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Is Mommy Welcome? Shopping with a Child

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I was a brand new mom when I discovered that stores were not made for mommies. There I was in the mall, pushing a stroller and juggling my purse with the diaper bag. My goal was to buy new clothes—a few items to fit my new figure. Pregnancy had forced me to give up my size three jeans. I shoved my infant son all over the mall that day. Navigating the racks, I knocked hangers to the floor, pulled sleeves out of Haydn’s grasp, ran over things and bumped other shoppers. 

Why are aisles so tiny? Who decided to make fitting rooms the size of a broom closet (impossible to push a stroller into)? And why must there be a large gap between the stall door and the floor in all public restrooms? Children will crawl under those doors. My son is quite fond of visiting our “neighbors” in the mall bathroom.

Could it be that these stores do not realize they are losing business? Mommies, after all, do most of a families shopping, do they not? Who buys the kids back to school supplies and new clothing? Mom does the grocery shopping and also shops for herself. Women everywhere are stereotyped as shoppers, being made fun of in cartoons and sit-coms because of their reaction to sales. Mothers are women. 

I’m not alone in this frustration. Mommies all over the world grumble about the same things. Jennifer VanSchoyck of Spencerville Ohio complains, “The stroller issue is my main pet peeve. Especially in stores geared for families; why would they not make the aisles wide?” Kyra Arnold of Sweden Valley Pennsylvania says she has avoided certain stores altogether because they are not stroller-friendly.

Strollers aren’t the only issue facing shoppers with children. Joanne Sattery of North Brunswick New Jersey tells me the worst things are tables with long cloths covering them. What child wouldn’t reach out for the pretty material? She said, in good humor, “I also notice that they put the elevator in the department with the china. Who had that brilliant idea?” Danyelle Parker of Swampscott Massachusetts mentions the elevator being difficult to find as well. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except stores have a tendency to put children’s’ clothing on the second floor.

Other moms complain of stores with stairs at their entrance, but no ramps or curbs with no way to get onto the sidewalk on wheels. There are the buildings with heavy glass doors and no button to make them handicap accessible. Those buttons are a great help to moms. Even in the bigger stores, the more family-friendly ones, you are apt to find giant pallets of merchandise blocking those wide aisles. Think about it for a moment. These issues do not just affect moms. A person riding in a wheelchair would have many of the same problems. It shouldn’t be too much to ask a store to cater to its customers. Without customers, they will go out of business.

So, what’s a mom to do? We can’t sit around waiting for stores to get their act together. Instead, we have to find stores that already do and ways to deal with the ones that don’t. 

1. Jackie Perrin of Rochester, NY says, “When at all possible, I shop for clothing online. I know my daughter’s favorite brands and fabrics, and I buy on Ebay as well as the sales sections of retailer’s sites like Hanna Anderson. No malls. No uncomfortable clothing. No fights.” Now, in the 21st century, we have access to a simpler way of shopping. Click and buy. Most stores are making it easier and easier for you to purchase their product right off their website. Online auction sites sometimes offer better deals than department stores, even with shipping charges. However, there are still those of us who prefer a brick and mortar building to the computer graphics and dot coms of the Internet world.

2. Buy in bulk. You know your kids will have birthday parties to attend. That is an inevitable part of growing up with friends. So, when you see something on sale, stock up. Buy three of those dolls that come with their own cell phones and four of those clearance sticker packs. When one of your children brings home an invitation covered in red balloons, you can relax. Just pull a pre-bought gift from the closet, wrap it up and sign your son or daughter’s name. 

3. If at all possible, shop somewhere that supplies childcare while you shop. This is becoming more and more common. Many grocery stores have begun this practice, along with some Ikea shops. Typically, they provide a room full of toys, games and maybe a television along with employees hired just to watch your kids. Check them out first, and be sure you can trust the store before leaving your child.

