There are many things I tell my son not to do that he does anyway, like licking this telephone pole. Some of these instances result in tantrums and those occur multiple times a day and typically in public. I’ve written before about how Whole Foods sabotaged my attempts to ignore a tantrum in the check-out line and there have been many times I’ve sabotaged myself out of embarrassment and a desire to move on with our day. There have been other times though that I’ve been more successful. I continue to be surprised by how many strangers will comment on how I should handle these situations.
A recent example arose while we were sitting at a sidewalk café with friends. Watching a city bus go by, N said, “I drive.” I obviously explained to him that he can’t drive the SEPTA bus and this restriction set off a screaming fit, during which he attempt to run into the street. After I stopped him from charging into oncoming traffic, he threw himself down on the sidewalk and thrashed around at my feet. The waitress came upon us and instructed me that I should just “walk away” and nodded at me with an “I know what I’m talking about” authority. “I’m trying to keep him from running into the street,” I defended myself, confused about why I had to do so.
Another example comes from a street fair. N had been spoiled with a banana and Nutella empanada dinner and a Rita’s Ice dessert, making us feel like cool parents but also setting ourselves up for the inevitable sugar rush and crash. After accepting a few spoonfuls of the Rita’s Ice from me, he then demanded that he hold the spoon himself. Offering him this autonomy, he proceeded to spill ice all over his dad and when I took the spoon back so that we could clean up, he ran off screaming. Dodging oncoming pedestrians, he flung himself to the sidewalk about ten feet from us. A couple passing by looked at him with an expression of horror and then said, “Who does he belong to? Where are his parents?” Others glared in my direction as well. “He’s mine. He’s fine.” I said, taking a few reluctant steps closer to make sure that no one trampled him. I wanted to let him recover from this fit on his own though and realize that not holding the spoon was not a catastrophe. I continued to get stares until he stopped crying and we removed him from the sidewalk. Peace was then restored to the passerby’s evening.
It seems that whether I gave in to the tantrum and picked him up or left him to cry it out, I couldn’t win with strangers on the street. I don’t know if these people have raised ten children of their own or work as child therapists or just think they know what’s best after watching Supernanny on TV, but I wish they would leave the tantrum management up to me. As a pediatrician, I know the textbook response for how to handle these and I’ve tried that. As a mother, I know that there are also practical and circumstantial reasons to deviate from the gold standard, and I’ve done that too. I may be doing this all wrong, but if you see me on the street with a screaming toddler, please do not tell me your opinion on the situation unless you are Dr. Harvey Karp or Jo Frost, and even then I can’t promise I will listen. Sometimes a mom just has to do what she feels is best and like most moms, I’m giving it my best shot.