WHITNEY: A big 'Thank you' to the Other Parents

Shout out to all the other parents out there!

It’s a shout out that rings out more like a whisper because, if we’re all literally on the same page reading this, we’re all here in the same imagined room. But when I say “Other Parents,” I’m talking about kind of a niche group of people who are a special breed. Let me explain.

Last Sunday, my husband and I took our little one to CranHill Ranch’s Winterfest, a trip that didn’t last long since the snow is about shoulder-high to Olivia. Bundled in snow pants and extra layers beneath, every third step was punctuated by a face plant. We were packing up and heading home much sooner than I had hoped, with the sounds of tears, disappointment and frozen cheeks filling in as the soundtrack for our drive home.

Earlier in the day though, as we watched her take her first labored steps in the snow, I said to my husband, “This is one of those times I wish we would have invested in some kind of baby carrier. I could be backpacking her right now and this would be a lot easier.”

Cue Other Parents.

A few paces behind us was a couple with a little girl who assured us she was big enough for a pony ride and attempted to talk to Olivia in a made-up baby language that, who know, they probably both understood perfectly. These Other Parents overheard my comment about the baby carrier and spoke up. “Hey, not to be weird, but we actually have a Baby Bjorn if you’d be interested. We’re not using it anymore.”

They explained that they’d just moved to Michigan from New Jersey and had shipped a whole bunch of baby gear they had since realized they wouldn’t need again. Dad gave me a business card and said to email him about the Baby Bjorn. We chatted about the difference between Michigan winters and New Jersey winters — a world of difference between the two, I learned — and parted ways.

If you’re reading this, nice Winterfest family, thanks for chatting! I’ll be in touch about the Baby Bjorn.

This is only one example of a positive encounter I’ve had with Other Parents since becoming one myself. Other Parents, if I can attempt to define them as a group, are those people who recognize and are invested in fostering the community that exists within the club of parenthood.

They’re the moms who make faces at your baby in the grocery store checkout line to keep her from fussing while you place your order on the conveyor belt. They’re the dads who exchange upward nods of acknowledgment while both carrying kiddos on their shoulders. They’re the strangers who leave about $2 worth of pennies in a pile next to the Meijer penny pony ride during the last week of Christmas shopping (a huge and very belated THANK YOU to that person!).

They say things like, “You’re doing a good job!” rather than “You’ve sure got your hands full!” when your kid is having a tantrum in public, because they understand the chaos of your internal monologue when your child becomes “that child” in the restaurant.

In some places, Other Parents congregate on online message boards to connect with people in their area. In New York City, for example, parents can find forums to connect with parents in their specific neighborhood or apartment building. But the Other Parents community isn’t always so formalized.

Other Parents are basically strangers who have your back simply because they recognize you as a parent struggling or succeeding out in the world — and we all know the tilt of the scales of struggle and success can and do change on an hour-by-hour basis. They reach out. They know.

So this is my challenge to you, readers. If you’re out and about this weekend and you see someone struggling with their kids, step up and be the Other Parent. Offer to pick up a child’s thrown toy while dad hoists the 40-lb. box of kitty litter into his shopping cart. Invite someone from your church to form a new play group. Let someone else know you’ve got their back if they ever need help.

Be the Other Parents so we can ensure there’s always a set of caring, understanding Other Parents nearby.