Seriously. Just leave the cart. It's OK.
I know I do. I don’t even think twice. Because the thing is, when you make it out of the store with loads of groceries and your several small children, you’ve got to buckle them in, load up and get the heck out of there. You’re not abandoning your cart to be rude, you are choosing the lesser of three faux pas. Your other options are to let your small children stand beside you in a busy parking lot while you unload and return the cart or leave them in the car while you put the cart in its proper corral. People might judge you for being rude with the cart, but that beats being called a negligent parent.
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Sure, the likelihood of something bad happening with your kids locked in the car for a very brief time is slim, but it makes total sense if you just aren’t comfortable with it. And leaving them beside you to exhibit extreme self-control while you have your arms full of bags is rarely an option for most parents. So do your thing, keep your kids safe and leave the damn cart.
But the bottom line is, you really shouldn’t even be worrying this much about cart etiquette—you’ve got bigger fish to fry.
I remember the first time I braved the store with my infant. He slept through the whole thing in his little infant seat. When I exited the store, I clipped him back in the car, just in case the cart rolled or got bumped by a driver, while I unloaded the groceries. I had been a cart returner all my life. It wasn’t until that moment, when was I faced with the choice of leaving my brand new baby alone in the car or performing a common courtesy, that I left the cart and never looked back.
Of course, in a perfect world, this cart thing isn’t an issue. You do your best to park next to the corral or look for someone on their way in that needs a cart. You always make sure the cart isn’t blocking a parking spot or going to roll into another vehicle. You even try to use a rouge cart when you get to a store, a sort of pay-it-forward maneuver. But the bottom line is, you really shouldn’t even be worrying this much about cart etiquette, you’ve got bigger fish to fry.
You just spent hundreds of dollars in that store and no one even offered to help you out. The person who is scowling at you for leaving the cart also didn’t offer to put it back. You work yourself to the bone everyday trying your best to raise children who will one day be productive members of society, you’ve done plenty for the world.
Someday your kids will be old enough to help you load the groceries and return the cart, until then, you’ve earned the break.
Leave the cart—and the guilt—behind.