I inwardly groaned when he got into my train carriage. He was a dad with four little kids. He looked pretty young himself, and a bit scruffy (with a half-attempt at a mullet).
I’ll admit, I started making judgements about him. I had a half-hour trip ahead of me, and I expected I was going to hear whingeing and fighting from the kids, and yelling from him. It’s hard enough to keep one kid amused on a long train trip, let alone four.
But you know what? I was wrong.
For the next half hour, he chatted to his kids. He gently pulled them into line if they were getting boisterous. He talked about what was right and what was wrong. He answered their questions about the trip and what they were seeing. He didn’t raise his voice once.
To be honest, he did a better job than I could have done with four children. I ended up feeling ashamed of myself for having judged him.
Just before I got off the train, I said to him, "Listen, I couldn't help hearing you talking to your kids, and I just wanted to tell you that I think you're a really great dad."
He looked a bit stunned.
People are always complaining about the bad parents out there: the ones who hit their kids, the ones who yell at their kids, the ones who are glued to their iPhones and ignore their kids. No one ever seems to talk about all the good parents, the loads of mums and dads who are quietly doing a fantastic job.
I see the dad who is looking after his three kids at the playground, putting his youngest son in his lap to go down the slide, then rushing over to check that his oldest son climbing a tree is okay.
I see the mum having a picnic whose toddler accidentally steps into a bowl of fruit salad, who just calmly cleans him up and tells him not to worry about it.
I overhear the mother patiently answering her son's questions about car parks.
I stand near the mum who listens to her daughter's long, excited description of her day at school and gets excited along with her.
I see the father pushing his newborn baby in a pram, then picking her up and soothing her as soon as she starts to cry.
Sometimes we all just need to take a break from bitching and recognise that most parents are pretty great at what they do... whether anyone ever tells them that or not.
Have you ever complimented a stranger on their parenting?
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