If you’re a parent and you’ve ever taken your toddler in public, you’ve probably been there.
There I was — in the middle of the aisle with a meltdown on my hands.
My youngest child is extremely strong-willed, which I love. He doesn’t always choose well in what direction to go with that will, which I don’t love.
I’m not exactly sure what went wrong between him and his older brothers, but I definitely witnessed the aftermath. My youngest was screaming, kicking and crying. He resisted any sort of instruction, and my attempt to sort out the situation only escalated it.
Meanwhile, I said a quick hello to a few families I knew who happened to walk by.
Isn’t that how it usually goes?
One thing I’ve tried to teach my boys is the power in making choices that align with their values, regardless of what it looks like to others.
To a 4-year-old, in short, it means me saying, “It doesn’t really matter what other people think.”
Will they think you’re weird for your interests?
Will they think you’re soft for your emotions?
Will they think you’re arrogant for sometimes saying no?
I hope to teach my kids to love others more than they care what others think. And to faithfully act according to who they know themselves to be.
I had an unwelcome but golden opportunity to live that out right there in the middle of a store. Instead, I was angrier than normal because of my child’s public hysterics.
My actions taught my boys the opposite of what I’ve told them with my words.
At that moment, I cared very much about what other people thought.
In the middle of the store, my boys saw a mom who was angry with embarrassment more than anything else. More than my son’s behavior made me upset, I was upset at how poorly I knew it looked to those around us.
I didn’t have to say it for my kids to know it.
They knew I wouldn’t have been so desperate, so stern, so urgent to fix it had it happened at home. I would’ve dealt with the situation with an entirely different focus — teaching, explaining, guiding and disciplining — if nobody had been around to see it. Instead, I was trying to quiet and quell while covering my anger and embarrassment.
Parenting is teaching me a lot about my own lack of control. I wish I could say that was my biggest takeaway from the situation above.
What I learned about most was my own inconsistency between what I say I value and what I show I value.
Truth be told, I still don’t know exactly how to handle a massive meltdown in the middle of a store. I couldn’t tell you the three proven steps to resolution or the very best way to deal with an inconsolable child.
But I do know this: Next time it happens (because there will be a next time), I will care more about the boys I’m looking at than whoever might be looking at us.
Next time they lose control of their actions, I hope mine preach this to them loud and clear:
It matters more that I parent you out of my values than what this looks like to those around us.
If I want my children to make value-based decisions, then I better take a second look at the way I’m living out mine.
Theresa Meacham’s column appears Wednesdays. She
can be reached at theresam