I’m Scared of the Grocery Store. {A Tale of Safety}

I am scared to go to the grocery store now. And not just because of the chaos that ensues with kids in tow and those hellacious mini carts. But actually, truly scared – for our safety. I’m not typically a fearful person, but I am shaken.

We have recently had the most gorgeous weather. After indulging in some playground time after school, I had to make the dreaded trip to the store – well, because apparently my family insists on eating three times a day and drinking milk. And momma needed wine. Duh.

We rolled up to our local grocery store at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and actually had a relatively uneventful time shopping {no breakdowns over not getting candy}, and the kiddos were in good spirits. Miracles do happen. As we casually walked out of the store into the parking lot, I reminded the kids to hold on tight to the cart as I always do. Traffic is nuts, and my biggest fear was always an errant child jumping out into the path of an oncoming car. I remember laughing so hard with another older gentleman walking out because my little girl had just exclaimed, “Mommy, I have a moco that is soooo big! Mommy, moco! I mean, booger, whatever!” Ha. No filter on the little ones, and it was kind of endearing to see this little girl, school dress and proper bow in place, be a little crass.

We got to the car, and I popped the trunk of our ever-practical SUV to let the kids scramble in the back and jump over the seats to get buckled. I started to unload the groceries when I felt a presence close behind. I turned and saw a young, white male all up in my space. And by space, I mean literally on the other side of the shopping cart. He bluntly stated that he needed “a couple of quarters” for gas money – that he needed to get home but was on empty. I glanced over behind him and saw another male sitting in a black car right across the way from me, just staring intently. Bells were going off all over the place, but I didn’t know what to do. In my somewhat panicked state, and in an effort to get this dude away from me, I fished into my crossbody purse for my wallet, thinking that I had a couple of dollar bills left from a recent trip out of town. I NEVER carry cash because, hello debit card. As it turns out, I didn’t have dollar bills, only a $10. I hurriedly threw it to him and said, “It IS for gas, right?” He muttered, “Yes, yes.” and turned slowly and strolled away. I hurriedly finished unloading our groceries and jumped in the car to lock the doors. I didn’t even return the cart. Gasp.

As I was sitting there, I just got this sinking feeling. Something wasn’t right. And I have zero clue why I didn’t just get the heck out of dodge, but I sat there, doors locked, and watched him saunter into Kroger, only to return a few minutes later with a paper bag in the shape of a wine bottle. My heart sank. The kids were asking all sorts of questions —  “Mommy, why did he need money?” “Mommy, why are we sitting here?” “Mommy, who was that man?” I didn’t have any answers. I was angry. I felt betrayed by trying to help someone while still protecting my kids as best I could at the time. I kept thinking about the situation I had just been in, and how it could have gone horribly, horribly wrong.  And I felt scared – really, really scared.

We drove home, and while we were driving, my son asked me, “Mommy, what if he is following us?” Gulp. He was wiser than he knew with those words. I continually glanced in my rearview for the short 2 mile drive. No black car. But that pit in my stomach was still there. I put on a brave face and unpacked the groceries and got the kids a snack. And that’s when my knees started shaking and didn’t stop for a good hour. I pounded out a Facebook post on what had just happened, alluding to my fear and anger. I mean, 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon  – in our quiet suburban grocery store parking lot? I live in a bubble. Or maybe not. I called the grocery store, spoke to the manager about our situation and my concerns, and then tried to just get through the rest of the evening.

The next day, a friend of mine posted an eerily similar status for the same grocery store. She was alone with her baby, had two guys harassing her, and remembering my post from the previous day, she immediately pivoted and went back inside where she notified a manager, had that person escort them to her car, and also notified our sheriff’s office. It was then that I read her post, and my knees started shaking again. I decided it was time for me to make a report. Although the guy never touched me or the kids, I felt incredibly threatened and wanted to make sure they had extra patrols, since clearly this was more than a coincidence. I called that afternoon, and they sent a deputy out to our home so I could give my full account. My son was, of course, thrilled and enamored that he had a “real life police officer” in our home. Clearly, I was less than thrilled. As I spoke with the deputy, he shared a few tips with me about what to do in such a situation. Granted, I am not a law enforcement expert, so please don’t take these as gospel. Instead, think about what you would do in such a situation – and hopefully it will protect some of you. Unfortunately, Houston is the capital of human trafficking in the U.S., plus a myriad of other crimes, so we need to be on guard.

