I wrote in a previous post about my 14-month-old daughter’s first tantrum/meltdown, seemingly ahead of schedule. She went for a repeat performance yesterday in a much more contained environment: the car.
It’s a frequent experience among the parents of toddlers, an example of the competing needs parents have to juggle, and decisionmaking under stress.
Because it is undoubtedly stressful to hear a child in a high enough level of distress that she is wailing hysterically. I should clarify: to hear my child in that level of distress.
It’s not that I don’t care about the suffering of children in general, but we all know that it’s different when it’s our own. Then we’re responsible–if not for the actual distress, then for trying to resolve it. Our children are crying out for us to fix what’s gone wrong.
I was on my way to the airport to pick up my mother, who’d flown in from out of town. My daughter began to whine for the last ten minutes of the journey. Not wailing, just whining, so I can handle that.
But in all honesty, it does start to raise my blood pressure a little. I don’t like to hear her unhappy, and I don’t like the sense that it’s the precursor to something worse, to true misery. To the tantrums and meltdowns I now know her to be capable of.
We pull up at the Arrivals curb, and I decide that it’d be best for my mother to ride in the backseat with my daughter. They haven’t seen each other in five months, but surely, my daughter would like some company, right?
We take off, and her displeasure is palpable, but not that loud. My mother says, “She seems like she’s hot,” and I authorize the removal of my daughter’s socks. It seems like a reasonable decision.
Well, my mother follows my directive, and next thing I know, my daughter is in a full-blown meltdown. She’s crying inconsolably, at top volume. My poor mother is lamenting what will soon be known as Sockgate. My daughter will not even accept food–and when she’s turning down food in favor of crying, that’s when you know it’s bad.
I make an executive decision: I get off at the next freeway exit, pull into a gas station, and get into the back seat with my daughter. My mother gets in front. After a few minutes, I’m able to settle my daughter down enough that she’ll accept food, and then we’re back on the highway, and within minutes, she’s making happy noises.
It turned out fine. Deep down, I know it always does, and it always will. Crying eventually ceases. But I realize that I’m still adjusting to the stress of my daughter’s newly ferocious outbursts.
I felt on the spot to demonstrate for my own mother that I am, in fact, a competent mom. That I can make good split-second decisions. That I can soothe my child effectively. Because if I can’t, then what good am I?
I didn’t think any of this consciously; I only realized it in retrospect. When our children are in distress, we feel like there’s a spotlight on us as parents; we can be demonstrably inadequate.
The truth is, in this situation (much like in the grocery store), there is more sympathy than judgment. People understand; they’ve been there. Obviously, my mother weathered my own meltdowns once upon a time.
Next time, I’ll remember that.
Or maybe I’ll be the luckiest mom in history, and there won’t be a next time.
Sad baby photo available from Shutterstock