Passionate About the San Francisco-area
and the Moms Who Live Here

Taking Shameful Solace in the Tantrums of Other People’s Children

crying-613389_960_720Last week, my husband and I spent the late morning at a park near our house.  We sat at a picnic table, eating our Ike’s subs as our 21-month old nibbled on a snack and our 3-year old mixed a “stew” of tan wood chips in a paper bag.  Birds sang overhead, the breeze rustled the autumn leaves… and the piercing screams of a nearby toddler cut sharply through the air.

This kid was not messing around.  It was a full-blown tantrum, the stuff of parental nightmares. His tired-looking mom had left him unattended near the swings as she nursed her newborn not 25 feet away, and the toddler’s unsuccessful efforts to get her attention finally broke him.  By the time his mom was able to gather herself and come over to try and calm him (with her newborn cradled in one arm and still hanging off her breast, bless her heart), it was too late.  The toddler’s sweaty, red face was covered in tears and snot.  He pushed his mother away, screaming angrily in unintelligible marble-mouthed fury.  A nearby parent offered to help, but the mom declined – saying that her son was still adjusting to having a new sister, and he had to learn to be more independent.  She walked back to her curb, and continued nursing as her toddler threw himself on the grass, thrashing wildly in protest.

This went on for the better part of ten minutes.  Adults and children alike watched the scene unfold, in varying degrees of horror.  Some seemed concerned for his welfare.  Others, annoyed by the very loud and persistent wailing. But my husband and I just looked at each other over our sandwiches, and smiled knowingly.  

Thank God it’s not my kid… this time.  

Why does it always make me feel better to know that other people’s toddlers also act like maniacs?

Because let’s face it.  Anyone with a toddler knows that sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do to prevent or put a quick stop to a full-blown public tantrum.  This mother was clearly doing what she could on that day, to navigate the choppy waters of introducing a new baby into the family dynamic.  Her exhaustion and frustration were clear. Did I feel a little ashamed for chuckling internally at the situation?  Maybe.  But not for too long, because of the following:

  •   I didn’t judge the parent.  Not for one second did I think that mom was doing something “wrong.”  Nobody was in danger.  Everyone has different parenting styles, and different daily/hourly struggles.
  •   There was not much I could do to help.  It was not my place to go try and calm her child, and I had already seen the mom refuse an offer of assistance from another parent.  If it were a different situation, and I thought there were something I could do, I wouldn’t have hesitated!
  •   Next time, it could be me!  I have two toddlers, and it’s only a matter of time before one or both of them go postal in a public setting again.  I’ve definitely broken out into a flop sweat in the grocery store more than a few times, as I’ve carted around two screaming banshees amid looks of judgment and pity.
  •   I stood with her.  I gave the mom an encouraging smile, and let her know that we’ve all been there.  Sometimes, that’s all we can do for our fellow parents in their hour of need.

None of us are alone, parents!  We are all raising moody little tyrants – so let’s not be too hard on ourselves if our kids lose their cool in public.  In fact, feel good about the fact that you’re probably helping other parents feel better about their lives.  Share your stories in the comments!

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