We’ve all been there: you’re at the store, or the post office, or a restaurant, or just walking down the street. And your child chooses that precise moment to throw an unprecedented Tantrum of the Century over something seemingly innocuous, something you could never have guessed would cause such a fit.
This has happened to every. single. parent. You can’t deny it. Kids are just like that sometimes. So, if it’s such a common occurrence, what is with the typical response? A snicker, a sneer, a TSSSSKKK, all eyes glued to you as if you were a street performer. Never a sympathetic glance, never an “Oh, honey, we’ve all been there, it will pass.” Not even a passerby that can completely ignore it, this totally normal toddler behavioral moment.
People who don’t have kids think they would handle it so much better than you. People whose kids are grown think they did a better job, and their brains have selectively deleted the memories of their own children doing this. And even people who have young children, EVEN the people who have toddlers, think you’re a terrible parent.
And, what can your response possibly be? If you leave the establishment, you’re an ineffective parent and you let your kid walk all over you. If you spank them, you’re an authoritative parent that abuses their kid. If you try to talk to them, you’re a stupid hippie. If you do nothing, you’re lazy and raising a spoiled brat, not to mention forcing everyone in the vicinity to listen and watch. There is NOT ONE SINGLE THING you can do in response to a tantrum that will please everyone in the room.
It puts so much undue pressure on us. And we feel so isolated, when we should feel like we’re a part of the large, diverse parenting community.
But, there was this one time when a mother surprised the hell out of me. We were leaving Bowie’s swim lesson, it was only the second or third time we had been there. He wasn’t quite into the routine, and he didn’t understand that he had to leave because the lesson was over. He was kicking, flailing, crying and screaming at top volume as I tried to pull both him and myself out of the swimming pool, as we made the long walk to the locker room, as I tried to get my clothes on, as I tried to get his clothes on. And, I got the usual response: nasty looks, judgmental stares, barely-audible snarky comments.
At the moment I was about to give up, when I had only managed to get socks and a Pull-Up on Bowie (and he was in the process of ripping them off, still screaming), I sat down on a bench in the locker room, just to catch my breath. And a woman came over to me and said, “I just want you to know, I have been there. You are doing a great job of staying calm. Don’t forget: it will pass. I feel for you.”
I was so stunned, that all I could muster was a “thank you.” And, I can’t, for the life of me, remember her face. I’m sure that we still see her there, week after week, in the locker room. But, I can’t remember which mom she is, so that I can say, “hey, thanks so much for that pep talk that one time. I really needed it.”
I can’t remember her, so I can’t repay the favor. But, whenever I have the opportunity, I offer my sympathies to another parent in the throes. And I urge you to do the same. Try to recall a particularly bad moment for you and your child (because there IS one there) and put yourself into their shoes instead of judging them into oblivion.