I’ve Stopped Worrying About Perfect Strangers When My Toddler Tantrums In Public

The Terrible Twos.   The place where each kid may act a little different, but it seems that the common denominator of this phase is tantrums.  If you’re lucky enough to survive this phase with your sanity intact, then you have secrets I need to hear.   Seriously.   Tantrums are not for the faint of heart, and especially with a more challenging child, tantrums can escalate to the point where the toddler acts somewhere between the Incredible Hulk and someone who has been posessed by a demonic entity.

When my oldest child went through this phase, I was somewhere in between waddling around pregnant and nursing a newborn.   Despite the fact that I had every legitimate reason to not focus on the people around me when my daughter had her extreme tantrum moments in public, I did.   I was so worried that people would judge my parenting, instead of accepting the fact that tantrums happen to the best of us.   When kids are not yet verbal and can’t express their needs logically, any combination of overtired, hungry, or over-stimulated can set them off.   Even in the best of conditions, things that defy logic can set off a toddler – like getting a wrinkle in their sock, or not being able to wear their sneakers in the middle of a snowstorm.   Toddlers will lose their shit if a parent tells them not to lick the floor, or not to ride the dog.

I will say it again:  Tantrums.  Happen.  To.   The.  Best.  Of.  Us.

I remember being almost nine months pregnant, out on a beautiful day with my almost two-year-old daughter.   I thought I would spend some quality time with her before the baby arrived, so I took the day off work and we went to the splash pad.  As I waddled around on the hot summer day with my feet in the cool water, I could see that my daughter was having a ball.   After about an hour at the splash pad, nap time was fast approaching.   She was enjoying herself so much, yet I could already see it in her eyes:   she wasn’t going to leave the splash pad without a fight.

I carefully waddled into the middle of the splash area, and my daughter inched away from me.  She refused to make eye contact.  I could tell it was going to get ugly.  Here’s the other thing – not only did I have to get her out of the water, but I had to find a way to get her out of her swimsuit, change her diaper, and get her back to the car that was over 500 metres away.  After some gentle coaxing with no response, I figured the best way to get her out of there was to just do it.   I picked her up, and it wasn’t 0.7 of a second before there were blood-curdling screams and my very pregnant ass was forcibly wrestle-holding my toddler.

As I tried to locate an area to change her, things got worse.   I had to physically restrain her while trying to change her diaper – and I worried that any non-parents might judge me for the necessary force I was using to hold her down.   Rather than focus on the task at hand, which was just change her diaper, dress her, and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, I looked up to see people’s reactions.   I saw that half of the faces in the crowd were supportive – the “Been There Done That, You’ve Got This” look of solidarity.   Then, I looked up and saw the faces that judged me.   The “Get Your Screaming Kid The Hell Out Of Here” looks.   And guess what I focussed on – the looks of judgement, not the looks of support.   Maybe it was because I was hormonal.   Maybe it was because this was my first child and I was doubting myself.   Maybe it was because I wanted to assure these Perfect Strangers that I was a good, capable mother.  Thankfully, one supporter got me through.  I looked up at the closest dad and said “I could see this coming…” and he reassured me with:  “My kid tantrums so hard she usually vomits.  You’re doing great.   This isn’t so bad.”

Somehow, my giant, pregnant ass got my daughter into a proper diaper, and managed to wrestle-hold her all the way to the car.   By the way – she wasn’t exactly light at that age – over 40 lbs to be exact.   Yet despite the fact that my screaming toddler was foaming at the mouth and stiff as a board, I managed to stuff her into her car-seat.   It was not pretty, but I got her strapped in safely and went for a swift exit from the parking lot.   We did it.

I think back to that day at the splash pad, and although I felt utterly defeated at the time, I now know, without a doubt, that getting my daughter to leave that day was nothing short of heroic.   One tantruming toddler often outmatches two parents, nevermind one very, very pregnant parent.   I still can’t believe I cared enough about what other people thought of the situation to assess the looks on people’s faces.

I know better now.   Now I can confidently say that if my child tantrums in public, I won’t give two seconds of energy to allow another Perfect Stranger’s opinion to take space in my head.

It’s not because I’m not courteous to others.

It’s not because I don’t care about how my tantruming toddler is affecting other people.

It’s because I’m doing my damndest to get the situation under control.   I am doing everything in my power to calm my child, and if that doesn’t happen, I’m doing my absolute fucking best to facilitate a quick exit.

Just last week, my two-year-old son had such a terrible public tantrum, that it would have shattered me a couple of years ago.   His tantrums are of an entirely different breed – on top of being obnoxiously strong-willed, my son has a ridiculous amount of physical energy that never seems to have enough of an outlet.  We were at swim lessons (why do these things always seem to happen when we are at a swimming pool?) and my son decided he didn’t want to get out of the shower.   My husband was with him in the male-only change room, and after letting our son back into the shower three times, he finally had to turn the shower off, say no, and remove him.   We simply didn’t have the extra 90 minutes to let him shower for as long as he wanted to.   Our toddler didn’t get his way, and the result was an escalating tantrum that I could hear from two changerooms over.

I looked over at another mother, and said “gotta go – that’s my son,” and gave absolutely zero acknowledgement about whether her facial expression showed her opinion on the matter.   Let me reiterate why I no longer care what Perfect Strangers think of my tantruming toddler:   I left the women’s change room with my daughter, so I could go and help my husband to get our son under control.

The exit from the pool that day was not pretty.   As we moved our family of four to the family change room, our toddler was flailing about, totally naked, and mercilessly screaming so badly that there was no point in trying to calm him.   Yet, I tried.   I tried to calm him down, gently and patiently.   When that didn’t work, my husband and I battled for over ten minutes together to get some clothes on him.   We got kicked, and screamed at, and probably each lost a few decibels of hearing, but we did it.    It took five more minutes to get him in the car seat, but we did it.

And you know what we talked about during the car ride home when our son finally stopped screaming?   Not about the opinions other parents would have of us, or our family.   We simply said “Well – now I guess they’ve seen the size of our son’s tantrum scale.”    That was it.   And that was enough.

So mamas, dads – next time you’re experiencing a public tantrum, take note:  you’re probably already frazzled enough from dealing with the situation.   Your toddler is pushing your limits as it is.   You’re doing everything in your power to make it better, and you’re doing great.    Of all the places you need to put your energy when trying to calm a tantruming toddler, the last place your energy should ever go is caring about what any Perfect Stranger may think.   There will always be looks of judgement and looks of solidarity.   Just know, that from me, you will always have solidarity.

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