A friend once told me she envied my calm parenting style: she’d never seen me get mad or heard me raise my voice at my child. She said she never saw me get frustrated or exasperated, that I always kept my cool. I remember her laughing one day when I was recounting the struggles of a particularly difficult solo evening of trying to get my toddler in bed, thinking I was joking when I said I might have slammed the door and thrown things at the wall.
Only I wasn’t joking. The key to her observations was that she never saw those things — not that I never did any of those things. As she was sharing her thoughts, my mind flashed to my many parenting outbursts; my not so proud moments. Screaming back when my child yelled at me, trying to lock myself in the bathroom so I could just have a minute to deal, calling my husband crying when he was out of town because I was just so done. These aren’t things I was trying to hide from my friend; in fact I openly talk about them because I think we should all be real and able to relate to one another in our difficult times. The reason she was under the wrong impression wasn’t because I was lying or faking it, it was because I didn’t have those same visceral, desperate reactions when I was in the company of others. I wasn’t burying them, they just never surfaced.
It’s rare that I get mad and scream or get endlessly frustrated when someone else is there — when someone else is watching my parenting skills and potentially judging my reactions. It’s not an act of intention. I’m not trying to be different when I’m in public than I am when I’m alone with my son, it’s just easier to react like a normal, calm human being when other people are around. It’s like I have the ability to gain a new perspective when someone else is there, as if part of the weight is taken off my shoulders just by somebody else’s presence. I can see how they might react or how someone that’s not invested in the situation or the frustration might act. It’s like some sort of neutral ground forms and it’s easier to think logically to form a response to a particular behavior than to just react immediately and emotionally. It’s not an act, it’s a true difference in feeling. Perhaps it’s because parenting can be such a lonely thing, you’re instantly revived and rejuvenated when you’re in the company of others. It’s kind of like how you can handle your toddler’s tantrum like an adult if you’ve woken up well rested and ready to tackle the day, as opposed to caving in and doing whatever it takes to stop the yelling if you’ve been up all night trying to get the same kid to sleep.
Of course, as it goes, my son and I are on our own a lot more than we’re in the company of others, meaning there’s ample time for my child-like frustrations to rise to the surface. There are plenty of times where I’m too tired or too worn out or too frustrated to reel things in and parent calmly and maturely. Don’t get me wrong — things aren’t always bad or stressful when we’re alone, but it’s definitely more prone to be that kind of day when we are, versus when we’re with friends or family. Whatever the true reason, I’ve decided to take my friend’s observations to heart and intentionally try to be that calm, chill parent that I apparently seem to be around others. It’s the opposite of the well-known advice to “dance like nobody’s watching” — I decided instead to parent like somebody’s watching.
I try to react to outbursts the way I would in the middle of the grocery store or discipline bad behavior the way I would in front of others instead of letting it slide because it’s easier. To speak calmly and at an age-appropriate level when I’m mad instead of lashing out in frustration. And you know what? It’s astonishingly easy. It helps put me in the right frame of mind to deal with challenges — and enjoy the lack of them, because surprisingly enough, the reason I can be so calm in “public” is because I’m doing a better job of meeting my 3-year-old’s needs on his level. He’s not acting in ways that cause those poor reactions from me because we’re sidestepping the things that cause them in the first place.
So on those days when you’re at your rope’s end and you just don’t think you can hang on, think about how you might respond if you were in the middle of the playground with other parents and caregivers watching your every move. It might just help you calm down, which in turn, can help your little one calm down.More On