Kristen Bell, everyone’s favorite breastfeeding champion and mental-health advocate, has some advice for any parent dealing with tantrums — and you’re gonna like it. But first, raise your hand if the following scenario has ever happened to you:
You’re standing in the grocery store check-out lane and the baby suddenly starts screaming – she’s hungry and you can’t feed her because you’re next up and you have to load your groceries on the conveyor belt. Then the toddler starts trying to sneak chocolate bars into the cart and you’re doing that whisper voice that means “try me and it’s over, kid” as you pile the candy back on the shelf.
At that moment, the preschooler sees that you are weak and vulnerable, so he decides now would be a good time to pinch his sister and before you know it, all of your beloved offspring are breaking down before your very eyes as you start to sweat and the shoppers around you openly stare.
It’s in those moments that most us are tempted to believe that our children’s behavior — especially out in public when the whole world seems hell-bent on judging us — is a reflection of who we are as mothers. Our kids’ crappy behavior, in our eyes, means that we have failed in some way.
It’s embarrassing, mortifying even, depending on the circumstances. But why?
In an interview with Babble, Kristen Bell was asked what the most embarrassing thing her daughters Lincoln, 3, and Delta Bell, 2, have ever done in public. Her answer was somewhat unexpected. Instead of pointing to one specific event, Bell explained that she never gets particularly red-in-the-cheeks over something her children have done. In fact, she says, parents have gone too far in basing our own self-worth on the behavior of our children. If our kids are acting up in public, she believes, it’s nothing more than a kid acting out in public — simple as that. The embarrassment shouldn’t be on the parent, it should be on the child.
“If my child is acting a fool in the grocery store, the embarrassment is on her,” Bell explains. “In truth, that shouldn’t make me feel a certain way.”
So often we project our own fears onto our kids. They are a reflection of how well we have done as parents, right? Well, yes in the long run. But in the short run … kids will be kids. They will have tantrums and less-than-graceful moments until they grow up and they don’t.
In my case (and maybe in yours as well), triggering moments seem to happen when I’m already exhausted and my kids seem to be at their worst when there are tons of other people around — prompting me to think that I will be judged for being a “bad” mom. I may yell at them when we’re back to the safety of our minivan or start to lose my cool in the store because I imagine the whispers and stares of people around me, shaking their heads and wondering if I’ve ever heard of birth control. As a younger mom (I turned 22 a week before I had my first daughter and had four kids by 28), I’ve often had the added insecurity that people would think I was a bad mom for having so many kids so young — and you can bet those insecurities came out in full force in those grocery store tantrums.
Bell went on to say that she has to remind herself that all individuals — her child included — have “the right” to act any way they want and if a parent feels embarrassed by his or her child’s behavior, then it’s a sign that the parent needs to work on his or her own self-esteem first, before blaming the child.
“She’s going to act the way a child acts,” says Bell, “and I’m not going to let that reflect on me or bring me down. That shouldn’t make me feel ashamed or embarrassed in any way. Only you can make you feel a certain way.”
Hearing Bell explain it, it sounds so simple. Of course a kid should just be allowed to be a kid! Of course my toddler might just have a bad day without it meaning that I’m a bad mom! That makes so much sense! But talking about it and nodding my head enthusiastically to her words is definitely a lot easier said than done. It’s one thing to read the idea, but it’s another to be the one in the middle of the store keeping a smile on my face while I remind myself that a tired toddler does not a failed mother make.
Bell, however, insists that she is a “big believer” in personal responsibility and looks to one of her favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt: “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
“How I feel about situations is up to me and it’s exhausting sometimes to hear so many people say, ‘How can I feel better about this?'” she notes. “Feel better about it. That’s the answer. That’s not to put down feelings. Feeling exist, they are important. They deserve to be felt and processed and then you make your choice after you’ve processed the feeling. Once the negative feeling starts to own you, it’s on you to put it in the trash and let it go. You are the only person that has the power to change your feelings.”
So mamas, just remember those words the next time you feel like crying right alongside your kids in that checkout lane. None of those judging bystanders (who, let’s be real, probably aren’t even judging as much as you think they are) can make you feel inferior without your consent. So keep on smiling through the tantrums, through the stares, through the 10,000 times you have to pry the candy bar out of your kid’s hands, and right through the spots appearing on your shirt when your milk lets down.
Because as long as you realize that you are rocking this motherhood thing, well then, that’s all that matters.