When friends and relatives ask me “how we’re doing” these days, they assume that our new baby has added the most hardship to our family dynamic.
But my Baby Bear is not the biggest difficulty I face. Not by a long shot.
My motherhood cross is wrapped up in the tantrums of my 23-month old, who seems to have hit the proverbial “terrible twos” a whole six weeks ahead of schedule.
I cannot tell you how much sorrow the tantrum phase brings to my heart. Luke is such a good, GOOD boy. He’s been such an angel of a child his whole life – pure and joyful and loved by everyone. There’s just something about his big eyes and chubby stature that disarms even the hardest hearts.
And now my sweet one erupts into a holy helluva terror at any given moment.
How could these angel eyes possibly throw a tantrum?!?! Sigh…
My firstborn had fits, but no where near the eruptions that now come forth from my second son. Luke is a screamer. Like seriously. He SKA-REEEMS and shrieks his curly head off at the drop of a hat – over anything and everything and nothing.
If I had not experienced pregnancy hormones and menstruation cycles I might worry my son has turned into a raging lunatic. But because I am a woman who has experienced the flood of hormones that can hit a body without warning, wreaking unimaginable havoc upon everything….I have compassion and sympathy when I behold me shrieking son.
I get it. He’s flooded with emotions and doesn’t have a clue how to handle it.
Armed with this knowledge (and trial and error and flat our failure) I’ve come to grips with the fact all the threatening, withholding, spanking, time-outing (etc etc) in the world is not going to “cure” my son. Yes, the Hubs and I continue to discipline and hold our ground, but we also know this is a phase, and our poor little buddy must walk through it like every two year old before him.
So far I’ve only found three things that will calm Luke once he’s worked himself into tantrum hysterics: (1) distraction\diversion, (2) intense prayer on his behalf (usually out loud) and (3) demonstrative love.
There have been times when it’s felt impossible to work him down from a tantrum that I’ve just picked up my screaming, writhing child and enfolded him in a tight, huge hug, whispering “I love you…Mama loves you…I love you.”
I’ve been shocked how my hugs and my words have flipped the tantrum switch off and made him quiet and still. One time he even whispered back to me, between the convulsing hiccups “I wuv you mommy.”
Other times I’ve sunk to my knees in front of him and prayed out loud for the Holy Spirit to minister to his spirit and calm him down. Again – super surprised that this has worked for my little one.
And now for my “shocking” confession: It’s not easy for my melancholic, perfectionist, introverted self to deal with a tantrum child in public.
That sentence above is the polite way of saying I HATE being in public with a screaming child, drawing the attention of every person within hearing distance. Hate hate hate hate hate haaaaate it.
This morning Luke decided to throw one of his all-time biggest fits on the way to the grocery store.
- No he didn’t want to go on a trip.
- Yes he wanted to go on a trip.
- No he didn’t want to be in his car seat.
- Yes he needed a treat – RIGHT NOW.
- No he didn’t want to pass by the fire station.
- YES he wanted to see the fire station.
- No he will not look at the fire engine.
- YES he wanted to see the fire engine.
- No he won’t ride in the shopping cart.
- YES shopping cart RIGHT NOW.
And that’s all before we walked into the store.
It was my perfect nightmare: everyone staring at the mom with her yoga pants and sweatshirt on, unwashed hair in a bun, pushing three kids in a cart and loading up groceries for which there was barely an inch of space in said cart.
Yeah, I was THAT mom.
This was not the image of family life I prefer to display when I’m out in public with my children. When we go to a store I usually dress the kids up in cute outfits. I put my makeup on. I loop them up and down the aisles happy for people to stop us and say hello to my little army of men. I feel like being out in public often with my kids is my small part in witnessing to the beauty of family life.
But it wasn’t such a pretty witness today.
As I made it out the other side of the produce section, picking up the celery stalks Luke had manged to grab and throw out of the cart at my feet, I had a realization: all the people staring at us in the grocery store weren’t sizing up Luke. They weren’t trying to see what he was made of and what he would do in the situation and how much he loved or hated the life he was stuck in.
They were all watching ME.
Yep, introverted, floor-please-open-up-and-swallow-me-RIGHT-NOW me.
They all wanted to see how I was going to react to my sobbing, shrieking, hysterical child.
In that epiphany moment, God gave me the grace to see that I could be a witness to family life even with a tantrum throwing child in tow. I prayed to the Holy Spirit for help, took a deep breath, and turned onto the dairy aisle.
I was interiorly a mess, but outwardly I kept calm. I spoke soft but firm words of correction to my son. When he asked me for a treat, I stood my ground that he didn’t deserve one, despite the fact his shrieks then hit an octave I didn’t know the human ear could detect.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched those around me seem to relax. They watched me out of curiosity and even admiration, not out of the disgust and annoyance I assumed I’d find.
Because they were queuing off MY actions, not my son’s.
When we got to the checkout, I could see that the cashier was a bit nervous to see us choose her aisle. I walked up to her, gave her my biggest smile and my bonus card for swiping, and said “Man it sure must be hard being two!”
She looked at me surprised, and then she burst out laughing. “Why yes, yes you’re right, I’m sure it is!”
And with that we both relaxed even more, chatting about how being two must be similar to being pregnant and how we both knew how hard that is to deal with.
My toddler bear didn’t stop crying until after we were home again. Yes, he received a punishment and stern talking-to for his behavior. But he also received some big hugs from his Mama, and half an hour later you’d never know this happy child has ever screamed a minute of his life.
Today’s tantrum wasn’t the last my Toddler Bear will throw (I wish!). But it was a significant one.
Because it taught me that my actions in the midst of a stressful shriek-fest are just as important or more important than my son’s.
And it reminded me that the same God who can bestow the grace of a calm, patient spirit upon his mortified Mama, can fill my emotion-rocked child with the grace to be obedient, calm, peaceful and happy.
And so this Mama will keep praying. And hugging. And praying some more.
PS. About an hour after writing the above, I read this post on the blog “Girl Talk” written by a pastor’s wife and her three grown daughters: How to Handle Public Tantrums.