Earlier this week I was picking up Big Brother from preschool when Mr. Terrible Twos decided as we walked back to the street with my arms full of schoolwork and assorted classroom items that it would be fun exercise to make me chase after him in circles around the car. Every time I popped around one way he ran the other. His eyes were lit with mischief and he had a huge ear to ear grin covering his face. As I’m trying to watch the street to make sure that no cars are coming and also trying to figure out the best way to get this cat and mouse game over with as quickly as possible it was clear to me.
I don’t have control of my kids.
Yep. It’s true. If anything in so many ways they control me. I plan around them, I try to anticipate their needs and their moods. I live my life accepting that this phase of parenthood is similar to one of those “choose your own adventure” books where making one little seemingly inconsequential decision could lead you to salvation and one can lead you to utter doom. That’s not to say that I don’t try my best to teach them to be kind and respectful. I can say with certainty that I do. When we were at the playground recently and Big Brother accidentally kicked a kid while playing I was right there to tell him he needed to apologize and check on the other child. When Mr. Terrible had a massive tantrum this summer while we were having lunch at Red Robin I took him outside to let him calm down and wouldn’t let him reenter until he had regained composure. These are only a couple examples but I believe that no one that knows me would say that I am not aware of my role as a guide and teacher to my children. But at the end of the day nothing I do will change the fact that they are THEIR OWN PEOPLE. What’s the ol’ adage? You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink? So yeah, let me translate that. I can lead a toddler to Target but I can’t make him sit in the cart. I can lead a toddler to a cue but I can’t make him stand still. I can lead a toddler to Red Robin but I can’t make him use an inside voice.
A few months back I was checking out after a trip to Target. Mr. Terrible was doing what he does on these types of shopping trips – standing up in the cart, leaning over, grabbing random objects to “help” me unload the cart while in reality giving heart attacks to everyone observing his gymnastic antics. Every time I tried to direct him to sit down his voice raised and I could tell that we were on the brink of an outburst so I abandoned that rationale and switched my energy to unloading my items as quickly as possible. After watching me the woman behind me ahems and comments about my son’s behavior. She goes on to tell me that when SHE had small children (which based only on my observations I’d guesstimate was 30-40 years ago) she would tell her children if they didn’t sit in the seat properly on shopping trips and stay quiet that they would be leaving the store and going home. I may or may not have audibly snorted (Spoiler alert: the correct answer is I most definitely snorted”). I jokingly asked her when she managed to do her shopping then and was assured that all her children needed was a firm reminder that they would be leaving if their behavior didn’t improve. Y’all – I have to do it. Here comes my potty mouth again. I call bullshit. My actual reply was something along the lines of, “well your children must have been MUCH better behaved than mine” and a big “you have got to be kidding me” smile. But let’s be real here – If you have or had a child that listens to logic and reasoning at the age of two count your blessings and accept that your parenting has nothing at all to do with it. My two year old doesn’t care one iota if I have to leave the store without finishing my transaction. Those kind of threats don’t do anything to promote good behavior nor do they get the toilet paper and laundry detergent from the store to my house where they are needed.
I see a lot of critics on social media say that if the child isn’t behaving in public that you should leave whatever errand, chore, meal, event and deal with your child – full stop. The line of thinking here is that people shouldn’t have to be witness to other people’s children’s unruly behavior. Good parenting is equated to good childhood behavior or at the very least moving the bad behavior away from the public view. When we are out as a family, two parents and two kids, it’s much easier to try to tackle those moments of parental
joy panic when shit hits the fan but in my experience level 10 tantrums are reserved almost always for the times when it’s just me and my kids. No back up. No one to finish the transaction while the other handles the child. And the idea that good parenting somehow dictates that I must hide my toddler from public eye every time he tantrums has me trying to imagine a life where every time I make it to the end of my errand I must immediately stop drop and run as my kid loses their shit. Really? Really? I mean, if people think that toddler parents love being in public when their child decides to channel Regan MacNeil from the Exorcist I want to correct that misgiving. No one – I mean NO ONE hates a public toddler tantrum more than the parent that has to go home with that toddler.
Right before Christmas I was with my toddler at the post office. Thinking ahead and trying my best to avoid any long lines I had planned it so I would arrive to the post office a few minutes before they opened to try to alleviate some of the wait time. There were still about half a dozen people in front of me when the doors opened but we made it all the way to the front of the line with Mr. Terrible being his generally charming self before all hell broke loose. As the post office worker called me to the next open window Mr. Terrible suddenly decided that he did not want to abandoned the greeting card rack that he’d been entertaining himself with. Cue the toddler version of Godzilla v New York. My sweet child who minutes before had been blabbering away to the women behind us and sneaking dimpled smiles at a few other ladies who kept waving at him turned into a monster before everyone’s eyes and in a single blink of mine. As I danced back and forth between trying to “control” him and trying to pay for the shipping on the package I was mailing he slipped from my hand, ran to a gift card display and, for lack of a better visual, made it rain Visa and Olive Garden gift cards from the air onto the line of people waiting behind me.
