You could have argued that none of this would have happened if she’d just paid a bit more attention to what was going on.
But who among us hasn’t taken a mental time out from our kids now and then – getting lost in our own thoughts, or, as in this case, getting absorbed in a conversation with a friend?
And it’s not like anything awful really happened. Her 4-year-old grabbed a sucker from the counter display and chomped down on it before the clerk or Mom could intercede.
Actually, this momentary lapse of parental focus allowed the rest of us in the cafe to observe a rather remarkable example of self-control.
We could all certainly read in Mom’s eyes her initial response to her son’s transgression. And if you missed her eyes, the look on her face or the tone of her voice certainly gave it away. If I was her 4-year-old, I would have made for the nearest exit, or at least found something to cover my behind.
Obviously struggling for self-control, this perturbed parent grabbed her son’s arm, removed the candy from his hand, and then – took a deep breath, clenched her jaw, shut her eyes, and just stood there.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, she relaxed her jaw, opened her eyes, knelt down, looked her child directly in the eyes, and said in an incredibly calm (and a bit scary) voice: “I told you yesterday not to take things off the counter. I told you that you’d get a time out if you did again. We’re going to the car right now.”
Now, junior let out a cry like he’d been consigned to 30 days in solitary confinement. But true to her word, Mom walked (not dragged, mind you) him to the car, buckled him into his car seat, and sat down in the front for at least five minutes, stoically enduring what looked like a protracted high-decibel crying jag.
Eventually mother and son returned to the cafe. And though I’d like to report a happy ending to this vignette, the fact is, he continued to misbehave; to the point that Mom packed up her belongings and left (yes, she did take him with her).
I’ve never seen this family again. I have no idea how challenging a child he is, or how consistently skilled a parent she is. All I know is that on this particular day, she provided one heck of a display of skin of your teeth, hanging on by your fingernails, pulling it out of the fire parenting.
All parents get pushed to their limits. All parents feel like clobbering their kids. As much as we abhor parents who abuse their children, the rest of us also find ourselves silently acknowledging, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
What this mother did, and what the rest of us must do, is continually find the strength to not act on what we feel. Whether we feel like hitting our children, or feel like telling them off, or feel like just giving up on them, or feel like running away, we have to act like responsible, loving adults. We have to.
Let’s face it – we all have failed. All of us. But we still have to try, and when we fail, we just have to try harder.
Parent groups, parenting classes, books, tapes and family counseling all are tools we can – and should – use to build our skill as parents.
When it comes right down to it, though, sometimes we all are going to have to take a deep breath, clench our jaws, close our eyes, stand still, and just hold on.