Herding Cats and Breaking Jars: 4 Rules for Grocery Shopping With Your Children

As a mom of four, plus two step-children, I have learned a few things over the last 14 years. I'm not saying that what I have learned will work for you. I'm only saying that if it doesn't work for you, then you're probably not doing it right.
04/14/2015 03:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When I am in the supermarket and I hear the tell-tale crash of destruction from somewhere far away in the store, I know, reflexively, automatically that it was one of my children at fault. I can be in aisle six, contemplating how I might make use of 16 only slightly dented cans of clearance yams (pudding?). But when I hear the sound of calamity occurring, the BOOM, POW, say of a Nabisco display falling into shards or the SMASH and pungent aroma of jars of Sauerkraut on linoleum, even from 14 aisles away, I am counting my blond-headed children to see which one of them is the culprit.

One of them is usually the culprit.

And if you're watching me from afar (Oh my word, Earl, check out the lady with all those kids, let's hide over here behind this yam display and watch while she loses one) you will probably be surprised when I don't freak out. I know, you were hoping I would freak out. Everyone loves a good catastrophe.

But as a mom of four, plus two step-children, I have learned a few things over the last 14 years.

I'm not saying that what I have learned will work for you.

I'm only saying that if it doesn't work for you, then you're probably not doing it right.


Herding Cats: How To Take Six Kids to the Supermarket and Return Home with All Of Them

1) Make sure you know how many children you have brought with you before you enter the store. Ever get halfway through your shopping trip and suddenly have to ask the other kids, "Where is Dominic?" Unless you, too, have a son named Dominic you probably haven't. But let's say you did. And let's say you couldn't find him (work with me, people). At this point, it is important to know if you have actually brought him with you to the store. Because finding him digging into a box of Lucky Charms in Aisle 4 is far easier than finding him standing in the garage holding the hat you sent him back inside to put on.


2) Don't ask stupid questions. Of course, they want to all go with you. Of course, they all want to ride in the cart/push the cart/run people over with the cart. Of course, they want popsicles, hot dogs, fruit snacks, materials to make small bombs in the bathroom with. A mom of one child can get away with saying, cheerfully "Who wants to pick out the ice cream?" because little Malcolm looks to the left and then to the right quizzically before answering, questioningly, "Me?" But a mom of six children who asks that deserves what comes next. Let me give you the ensuing scene in a nutshell.

Mom of 6: "Who wants to pick out the ice cream?" (Imagine her sounding like the mom of one child, except more defeated and perhaps, more medicated).

Children: ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME!

And then there's lots of crying while one child bites a different one because she wants blue moon and he wants cookie dough. And all of them are slamming open freezer doors and throwing frozen food in the air. And you end up with four different quarts of ice cream because no one can agree and one of them got their knees skinned in the skirmish and you're thinking, would someone judge me if I opened this bottle of Hot Damn and started drinking it here, in this aisle, now?


3) If things start falling apart, do not panic. Okay, it is likely that once you get in there, under the halogen lights, with the people and the food and the toiletries, something is going to fall apart. Someone will have to use the bathroom, someone will remember they have to bring in a food item that starts with the first letter of their name (Why the FRICK did we name you Quentin?) and someone else will suddenly have an irrational fear of Bok Choy (Please mama, don't make me walk by that thing, it's creepy!). Just remember that you are not the first mom or the last mom to have a child in hysterics because the only food you can think of that starts with a letter Q is a Quahog. Hold your head up, mama! Tell yourself that the reason those old people are staring is because your children are so beautiful. That woman with the child in clean clothes, singing the ABC's and a shopping list in her hand? That's not a mom, that's a nanny! Don't let the haters get you down. Walk down the aisle with your bunch of wrong-shoed, mismatched bunch of beautiful, crying children and get 'er done.


4) If things REALLY start falling apart, do not be afraid to abort the mission. No child ever ended up emotionally scarred from having pizza two nights in a row. If the Bok Choy kid is really panicking and you just found out that they only sell Quahogs in Rhode Island and Quentin won't stop banging his fist on the seafood case... JUST LEAVE. Go through the Drive-Thru on the way home. Turn up Bon Jovi really loud in the car and make everyone sing "Livin' On A Prayer" until their voices crack and they can't scream or cry or ask for ice cream. Send in frozen chicken breast with Quentin and tell him it's Quail. Hug them very tight when you get home and remember that they are small, still and they can't help it that they are unreasonable, selfish creatures who are giving you gray hair and making it impossible to have adult conversations.


Honestly, this is really exhausting just thinking about the whole thing. I think it's time I was honest. Do you want to know what I have learned from taking six kids to the grocery store?

Don't take six kids to the grocery store. It's not worth it.

Even if you only have two kids, don't take them to the grocery store. DON'T TAKE ANY KIDS TO THE GROCERY STORE!

Leave them home with dad. Don't be afraid to hire a babysitter.

Take the long way there and sit in the parking lot with a whole bag of Doritos and listen to anything but KidsBop on the radio. Take. Your. TIME!

And when you are at the grocery store, alone and you see the mom with the six kids-two kids-14 kids in the produce section? (You hear her from aisles away saying, "I am so sorry, Xena, I can't think of one food to bring in and I don't know why your teacher KEEPS GIVING THIS ASSIGNMENT OUT.")

She might see you all alone and mistake you for someone who has her shit together.

She might even ask you what aisle the XTRA Chedder Goldfish are in.

Smile sympathetically.

And tell her Aisle 7.

There's no goldfish there, but when she finds the bottles of Hot Damn, she really won't care about much of anything anymore.