  1. Be aware :: It’s so easy to be caught up in dealing with the kiddos and trying to unload groceries. Look at your surroundings. Check out who’s around you. According to the deputy, moms with kids are prime targets for crime in parking lots because they are often distracted.
  2. Play it smart :: If possible, park as closely as possible to the front of the store and preferably near the cart exchange. I would never risk my children’s lives to return a cart, but I do like to be able to return if possible. Unload your groceries with the kiddos still in the cart, then return it with them and walk back to the car. NEVER leave your kids in the car unattended even for the 45 seconds it takes you to sprint to the return area.
  3. Buckle smart :: Once back at the car, put them in the car ALONG WITH YOURSELF. Lock the doors and get them settled from there. Do not buckle and arrange them with the door open. Someone could easily come behind you, and then you are in the most precarious position. I started doing this around Christmas time when we had a rash of burglaries in the area.
  4. Don’t pull out your wallet :: HUGE mistake on my part.  Just firmly state that you don’t have any money to give.
  5. Watch your back :: When you leave the parking lot, do a quick scan and make sure you don’t have a car trailing you. For me, this is relatively easy because there’s only one lane on my way home from the grocery. If you feel like you are being followed, drive to the closest fire or police station. Better safe than sorry. And of course, call 911 if you feel like you are being targeted. Never go home.
  6. Know your neighbors :: The deputy actually introduced this to me. I’m part of several “unofficial” neighborhood groups, and those are great. However, Next Door is a private social network – but the awesome part is our Fort Bend and Harris County sheriff offices routinely check in here. It’s a great place to post about your experiences and also know that they are being observed by those officers as well. And trust me, your neighbors will appreciate you letting them know about scary things happening.

I hate so much that I’ve had to answer so many questions from my little ones. Stranger Danger is a whole other post, but I feel like we lost a bit of innocence that day. It could have been so much worse, and now my momma brain is running on high alert.

How do you keep your kiddos safe in public places? What other tips would you give fellow moms shopping with children? Sound off below!

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Meagan is a Dallas native who has lived in the Katy area for over a decade. She kicked a soccer ball all the way to Louisiana to attend college at her family’s alma mater of LSU, where she promptly fell in love with a Texas Aggie in Baton Rouge for an internship. After swimming back to Texas following Hurricane Katrina, Matt and Meagan fell in love with the Houston area and now couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Following several years of infertility, their miracle twins Ryan and Quinn were born in June of 2010. She believes there is nothing better than a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, a large Sonic Diet Coke, sushi take-out, Girls Nights Out, and a mindless book to curl up with. Besides playing chauffeur and catering to the whims of her children, Meagan also is the Co-Owner of Houston Moms Blog. You can keep up with Meagan at The Clanahan Fam and on Instagram @meaganclanahan!


  1. May I suggest getting your CHL? I am a mom & a realtor, and I never ever want to be in a position to not be able to defend myself or the life of my children. I pray I never ever have to use it, but I am prepared if I should ever have to.

  2. I’ve never done #3, but can see the wisdom…not sure I could pull it off in our setup, however.

    I’ve been approached a lot, sometimes to the point of harassment over money. The honest thing is…if they are in dire straits, they can go right inside that same grocery store or gas station and ask the manager there for help or to use the telephone. They can ask an able bodied man in the parking lot. There is something wrong (read: shady) for them to approach a single woman, let alone a single woman with children in tow. I’ve also lost a relative to addiction, who had enough money but for some reason ended up being one of “those guys” who would ask for change. There are a lot of Good Samaritan types out there whose brand of “good” only enables the individual. They call it “good” because they want to believe it is helping rather than speeding up the inevitable. The longer someone is kept from hitting rock bottom, the harder/further that fall is, and they don’t always survive. Point them to the nearest food shelter, give/work to charities that help people, but do not compromise the safety of your children to be the helping hand.

  3. Be visible, and loud. People catch us by surprise- which is easy to do when we’re toting little ones.
    Practice a deep (like a cheerleader- from tje diaphragm, not the throat) confident statement: “I don’t know you. You are too close to me. Step back.”
    No apology, no manners. Matter of fact.
    If he’s still there, instead of the $10, grab your mace from your purse, and be ready. Don’t threaten, just have it out.
    Don’t be afraid to make a scene. We’re told from birth to be good girls, and as women that often gets us in a lot of danger.
    I’m no expert, except that I’m a mom who’s gotten through the kiddie cart phase. 🙂 I hope the advice helps.

