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7 Tips to Surviving Shopping with Babies and Toddlers

Shopping with young children is exhausting and can often end in tears for everyone

We all know the story. You went out to the local shopping centre to get a few jobs done. You had a list of 10 items and only three got ticked off. The baby cried because she was tired and couldn’t sleep. The toddler threw himself on the floor in a tantrum when you wanted him to hurry up with the pull along shopping basket and you tried to ‘help’. Mr Independent wanted to do it Ugh. The whole thing was a disaster.

Does shopping with young children have to be this hard?

In the ideal world we would all have a village of support where you can pass your baby and toddlers to someone else’s loving arms to care for while you get stuff done.

My top 7 tips for managing shopping with young children

We all need to get stuff done, right? It might be the errands at a shopping centre, or it could be grocery shopping. Trying to do so with babies and toddlers in tow is definitely not easy. It does vary from family to family depending on the temperament of the child and how many children you are wrangling, and other factors outside our control. Here are my top tips I’ve learned along the way by experiencing the hard times:

  1. Take a photo of inside your fridge before you go shopping. How many times when you are doing groceries can you just not remember if you need milk? Yep, always. There’s always something you can’t remember because Solve that by taking photos of inside the fridge, freezer, pantry before you go.
  2. Go shopping when your baby and toddler is not too tired. Taking tired children shopping almost always ends in disaster, unless they are brilliant at falling asleep in a baby carrier or stroller. I used to time my grocery shopping when I knew my baby was tired. This only worked because I would pop her in the baby carrier and she would sleep for the whole hour while I shopped in peace. Put her in the trolley capsule and she’d be crying the whole time!
  3. Use snacks to keep your kids happy while you shop. Whether you take advantage of the ‘free fruit for kids’ in some supermarkets in Australia, or you bring your own snacks, if it means you can whiz around without too much disruption – do what works! You can also get your kids to count the pieces of fruit into the produce bags, or ask the toddler to put (aka throw!) each item into the trolley. Involving the kids in the activity can make it more bearable (and can keep them from wanting to climb out of the trolley!).
  4. Use your baby carriers for your baby or toddler – put toddlers on your back – it keeps them from touching everything! You won’t find yourself saying a million times to ‘put that back’, ‘don’t touch’ etc. It also helps in this current climate of COVID-19 to keep their hands sanitised. It also gives you two free hands to wrangle the shopping!
  5. Work around your partner’s schedule so you can shop alone. When my daughter was 2 years old she hated the stroller, wanted to walk everywhere and touched everything! It drove me mad because I felt like I was constantly asking her to stop and I couldn’t get things done quickly. So, I started shopping on Thursday nights when the shops were open late. I waited until my husband was home from work, we had done the dinner and bath routine, and I had breastfed my daughter to sleep. Then I had about 90 minutes to run like crazy, but it was less stressful and I got more achieved!
  6. Shop online. Some mums literally don’t have anyone to ask to care for their children. You might be a single mum, have a FIFO partner, or one who just travels a lot for work, or you might just not want to leave your baby with someone else (completely understandable!). If shopping with your baby or toddler is plain hard work, then perhaps online shopping is the way to go for you. It can really take the pressure off.
  7. Do your grocery shopping online. If grocery shopping is becoming a nightmare, or you.just.don’t.have.time anymore, shop online. The prices are usually a tiny bit more expensive, and yes, you may need to pay for delivery, but I swear, you’ll save money from not buying all the impulse buys! You create a standard list on the supermarket website, which you quickly tick through each time, and then grab the extras you need. It has been a lifesaver for me over the last few years as my life has become busier. I also don’t have kids begging for particular foods because they don’t get to see all the options out there – most of which are highly processed and unhealthy anyway!

So, what do you do?

Which tip resonates the most with you?

Being a mother is one of the most rewarding experiences a woman can go through. We all have different stories though – some mums have had the fortune of easy breastfeeding, a settled baby who sleeps for long periods, and babies and toddlers who have calm temperaments so they can get out and about and get stuff done. Conversely, there are mums where things are tough. The unsettled baby, the one who hardly sleeps a wink, the exhausted mum who just can’t go out because the baby or toddler cries all the time. If you are this mum, you can feel like a failure because you don’t have the ‘happy child’, you are a failure because you can’t achieve just a few errands or one whole grocery shop without incident and it all equals one big fat feeling of loneliness. So to help you, I’d recommend following at least one of the above tips. It’s amazing how much better you will feel to achieve something without the screaming child.

Key takeaways from this shopping adventure

  1. As always, find what works for you and your child. If your baby sleeps well in a sling/carrier, use it! If your baby doesn’t, maybe online shopping is better for you for right now. Remember, this won’t last forever!
  2. Be kind to yourself. If today was a terrible time at the shopping centre, try again another day. You are not a failure, that’s just your critical self talking. You are a good mother whose child just didn’t cope with the circumstances today.
  3. The best way to manage the rollercoaster of motherhood is to actually go with the flow. If you get upset and think it’s all too hard because your toddler laid on the floor of the supermarket screaming because you said no to the lollies, it will feel intolerable. Take every win you get. Look for the good.

Final Thoughts

There’s a story about a mum who was overheard in the supermarket saying to her toddler who wanted a toy, “not today, but it’s okay, there’s only 2 more aisles to go”. They went down the next aisle and the toddler threw himself on the floor because he wanted the chips and his mum said no. The mum said, “I know this feels hard, you are tired, but we are nearly finished and then we’ll go home”. As the mum was going through the checkout and the toddler was still crying and wanting the lollipop on display, she said, “you’ve done so well, it’s time to go home and rest now and then do something fun!” The observer approached the mum and complimented her on how well she had spoken to her toddler in a difficult time. The mum turned and said, “oh, I wasn’t talking to him, I was talking to myself!”

If you are looking for more help with mum hacks, check out the workshop called The Messy Life.