We’d only been at the mall a good 5 minutes when my daughter saw a popular store that sells cute little girl gadgets, jewelry, and hair baubles. Of course she wanted to veer in and take a look at all the shinies. I didn’t mind, besides I’d promised her a couple of weeks prior that I’d buy a little purse she liked. I was quite proud of her, she remembered where it was and led me to it. On our way to the counter she saw a couple of additional trinkets that weren't in our budget to buy. Although it would have been easy to buy the trinket, I felt it was necessary for her to understand that we are intentional when we go shopping, we don’t buy everything we see, and if mommy says “No” to a request to buy something, mommy means no. When she asked me to buy, the trinkets, I refused her request.
I mustered up every bit of loving Mommy superwoman and I held the limit that I wasn't going to buy that overpriced thing-a-majig. Once that first tear broke free, the others came rushing down and bless her heart, she was overcome with the heartbreak of being refused. Almost immediately afterwards she suddenly fell to the floor and started flailing her arms and legs, writhing,wiggling and throwing herself around right there in the store. Still, I maintained the limit I’d set. Then lovingly helped her not help hurt herself or me by getting on my knees close to her and stabilizing her. While alternating between her legs and arms, I explained that I was going to help us both stay safe by holding them.
Once she’d settled down from kicking and flailing, I pulled her closer and held her with all the loving caring mommy within me. I simply did what I would want someone to do for me in my worst emotional moment: I held her close and listened. I listened as she she released gut-wrenching sobs and tried to catch her breath. While stroking her back, arms and face, I totally connected to her. Giving my full attention, I held her close and listened to her cry. People walked by but there were no strange looks, instead they continued their shopping as if weren’t there. Honestly, I wouldn’t have cared if they’d responded any differently. In that moment, I knew my daughter needed me.
That tantrum was important for me in several different ways. In that instance I felt rather satisfied with the way I handled it and was truly grateful for the opportunity to reassure my daughter of my unconditional love in the midst of all the huge, scary uncontrollable emotions she was experiencing. As I held her, I reflected on how my parenting had radically shifted to a new understanding from 20 years ago with my first first child. The way I handled that tantrum was proof that I’d grown and I needed that boost in confidence. I needed to know that I could do it differently no matter who was watching. Years ago, I would have been embarrassed and felt ashamed to have my child behave like that in public. I would have rushed her away with hopes of no one seeing her, or I would have taken her to a dressing room to have the tantrum by herself. I wouldn’t have dared hold her close and stroke her face for fear that I would send the message that she could manipulate and control me. Now I know different. I now know that tantrums aren’t acts of indignation, or spiteful demanding behavior. Research reveals that tantrums are actually a recovery process that occurs when children feel safe to expel extreme frustration. During a tantrum, there is no reasoning with a child or convincing them to do otherwise because the portion of the brain responsible for reasoning doesn’t work at that time, in fact it shuts down. The only way to reach a child at that time is by making an appeal to the brain’s limbic system through connection. To connect we move close to the child rather than banish them away or ignore them.
When we checked out at the counter, I have to be honest, my supermommy alter ego left for a moment. I became a little vulnerable too, I guess, because I wasn’t in the zone anymore. I thought surely the cashier would give me an awkward stare. Instead she said to me, “I have never seen anyone do that before. You’re a good mom.” Gratuitously, I smiled. Silently I celebrated myself for being willing to invest time and energy in learning new ways to parent. I am not perfect, but I have a desire to parent the best I can as consistently as I can. With each day, I learn something new and I try to elevate beyond the parenting modeled for me by my parents. Even though they did the best they could, my mom and dad were the second generation out of slavery. Informing myself and updating my parenting practices is a gift to not only my children, but it is also a way of paying homage to my ancestors who couldn’t do it differently due to the circumstances they were in and lack of information.
Once we paid for the items, my daughter held my hand and walked happily down the mall as if nothing had happened. She returned to her normal giddy and cooperative self. Even the next morning's routine went flawlessly smooth. There were no protests or stalling. That's the kind of connection that I don't want to let go of. Just the thought of knowing I could allow my child to release her feelings was a monumentally powerful step I feel has the potential to elevate my lineage and leave a new legacy of mothering for generations to come.