  4. We have a few different videos touching on this very subject in our First Person Defender web series. even if you are not currently a gun owner, or do not want to own a gun, there are some good tips (along with the tips from the article)!

    Video 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BSaMNG5O5w&index=8&list=PLscB-49EdZcujso1xgAPXCBIMhhEjzQHj

    Video 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jJm1ZATg7k&index=2&list=PLscB-49EdZcujso1xgAPXCBIMhhEjzQHj

    Video 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdRi59MwC7g&list=PLscB-49EdZcuKOrDogPOGkeTde5OqGTT3&index=8

  5. I deal with this pretty often since I live in an urban area. The first time it happens it is alarming, but after awhile you get numb to it. The things that work best for me are to always remain friendly, state very plainly that I never carry cash, tell them no if they ask me to go to an atm and give them money that way, and offer to call the police to come help them with whatever problem they’ve told me they have. If I’m walking in my neighborhood I always give them directions to the mission so they can get food or shelter or help with bus fare there. They almost always tell me the mission won’t help them, which means they are scamming for drug money. The important thing is to remain calm. Your kids won’t be scared if you’re not scared.

  6. Another idea…say yes when the bagger asks if you need help getting your groceries to the car. Maybe we would be less likely to be approached with an employee there in the parking lot with us.

  7. I keep hearing more and more stories like this all the time. It’s really scary. I have started keeping my finger on the panic button (on my key) as we are walking to the car in parking lots.

  8. I am a senior with white hair and I also am approached a lot. I always say no and if they get close I tell them to stay away from me. But initially, I make sure that I am aware of my surroundings at all times in order to appear less vulnerable.

  9. I have a two year old (still rear facing) and a 3 month old. How do you suggest I get them all buckled into the car with myself in it?

  10. I keep pepper spray on my key chain and a truckers tire knocker in the back of my car. It looks like a short wooden bat but has a metal rod on the inside. I have given serious thought to a carry conceal permit. I don’t want to hurt anyone but that goes out the window if I feel my or my children’s safety is at risk.

  11. Firmly say “no” or “I don’t carry cash” and that usually sends them on their way.

    Most of these people are not looking for problems, they’re just trying to score easy money for drugs or booze. They think women are more sympathetic than men so of course they approach women first.

    Not saying that these guys are always harmless. It’s good to know your surroundings and stay vigilant. If you are in a area you are not familiar or comfortable with ask the manager or bag-boy to go to your car with you.

  12. Being aware is a big deal. Put away your phone, have your keys out & ready so you aren’t distracted once at your car. Turn around and look people in the eye if you feel like someone is following you while walking – a criminal doesn’t want a victim who can identify him/her. If the person is homeless or an alcoholic (not currently belligerent) you won’t usually be in danger. My biggest fear is kidnapping/human trafficking – so it’s important to be aware inside the store, also.
    Awhile back there was a post circulating about a trip to target where there was a girl (child) talking to this woman’s daughter inside the store but each time the woman said anything to the girl she left – and later came back to again talk to her daughter. At the checkout she noticed the girl indicate her/her daughter to an adult man. Since the woman recognized this she asked for an escort to her car & police were also called.
    Please be aware & if you feel afraid/anxious/nervous go back in the store and ask for an escort. Better to be safe. It isn’t always possible to buckle kids into the car if you don’t have a van; and if you have more than 1 or 2 kids, walking back from the cart return together still may not be enough…you only have 2 hands and don’t want to risk your other child[ren] if one (or more) people try to kidnap your kids. Not pleasant to think about but important to have a plan for.

  13. I’m not sure I understood this story clearly.

    – Man approaches woman in parking lot asking for quarters for a bogus reason.

    – Rather than simply say, “I’m sorry, I can’t spare any change, have a nice day”, woman gives him exponentially larger amount of money than man was asking for.

    – She’s shocked! when the story he told her turned out to be… a story.

    And somehow decided to feel threatened by that? A bum telling a story to get cash for booze? I wasn’t there, so perhaps I’m missing something. I grew up in Dallas too, and this happened there literally every day.

    Annoyed? Sure. Scared of the grocery store? Nah.


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