A couple of weeks ago we (me, my husband and toddler) joined some friends for Sunday breakfast. This is a couple with three boys aged six, four and three. The eatery had a play area where the four boys had a merry time before food was served. After breakfast, however, when the boys had some egg and French toast in their system, a spat broke between the elder two siblings. Hot words led to a fist fight and it ended as such squabbles always do- tears.
The mother, let’s call her S, a very cultured, genteel woman used to be an Investment Banker in Toronto before she tied the knot and settled in Karachi. Till she had the second boy she taught Accounting at a local college. After the third, she settled for the domestic life. After mediating the said fight and enabling a quick, half-hearted patch up between her boys she suddenly flushed red and muttered to me, ‘I’m so sorry, this is so embarrassing, this is why I don’t take them anywhere’.
Hold that thought. I have another similar story:
Two days ago, another friend of mine, lets called her A, went grocery shopping with her husband and toddler (22-month old), where the latter had a whale of a time, eating biscuits off the shelf, in a bowl he asked to be pulled off a shelf, all while insisting on pushing the shopping cart at least twice his height and twenty times his weight. Yes, he managed! My friend trailed behind him collecting biscuit wrapper, blushing as other shoppers gave indulgent smiles and a few tsk-tsked. When stepping out of the supermarket, he had a meltdown. Arched back, lets-see-how-you-put-me-in-the-car-seat aggression. This couple, also very civilized people, was embarrassed to no end. Before this baby (their only child this far) came along, their collective tone of voice was barely above a whisper. I had to strain to hear them. My friend, A, was also very career-driven but quit her job to raise her son as he was colic for the first ten months. Yes, you read that right: ten months. Yes, she still has a generous head of hair. Back to the story. So, after a herculean effort on the part of both husband and wife, they managed to get their frowning little monkey into the car. Her husband sighed and lamented, ‘will we always be judged? All our lives?’
Take this thought and the previous one. Fuse them together.
Is it fair that these parents are blaming themselves for what is so very natural in toddlers and young children? They are creatures of emotion, just as we are. They are exploring the world. Their personalities are forming. Their characters are building. They are also exploring their vocal chords. They are innocent little people who don’t know that their parents are feeling embarrassment.
Parents, it is NOT your fault your child is displaying a certain kind of behavior in public. Your child will yell and scream, because he or she wants things a particular way. That they are willful and aggressive will someday make you damn proud. These voices that rise today, will tomorrow rise too, chanting slogans against oppression at protests and rallies. This very willfulness will, in future, make them assert their own rights. That will be your moment of glory, that will make you proud. They need to find their pace, their place, their style. Just as the river will find its course. Don’t be upset, you are cramping their swag. Don’t avoid taking them places, they’ll feel stifled. They need this exposure (try and avoid overstimulation of course). Please, above all don’t feel judged. Please. These people who stare and make you feel like ‘bad’ parents, they will have karma come and bite them in the tush, real hard. I know many people who have glared at parents with screaming infants on an airplane, and come to face a very similar, tough time themselves. Humble pie shalt be eaten my friends. All in good time.
It seems tough right now, but it will get better. Be patient. Tantrums take a lot from you anyway. Its physical labor to haul a screaming infant and toddler, try not adding emotional tension to the mix. And if you continue feeling judged and embarrassed, eventually your kids will too. They will become timid, meek, unsure, and wary of every move. Be grateful for that tantrum – it shows substance, and courage. They will do you proud. The tide has an ebb and flow. Just wait and watch.
Disclaimer: I also have a toddler (doesn’t toddle yet though), and he has also thrown a wailing fit a couple of times. Once, in a very tiny restaurant, where his screams reverberated from the bare walls. We had paid for our meal and were very hungry. Wolfed it down in five seconds, burning my tongue. We have been there. So this rant is coming from a place of empathy, not from a pulpit where I stand to lecture.