I have found that a solid sense of humor is the only saving grace while parenting toddlers and so as this moment was happening I was balanced evenly between equal parts embarrassment and amusement. Maybe it was more like 60-40. Either way I made some comment about it not being the holidays at the post office without a tantrum and promised to clean up his mess before we left. This time though the woman behind me was sporting a little more compassion and realism. I’m guessing her memories of parenting small children came back a littler clearer than Ms. Target Shopper and she very kindly offered to pick the gift cards up for me so I could take my screaming child out of the equation. She also came over to me in the parking lot a few minutes later as I was trying to get him to submit to being put in his car seat to check on us without an ounce of judgement or annoyance that we had invaded her errands with an unwanted tantrum. That tantrum over nothing more than a few puppy ladened greeting cards lasted for the entire drive home and another 15 minutes in our house. I tried to cuddle him. Screams. I tried to send him to his room. Screams. I tried to reason with him. Screams. When he finally collapsed into my arms after exhausting all of his energy I asked him, “are you done being a brat now?” (Yes – I called my child a brat. But I said it sweetly so…..) He looked up at me, smiled innocently and replied, “yes, I’m done.”
Yes, there have been a few times where I have actually felt that my best choice was to leave a store or establishment because my child is inhibiting my ability to get shit done but sometimes I don’t have that choice. Sometimes I need the diapers in my cart NOW. Sometimes I have no choice but to stay in the long line at the pharmacy for that antibiotic. Sometimes I am just a human trying to get things done under circumstances that are not ideal for anyone, including me. And sometimes I like to think I know my child better than a stranger does and if I am going to take the 5 minutes to try to determine if this a tantrum I can talk them down from or one where I really do need to pull them aside then I as the parent have the right to pull that card.
When you see one of these toddler melt downs in public or a small child being chased by a mom through a store (or into the street) it’s easy to look at that one single moment and make assumptions based on your own experiences (or lack there of in some cases). Unfortunately, your kid isn’t my kid. And hell – my kid isn’t always my kid either. Sometimes these meltdowns and moments of pure toddler chaos surprise me and make me wonder who this little wildebeest freaking out in front of me is and I LIVE with these little humans. I’m generally attentive, I’m involved, we have rules and we have consequences but little kids don’t always react rationally and tantrums and antics are part of the experience. Over time as they get older and reasoning can come in to play sure, good parenting can help to alleviate many of the outbursts and heart dropping moments that happen but the one thing that the “control” your child movement seems to disregard is that these children are people. They are individuals. I cannot control them any more than I can control the next person. My kid might cry. He might make a mess. He might occasionally lose his shit. But his tantrum is because he’s a child still learning to vocalize and process emotions. When adults around me have tantrums because of my kid’s tantrums I can only assume by following the “control your child” logic that they also need to be controlled by someone older and more rational and I should ask for their mother’s phone number.
One thing I have learned from parenting two children who are as different from each other as north and south is that parents are learning who their children are at the same time as the child is discovering who they are. Even if you have already had one kid, get ready to start all over with the next one because there is a solid chance that almost nothing that worked for your first child will work with the next. After seeing comment after comment on social media about parents should be better at controlling small children and the “when I was a kid I knew better” or “when I had small kids they behaved better” mentality it struck me. That line of thinking is egocentric. Yes. I said it. And I admit that at a time in my life (pre toddler parenthood) I used to believe that same way. But the more I mused on it the more I realized how self centered it is to assume that every child behaves and reacts in the same way as you or would behave well and react well to a parent like you. It is a non scientific, unrealistic and completely illogical way of grading parents and ignores that one little fact that seems to be glossed over – the fact that kids are people, people are all individuals and no two individuals are alike. Not to mention the little side concept that any one person has more right to be in public than another just because the other happens to be in an earlier developmental period and therefore less controlled than the other. I mean…that’s not slightly self centered and a wee bit draconian or anything, right? It’s not like we were all toddlers once or anything…oh wait.
I’m acutely aware that my view on this topic likely won’t change any minds. I imagine that the only people who will read to this point are people who agree with my general point of view and anyone else who stumbled upon my writing is currently writing me off as some new age ignoramus. But if nothing else and if no minds are changed by sharing my experiences at the least I hope that someone who is reading this feels compelled to yell out “Preach!” (or at least think it and raise their hand in agreement emoticon style) and that there is a record someone on the internet of a dissenting view of the idea that toddlers are controllable creatures.
Hi, my name is Erin. I am the mother of two beautiful boys who are generally well behaved and pleasant but whom have both shown the world that inside each sweet child face is a demon baby waiting to embarrass their mother at Target. I love my children dearly. I try my very best to guide them and direct them. I have a mean mom squint and a loose “go to timeout” finger. I hope that I can form them but under no circumstances will I ever think I can control them.