As parents, we all know that there is a significant difference between a family trip and a vacation. A vacation implies some level of carefree relaxation as opposed to sand covered toddler wrangling.
We were having a pretty solid family trip. The Twinzers had seemed to place their mission to engulf the world in mayhem on the back burner. Really, aside from a little justifiable whining about chafing and a tendency to wander too far for comfort, everything was going pretty well. We’d had a pretty great morning at the beach. They ate their lunch well and even took a 2 hour nap. Everything was coming up TwinzerDad.
Then we went to see the ducks. Not actual ducks, but large motorized ducks determined to rob me of my comic book fund two quarters at a time.
It wasn’t the fiberglass fowl that did us in. It was a fatal parenting mistake on my part. The ducks don’t reside in a pond, rather in front of a small arcade. I’m not sure if their good behavior caused a weakening of my parenting intuition, but I decided it would be a good idea for us to let them play in the arcade. I dropped a 5 spot in the change machine and set them loose. Inevitably though, within a few minutes, our cup of quarters ran dry. We informed them that it was time to go. And with that, the Kraken that is the double toddler tantrum was unleashed.
Private tantrums are easy. There is a little known fact about the magical properties of a home’s threshold. Within it, parents are granted an extra measure of patience. When that reservoir runs dry, we have, at the very least, a safe space to wait out the storm as our tiny dictators demand their way. We have a number resources available to us, the greatest of which is privacy.
With the public tantrum, we have no such defense. Time slows down as we feel the judging eyes starting to wander our way. You’ve just been given a pop-quiz in parenting. The problem is that everybody is using a different rubric. Everyone is drawing from their own experiences, or lack thereof.
You’ve got the modern parents. The ones expecting you to get down on the children’s level and rationally explain to them the situation. Have a positive dialogue about what they’re feeling and how to appropriately express those emotions.
You’ve got the old school parents. The ones who think that your kids “need a smack upside their spoiled head.” The ones who think a firm hand is the key to parenting. It’s how their parents did it, and look how well they turned out.
You’ve got the people without kids. These ones are often the harshest in judgement. Like most of us, they’re the perfect parent until they have kids. They’re the ones that can’t even believe you are having this problem. They’re also the first ones to bust out their phones, your tantrum framed artistically over their shoulder as they roll their eyes and seize their chance to go viral.
Then there’s the rest of us. Those of us just trying our best to keep our heads above water.
I’ve tried to be the first parent. I’m not going to say that I’ve busted out a song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. (I have, but I’m not going to outright admit it.) The problem is that Daniel Tiger always seems to come around to logic. What three year old has ever come around to logic? I’ve tried to reason with my kids, but let’s face it: children are unreasonable more often than not.
I can’t be the second parent. I have made a commitment to not hit my children. There is little in this world that makes my blood boil like a bully does… someone who takes their increased size, aggression and violence to impose their will on others. I can’t teach them to not be a bully while being a bully myself. I can’t break up fights between them and tell them hitting people is wrong by hitting them.
So what did we do? We clenched out teeth and did our best to quietly tell our children to knock it off in quiet, over annunciated words. We walked down the boardwalk of the New Jersey shoreline and let them yell and whine and scream as people watched us. We felt the judging stares of everyone around us whether they were actually there, or we were just being self-conscious. Most of all, like so many times before, we felt like ineffective parents.
You know what else we did? We got through it. Sure, the three block walk back to the house takes a lot longer when the kids are in the midst of a tantrum, but by the time we got back to the house, the boys were once again the happy little goofballs that we know and love. (To be fair, we love them all of the time; we just like them more sometimes than others.)
It wasn’t the first time that we doubted ourselves as parents. It’s happened since then, and it will happen again. That day, we failed a lot of parenting tests given by a lot of different “professors.” But we passed our own test.
And luckily, that’s the only one that counts.