To The Mom Rolling Her Eyes At My Kid’s Public Meltdown, You Have A Short Memory
The image was almost pastoral. A brand new dad, cradling his days old baby in his arms. Lovingly, protectively, ever so gently. He was tentative, so afraid the slightest wrong move would damage this perfect little being. I took in the delicate picture of innocence and quiet grace in the supermarket as I walked by, carrying my thrashing, protesting toddler under my arm like a football.
Tantrums in public are inevitable, and anyone who says otherwise is either childless, remembering their now-grown offspring’s childhood through a rosy filter, or a big, old lying liar. We have all been there. “When I have children, they will always be well-behaved in public because I will have raised them right. If they can’t behave in public, they won’t be allowed out.” Sound familiar to anyone? I sheepishly raise my hand too. The most perfect parents are the ones without children.
The second most perfect parents are parents of grown children. The comments section of parenting pages are filled with moms and dads whose children were always perfectly behaved, and if they weren’t, they never lost their cool and always handled it perfectly. There is a tendency to remember the good when we think of the past. Like wine and cheese, our parenting history becomes better with age. Also like wine and cheese, we prefer to forget that our early parenting included a lot of rotting grapes and curdled milk.
Of course, not all older parents are afflicted with this type of amnesia. My own have no problem letting me know how much of a jerk I could be as a child. The most well-circulated story in our house is that of my father carrying my sister by the back of her overalls like a suitcase the entire length of the mall, while she screamed, “I don’t want to go with you, I want my mommy!”
My children did not get the memo that they will always be well-behaved in public. Or, more likely, they got it, crumpled it up, and tossed it into the cart of an unsuspecting stranger.
The first time I decided to bring my then two-year-old to church, he tried to blow out prayer candles, cried for communion wine, yelled, “No like it, church!”, and threw a Bible at the elderly man in the pew in front of us. Forget nasty stares, I braced for lightning bolts!
Know what, though? That little gargoyle now gets stopped in public by strangers and complimented on his manners. He sat through the opening night presentation of a military exhibition, meeting some of the highest ranking members of the Canadian armed forces. He knows how to behave in public, even when expectations are (perhaps, unrealistically) high.
Why does he have fantastic manners and public etiquette now? Because I didn’t follow through with my vow to keep a child home until they knew how to behave in public. I’m not sure why I ever thought that was a good idea to begin with. That’s like saying I will keep my kids out of the water until they learn to swim. How did I expect them to learn to behave in public without being in public?
Clint Edwards gets it. The dad blogger's Facebook post about his daughter's public meltdown (and subsequent removal) at a restaurant with family went viral last week. "It's going to take years to teach her how to act appropriately in public, and the only way I am ever going to teach that is to take her out and show her what's right and wrong," he wrote.
Once my imaginary perfect children became real, imperfect children, I began to use public outbursts as teachable moments. Meltdowns in a restaurant meant we left the restaurant, which stank for us, but we only had to do it a few times before that sank in. Tantrums in the grocery store were talked through immediately. Sometimes it was my fault. Never take a tired, hungry toddler grocery shopping. Sometimes it was theirs. Either way, we have spent many a moment having stern talks in the cereal aisle. Begging for treats results in no treats 100% of the time. Politely asking or saying nothing at all results in the occasional treat. My kids learned that equation quickly. And of course, every now and then, they have to test to make sure the rules are still in place.
To every parent out there whose kid is losing their shit in public, ignore the judgemental stares. Look for the parents of young children, see the sympathy in their eyes. We've all been there, we know that as you try to reason with this tiny tyrant, you are trying your best to raise a decent human being. You are learning, your child is learning. You are dealing with this now so that your screaming 3-year-old becomes a well-mannered 30-year-old.
None of the people silently judging you were born perfect. At one point, they were all being carried like a football through the grocery store, with the invisible audience vowing their children will never act that way.