4. Bypass the candy as quickly as possible. Some stores, such as Wegman’s in the Northeastern United States, have candy-free aisles. This, however, isn’t common yet. One mom, Anna Bergmann of McCordsville Indiana, describes her checkout experience like this: “Will wants to grab everything off the candy shelves at the store; and what kid doesn’t? So I unload the cart onto the conveyor, while he holds one item. I keep the cart so that its front end is at the back of the conveyor, and Will cannot see the goodies. Then I tell him, ‘Get ready’ and I come around to the other side of the cart. We literally sprint by the candy, I tell him, ‘Put it on the belt’ and he throws his item on the conveyor. By the time all that is over, we are well past the candy, and I am in front of him, so he cannot see it.” This paints a funny picture, but the key here is to occupy the child. Let them hold something that you do plan to buy so that their attention stays focused away from the candy. To help you here, many stores give free cookies in the bakery or free balloons as you are leaving.

5. Bring a receiving blanket or changing pad if you are shopping with a baby still in diapers. The fact is, not all stores have public restrooms or changing stations. And often, as Lynn Tabor of Attleboro Massachusetts says, “The changing station is stuck into a tiny dirty corner.” Be prepared for this. If you spread the small blanket out on the bathroom floor, you can change your child without getting their bottom too near the germs. Really, it’s not a bad idea to use a blanket under the child even when there is a changing station.

6. Choose your stroller carefully. Most of the time, an umbrella stroller offers nowhere to store your purse and that ever-present diaper bag, but the larger strollers could store King-Kong and his family. Believe it or not, there is a compromise. Some companies now offer a more compact version of the King-Kong stroller. It has the storage room under your child’s seat and long enough handles for even a tall mommy to push comfortably, but it is a bit narrower. It’s lightweight and can be unfolded quickly, sometimes with only one hand.

7. Simplify. Don’t you hear that word everywhere lately? Simplify your life. Or, just simplify your carry-on luggage. As a mom, you come armed with snacks, spill-proof cups, diapers, baby wipes, bibs, bottles, toys, bandages, hair bows, and a host of other child-related items, not to mention your own necessities. When making a short shopping trip, leave the diaper bag at home. Tuck the most important items into your purse. One bag can easily hold your wallet, coupons, and lipstick and still fit a diaper, a tiny bag of wipes and a bottle. Your back will thank you for the break.

8. It’s ok to borrow the handicap stall if it isn’t in use. This goes for restrooms and fitting rooms. And, on those not-so-rare occasions when you find it occupied by giggling teenage girls, just knock. An amazing number of teenagers will give it up for you. You aren’t wrong to ask. After all, they fit in the regular stalls. Mommies with strollers do not.

The most important thing you can take with you when you go shopping with children is a sense of humor. Brette Sember of Clarence New York related a funny story from a shopping trip she took with her child. “One day, in Wal-Mart, I desperately needed to buy some new underwear but had my five year old along. I am digging through the displays when I hear him say ‘Mommy look at me,’ and turn around to find him with a humongous lacy white bra on his head. He didn’t know what it was and just thought it looked silly – the other shoppers looked shocked and horrified.”

 Other shoppers may not share your sense of humor, and that makes it all the more important. There are always times when someone else thinks they know how to make your kid behave better than you do. This can manifest itself in horrible ways, such as the experience Cassy Stone of Wonder Lake Illinois shared: “We were in a Wal-mart and my daughter was running up and down the aisles in the shoe section. As she ran, she would grab up some shoes and throw them down on the floor. I was chasing after her trying to pick up shoes as she flung them and trying to catch her. I finally managed to restore some order to the shoe aisle and had my daughter in my arms when a lady came up to me and said it was ridiculous how I was treating my child. She thought I was being mean to her and the only thing I was doing was not letting her get down to run around and wreak havoc on the shoes. My daughter, of course, was flinging her arms and legs like a rapid dog and screaming at the top of her lungs because, well, because she was 
mad. She wanted down to get into trouble and I wasn’t letting her. That lady actually turned me in to the Department of Children and Family Services. The next day they came to my house to investigate me for child neglect.”

Luckily, that is an extreme example. Usually, you are simply dealing with dirty looks and ladies sucking their teeth at your lenience. If you’re going to survive to parent another day, you have to learn to shrug these people off and continue on.

Personally, I try to only take my son on short shopping excursions. If I need to be gone very long, I attempt to
schedule the trip on a day my husband can stick around the house with the kids. When I do take him with me, I use the tips in this article more often than not. So, keep these things in mind as you head out to boost the economy.


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