutions like the zoo and the children’s museum. Then you don’t feel like you “wasted” the admission fee if you only saw a small portion of the available offerings in a single day.)

    1. Melissa, I love your attitude. Keep up the wonderful work!

  17. Brilliant, Janet. I have always enjoyed taking my little one on errands- it reminds me that my purpose is to make it an experience for the two of us, not just a hurried trip to stock up on necessary items! As a kindergarten teacher, I’ve always noticed that “calm breeds calm” and I’m bound to have a good day with my students when I remain calm and patient with them no matter how many outside stressors come along that day. The same thing goes as a mama to my 16 month old. Thanks again for your wise words!

  18. Hi Janet,

    I am not a parent, but I started following your blog a few months ago because I wanted better tools for strengthening my confidence and interactions with my nieces. I continue to find that here, but also observations about being human.

    This post has left me chewing on the idea of what it means to invite people to participate in the experiences at hand, and why do we sometimes think that we’ll show up for/participate in the carefully curated, pleasurable activities (like The Weekend, or seeing a horse for the first time), but we’ll check out for the rest of it (the mundane parts, the painful parts, the boring parts, etc.)

    When I rush through the store, I think I’m not even inviting *myself* to participate in the experience (and I’m not even bringing kids into the mix!). And I think this is a widespread tendency for many of us—to try to “get through” the tasks of our lives. Right now I am trying to reprogram this tendency in myself, and I get a chuckle when I realize: what would be the reward of “getting through” my life as quickly as possible? It’s as if I’m hurrying to “get the whole thing over with,” which doesn’t make any sense if “the whole thing” is my life! 🙂

    It’s true that depending on the rhythm of my life at any given time, sometimes I have to rush, but a lot of times I really don’t, and a task like taking the compost to the dropoff site a few blocks away becomes a welcome moment to just show up and be alive. “I am here on this sidewalk. The trees look like this. The sun feels like this. I feel like this. The cart sounds like this. The compost smells like this.”

    Thanks for the posts! They’ve been great, both for thinking about the small people in my life, and for just thinking about people, full stop.

  19. Taking your child to the market is such a wonderful opportunity to engage all senses. Play a game of “I spy” and have it relate to your grocery list – your child is helping get the job done. Smell different foods in produce, talk about shapes and sizes, say hello to the employees. Your kids can learn to socialize and even spark an interest in cooking.

    You give such great ideas – thank you!

  20. I love this post!! I often find that the more patient and willing I am to move at my children’s pace the more considerate they are when i need to rush, it’s almost like they trust that I will give them their time and they in return give me mine.

  21. Janet, I started following you on Facebook a couple of months ago and by now I’ve bought both of your books (There are 2 so far, right? And one in the making?). I also can’t help but read – if I have even one spare minute – almost every article you post. And on top of that I follow the recommended links as well.

    Plus I’ve bought 2 of Magda Gerber’s books and can’t wait to read them after I read yours… I also finally found, through a blogger (I believe), whose link you posted, a book which I always had HOPED existed: “The Joyful Child”, about following a Montessori based approach while caring for children from birth until the age of 3 or so. I had become a fan of the Montessori method 20 years before I had my first child! And now, 15 months after my daughter’s birth, I am combining my interest in Montessori with a fascination with RIE. Thank you thank you thank you. My daughter, my husband and I are lucky to have found you!

    P.S. I read NO books about raising children during my pregnancy, and none during my daughter’s first year. I much preferred following my own intuition, and knew that we’d both be the better for it. I still feel that way. I think that a peaceful grounding based on intuition and based on being child-centered, literally (i.e. let HER guide me and let us BOTH smell the roses…) is what has worked so well for us until the present day. And the nice thing is, centering oneself and using one’s intuition isn’t, in fact, “work”! What I love about the Montessori method and what I love about what I’ve read of RIE so far is that they are both so aligned with my own intuition — with my deepest feelings and beliefs about my daughter, me, and my family and humanity in general.

  22. Ahh this post fed my soul! Thank you Janet. I have had so many sinsular moments as the one you described with Carrie and angus. It’s such a rewarding feeling to catch yourself and then really get into the moment with your kiddo. I feel so rich in those moments!! Thank you for the reminder 🙂

  23. Sallynova says:

    I never realized how much everyone zipped around so hurriedly and annoyed until I had my daughter. I would wear her in a sling and show her things and sing her to sleep if she looked tired. I learned to slow down and smell the roses with her <3

  24. Leslie A. Martin says:

    I love this article! My son (turning 2) really related to the Llama Llama book on this topic: Llama Llama mad at Mama. (The whole series is great.)

  25. This post, you, your ideas, she approach are so fabulous. Thank you for sharing this with me! It was exactly what I needed to hear today.

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