It’s a common theme on blogs, in parenting magazines, in commercials: Mommy versus baby, parents vs. kids, surviving motherhood, etc., etc. It can often be comedic, and I know all parents feel like sometimes their kids are out to get them, but I think that mentality, even if it’s mostly meant as a joke, can sometimes get in the way of resolving issues between children and their parents.
My son has started throwing some tantrums. He’s 15 months old, and while he’s always been a kid who knows what he wants, he’s started getting very, ahem, peeved when he doesn’t get his way. It’s been new territory for me, because before this, if I had to take something away from him or pull him away from doing something he wanted, he was easily distracted and got over it quickly. But about a month ago, he started screaming when he got angry, and it was usually in a public place. It’s only happened a few times, but they have been events to remember. Here was the worst one:
We were in Target. It was toward the end of the day and we were actually there against my better judgment. William had had a long day and I thought he might be cranky, but it went way worse than I expected. We went and grabbed what we needed and William started fussing to get out of the cart and walk. In order to keep him happy, I allowed him to get out and toddle next to me, holding my hand. Then he discovered that he could grab on and “push” the cart himself. Which was cute. Until we got to the cash register and had to stop. I picked him up and he immediately started screaming in protest. He wiggled around in my arms and I kind of froze. I was already in line so I didn’t feel like I could leave. I really thought for awhile he would calm down, but he didn’t. He screamed and screamed. The lady behind me, God bless her, loaded my stuff onto the conveyer belt for me, and the cashier rang me up as fast as possible, while everyone around me pretended not to look at us. Eventually I got him outside and into the car, and he promptly quit crying and smiled at me adorably. But I couldn’t smile back. I silently buckled him into his car seat and drove us home. I knew it was irrational, but I was angry. I was angry that he had pitched a fit over something stupid, that he had humiliated me in public. The rational part of me knew that he’s just a baby, and these things happen, but I was pretty upset with him for the rest of the day. I was very deliberate about not taking it out on him, but I was pretty emotionally exhausted.
He threw a few smaller-but-still-stressful fits in the days following, but I started to get better at handling them, and none were as traumatizing as the one at Target. I started doing some research about temper tantrums in young children, and most of the resources said the same thing: he can’t communicate what’s wrong, he’s frustrated, and he’s just expressing that. Yes, it’s stressful, but it’s not your baby “being bad”. He’s just trying to communicate. I don’t always just take everything I read as gospel, but this really helped me come to terms with what was going on with William. I realized that I was thinking of him sort of as the “enemy”: he was out to ruin my day, ruin my shopping trip, and he was going to pitch a fit until he got what he wanted. But that’s not the case.
My baby is a person, just like me, who has emotions and feelings and fears and frustrations, but he can’t communicate them through words. He’s not perfect, but neither am I. He’s not the enemy. He’s my baby and I’m here to help him through what he’s struggling with – not give him whatever he wants, but to calm him down and try to ease his frustration. It’s not him versus me; we’re working through things together. Thinking this way has, in turn, eased my frustration as well.
In another store a few days later (even though I swore after the Target incident that I would never take him out in public again), he wanted to push the cart again and was getting upset. Oh, Lord, I thought, here we go again. But instead of letting him do what he wanted (which would inevitably frustrate him anyway) or ignoring him, I lifted him from the cart, walked a few feet away from it, and started singing to him. I sang him the ABC’s and bounced him around a bit, and his frustration passed. Crisis averted.
I’m sure my child will throw many more tantrums, but I hope I get better and better at handling them. In the meantime, you other mamas who have dealt with this, please know that you are not in it alone. After a difficult day, pour yourself a glass of wine, put your feet up, and know you’re doing the best you can. For better or worse, I know that I am.