“NO!” shouted the little boy. He stomped his right foot and crossed his arms firmly across his chest. Then, without warning, he let out a high-pitched screech and sprinted off towards the confectionery aisle.
He ducked his head in for a mere second before running to the next aisle, then the next, and the next, letting out deafening screams with almost every step. The whole front of the store, and entire fruit and vegetable section were privy to his spectacular display of defiance and rebellion.
I was walking towards checkout number five at the time. And that’s when I saw it. I was maneuvering my trolley around an elderly lady and looked up at her face to smile and say “Excuse me.” But she wasn’t looking in my direction. She was looking at the little boy. As I passed by, I saw her turn back around, blink, and shake her head. The smile slid off my face.
It was at that point that I realized I’d forgotten Parmesan cheese, and so I wheeled my trolley past the checkouts and towards the tantruming little boy (who’d decided to take off towards the shop exit), his brother, waiting so sweetly beside their carry basket, and the boys’ mother. As I stepped inside their cloud of chaos, I looked at the mother. She was imploring her son to come back. She was not yelling. She was calm. But I saw the lines on her face, the darkness in her eyes, the shade of red creeping into her cheeks, and I knew. I knew this wasn’t the first time she’d been in this situation – and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
I tried to smile at her, share some words of support, have a laugh, but she was avoiding eye contact with the people around her, and this made me sad. Because it was as though she wasn’t even bothering to seek understanding – she knew she wouldn’t get it.
As I loaded my car up with groceries I thought about the elderly lady shaking her head. The stares and whispers of the other shoppers. The checkout chick who rolled her eyes.
It’s utterly ridiculous that a child – a child – chucks a tanty and people immediately react like they’ve been wronged or offended. What did they expect? Peace and quiet on a Saturday afternoon in a supermarket? A kid to behave like an adult? For the mother to click her fingers and restore order?
Instead of the negativity thrown her way, his mother should have been commended for keeping her shit together when she probably really badly wanted to stab someone with a spoon.
Too often we get caught up in the things people say to mothers.
“Oh you should have sleep-trained him.” “Oh. My. God. You do know that sleep-training leads to permanent brain damage right?” “My baby is formula-fed and sleeping through the night.” “She’s crying again? What a little cranky-pants!” “Moms with one child have it easy.” “Stay-at-home-moms are lazy.” “Moms who work are totally neglecting their child.” “Oh you didn’t breastfeed? Wow, I breastfed for a year and my child has already been accepted into Harvard. Breast is best you know!”
I’ll admit – saying any of those things to another mother immediately makes you an asshole. Sometimes, though, the most damage comes from the things people don’t say. The things people don’t do.
Not offering a smile, or words of support. Glaring, head-shaking, snickering, and eye-rolling – these things do not help anyone. In any situation. Ever. They just add to the shit storm and make a mother who probably already feels like rubbish, feel even worse. I mean, when a child starts tantruming – there’s really nothing you can do most of the time. But if onlookers show compassion and kindness, rather than annoyance and anger, and understand that not much can be done other than wait it out – the situation becomes infinitely easier for the mom. And a more relaxed mom = a mom more equipped to soothe a screaming child. Basically, compassion is ALWAYS the best option.
So, what I’m trying to say is this: if you witness a mother in a situation like the one above: a mother keeping her shit together when everything around her is falling apart, a mother practicing patient parenting when she probably doesn’t have an iota of patience left, you have a few options. You either offer words of encouragement (see list below), high-five her, take her sons out for ice cream while she has a mani/pedi and deep tissue massage, or simply smile at her and do not not judge her. Anything outside of these options is not okay. Simple as that.
Here are five phrases you CAN say to a mom riding the wave of an Energizer battery-powered tantrum:
- “Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate – speaking of which – need me to grab a few veggies for you?”
- “I know how you feel – yesterday my daughter took a pass on her day nap and walked around bumping into walls and crying instead.”
- “Here’s some chocolate. Sea salt caramel Lindt chocolate.”
- “Here’s some wine. And cider.”
- “Here’s a spoon. May the force be with you.”
Marina is a sometimes scientist, sometimes jewelry maker, accidental chef, always writer, and a forever mum. She has slowly emerged from the trauma of the first four months of her baby daughter’s life to…write about the traumatic first four months of her daughter’s life and the brighter days that followed. She has previously been published on Scary Mommy, Mamamia, and The Good Mother Project. Connect with her on Instagram where flowers, cats, and food reign supreme, and check out her side passion here on Facebook.
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