Toddler tantrums and my un-peaceful parenting
The screaming was so loud I didn’t even wait to put her in the pushchair before leaving the cafe. I’d taken it because I was fed up and feeling run down. As it turned out, my eighteen-month-old didn’t think much of this plan and went completely rigid, flat refusing to get into the pushchair. She screamed so hard she began retching and almost threw herself out of my arms and on to the pavement.
Thankfully, I’d taken my woven wrap along as a blanket. So I picked it up, figuring I’d just put her down and get my jacket off so I could tie it properly. She wasn’t having it, making it clear that she’d be lying on the pavement if I put her down.
So, with the help of a friend, I awkwardly wrapped over my jacket the fastest front wrap cross carry I have ever done, toddler now screaming because she didn’t want to be wrapped, she wanted to be held in arms, naughty mummy. I’ve never been so aware of strangers’ eyes on us. I mean it.
As we walked home, toddler strapped to chest and buggy carrying our bags, she settled down and even nestled forgivingly into me. But I felt tight inside. I wasn’t angry with her so much as stressed out with the situation and wondering yet again: “What the hell am I doing? Am I ruining a human being?”
I’m not worried about spoiling her, let’s be clear. I absolutely think that you can’t hold and reassure a child too much if that’s what they’re asking for. It’s more the fact that I don’t always keep my cool. I am boiling inside when she throws a tantrum for the third time that morning.
I am feeling at a loss as to what to do. I have had to lie her on the floor and walk away to collect myself. I have told her to “Shut up!” when she was on my back screaming into my ear about God knows what. I have not been slow to anger. And I have felt utterly shitty about it. I don’t often swear but in this case, I feel it’s appropriate.
Empathy. I know that this is where it always starts. I try to work out what she must be experiencing and I know in my gut that this tantrum in many ways is not something she is throwing but something that is happening to her. She doesn’t understand it. She can’t control it. She is a little frightened by it.
I try to talk it through. “You feel angry because you weren’t ready to leave playgroup. It’s hard when we have to go but you want to stay. You can cry on mummy as we walk out. We all get angry sometimes.”
I find that last hour before bedtime the most challenging. We’re both tired. My nerves are raw. I feel like I can’t possible listen to another cry let alone scream. I distract her and sneak away to stuff chocolate in my mouth before she sees. I can see it putting weight on me but don’t care. It’s better than crying myself.
I think a few things are going on here. One is that she’s hit a period of communication frustration. She’s obviously finding it difficult because though she has loads of signs I still don’t always understand what she’s asking for or telling me.
She’s also cutting four incisors. I can see them coming through the gums all angry. Her cheeks and her chin are red and hot with it.
She’s developing her independence at a rate (not those shoes, these boots!). It frightens her, realising that she is she and I am me. So she clings and pushes, clings and pushes.
We have also only just begun to be with each other full-time again. We are re-learning how to do that.
In myself I detect fear, anger, sadness and guilt. I put her to bed and pause for a moment to realise that overwhelmingly and ashamedly, what I feel most of all is self-pity.
It’s pathetic. It is not something I want in my life. It turns me into a selfish person and I know from past experience that it unhinges my mental health if I let it. And if a couple of weeks of tantrums does this to me I dread to think what adolescence holds.
I am the parent here, the guide, the provider of security.
But I look within myself for resources and find little but dread. The first three years lay the foundations for all other relationships a person makes. I hear that statement in the darkness as I watch Talitha sleep. I repeat it to Laurence over dinner.
He reminds me that we are laying the most important foundation. We love her. We love her unconditionally. We will always love her. We will always pray for her. Everything else is a matter of working out details.
In that word “pray” I feel my heart stretching out its arms to be picked up by God the Father, God the mother hen who draws her chicks to her chest, God who gives the patience, the perseverance, the strength I am running low on.
So, having prayed, I will continue to. I’ve been trying to go it too much alone and it’s not working for me.
I’ve now begun to devise a plan. I will try tightening our routine so she has less opportunity to get hungry or tired. I will do some more baby-proofing so I have less occasion to say, “No.”
I will take her out more often and instigate more structured play because I suspect she is getting bored. She free-plays a lot but I think the odd bit of cookie cutting play-dough and running around the local museum might do her some good. I really lack confidence in this area so it’s something I will have to work on.
I will read parenting books and blogs that resonate with my instincts and avoid those that grate against me. Ditto with other people’s advice.
Above all, however out of control she gets, I must stay calm. I am the parent.
Ah, for the days when a friendly boob was all it took.
Tell me we’ll survive?
PS: This post was inspired in part by Ella from Purple Mum who alluded to a suspicion that I had my act somewhat together, which I certainly don’t!