I have three children.
Looking back at the early days of parenthood, eight long and sleep deprived years ago, I often reflect that really we were just practising on our firstborn (sorry son, we didn’t know what we were doing). We were uber-cautious about some things, and over-sensitive too, and for others we were just completely clueless until someone pointed things out to us. There are countless posts about that compare parenting a first child to parenting a second or third, I’ve even written a little about it myself. Let’s just say it’s different. Not different bad, not different good, just different.
Three years ago tantrums were a very big part of my life. Not usually my own, but my middle boy’s. While the eldest was wild and loud, the middle was quieter, rarely ran off but when something switched his tantrum switch we all ducked for cover. I tried to hold it together when the tantrum storm hit in public but found that strangers felt they knew better than me and intervened causing me to feel that I was being watched, and judged. Back then I was younger, and had more very dependent children who needed me to herd them and keep them safe.
We’re going through the second or third coming of the tantrum monster in our house these days. Like any good sequel, it’s got a similar cast, similar storyline and some added effects. The effects in this case come in the form of sparkly bows and lights on black patent shoes. This year’s protagonist’s doesn’t use the “lie on the floor” or “block the buggy” methods perfected by the others, she relies on two things- whinge volume (which can transform to loud, low sobs) and persistence.
This child is going to be very successful in life, she has buckets of focus and determination in supply. Where her mother gets very easily distracted, this three year old has persistence, she will not be reset or turned to another object of focus. She will only converse on her terms, generally in baby talk rather than her usual beyond-her-years vocabulary preferably no more than one syllable(“Mine”, “Hat”, “Bunny”, “Mammeeee” sob) so it can be difficult to pinpoint why she is actually having the tantrum. She turns her little body to dead weight, and if lifted can manage to redistribute the weight in such a way that it will topple me over. So I can’t rely on my “remove child from place she is having tantrum and hide from the world” strategy. Nope, I have to grin and bear it, until such time as she slowly comes to the realisation that there are much easier ways to communicate than by performing a stage show in Bookstation for whoever will listen or has the misfortune to be in the shop. (Were you there for her long and loud performance on Saturday afternoon? How did you rate it? Do let us know!)
Here’s the thing though, somehow, somewhy (I made that up) tantrums the third time around are less stressful. Sure, there’s the complicating factor of cringing for your older kids as they are embarrassed by their younger sibling’s antics (Ask me another time about how we got on at First Confession recently, the memory is too raw to recount right now) but on the whole, it’s well, less awful. There’s less sweat dripping down my back, my heart races less as a result of a tantrum breakout.
Why? It’s a combination of things. There are no babies requiring my attention now, that helps. I have two colleagues (my sons) who eyeroll and commiserate, there’s nothing like support when you need it. I’m older, I’m wiser, I’ve more confidence in my ability at parenting or at parenting tantruming three-year-olds anyway.
But the key reason quite simply is that I care less now about what the onlookers see. I care less what people think about my tantruming child. She and I both know that she is loved. I know that she is being unreasonable in her protest, she probably does too, the clever girl.
I’ve seen enough tantrums of them in my time to know what it’s like. I appreciate the knowing smiles of strangers, and avoid the stares of those who disapprove, or disarm them by smiling sweetly and brazenly at them. I don’t raise my voice, I don’t argue, I get down to the small girl’s level. And then, I try to move on, holding her hand, speaking calmly. Eventually she will come to her senses.
I’ve come to mine. I’ve gotten through these struggles before, I know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. When I’ll get this mythical light this time around is unclear, but there’s a faint glimmer from somewhere that keeps my hope alive.
And the secret to managing tantrums this time around? The secret is to give fewer fucks and get on with things.
It seems to be the secret to surviving lots of things.
If you liked this post you might be interested in reading my previous adventures with tantrumming here and all about my tantrum hero here. If you’re interested in personal development (cough) and giving fewer fucks this one might interest you.