Friday, July 6, 2012

Tantrums, Frustration, and Gratitude

Today we’ll stray a little from our research-based approach. I want to share a personal story about something that happened a few weeks ago with my 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte. The story begins when I went to pick Charlotte up from her babysitter after work. On this particular day, Charlotte had skipped her usual morning nap and instead slept for 3 hours during the middle of the day, waking just as I arrived. It just so happened that we were completely out of baby wipes, so I thought I’d make a quick trip to Costco. I thought we could just get in and out with the wipes and be home in no time! I was wrong.

When I took Charlotte outside and tried to put her in the car seat, she started screaming and arching her back. It was one of the first warm days and the car was pretty hot, so I turned on the air conditioner while the babysitter managed to get her strapped in, but she was still screaming. By the time we got into the Costco parking lot, she had calmed down and was just fussing a little. I got her out and walked over to the carts. That’s when the screaming started again. She didn’t want to go in the cart. She didn’t want to be held. She didn’t want me to put her down. As we walked into the store, she wiggled in my arms shrieking so loud I think everyone in the warehouse could hear her. I stopped and calmed her down. When she stopped thrashing around, I strapped her into the cart but continued to scream, all the way through the store. To make matters worse, the wipes, which used to be stacked right near the registers, were now all the way in the back of the store, so we had to walk all around trying to find them. So much for my quick trip!

As we headed back to the car, I held Charlotte while she pushed the cart. This arrangement had calmed her down, but it was getting increasingly uncomfortable for me and dangerous for anyone standing in our way. We got back to the van but as I opened the door, she lost all control. Not only was she screaming at the top of her lungs, but she was kicking, hitting, twisting, and bending, all at the same time. I did my best to hold her close and calm her down (using repetition, of course), but nothing helped. I tried to put her into her seat, but just as I was putting her arms through the straps, she slid down, getting her arms all twisted in the seatbelts.

By this time, I was upset and sweating. Charlotte’s face was a deep red and there were tears and snot flying everywhere. I held her close and patted her back while begging her to calm down. As I turned around, I saw a woman staring at us from across the aisle. I quickly turned back around and kept bouncing and patting while talking in a softer voice. Suddenly, I heard a voice right next to me; the woman had walked over to us. I started to apologize when she asked Charlotte “Hi, what is your name?” I immediately started to tear up as I answered her. She continued talking in a calm, sweet voice, while she patted Charlotte’s leg over and over. She explained that she had a daughter too and that one time her daughter got upset at a store and she didn’t know what to do until another mommy came over to help her and now that mommy was one of her good friends. She talked directly to Charlotte while patting her legs.

Although I was glad that Charlotte was calming down, my first instinct was to defend myself. I kept thinking that I needed to explain the situation. I needed to tell her that I spend all day at work researching and writing about Baby Behavior. She needed to know that I didn’t bring Charlotte to the store when she needed a nap and that I knew she couldn’t calm herself down when she was so upset. She needed to know that I am a good mom and that I love my baby.

Once Charlotte had stopped crying, the woman smiled and suggested that I turn on the air conditioner (why did not I think of that?) before putting the baby in the car. She offered to hold Charlotte for a minute, but Charlotte clung to me, so she got her blanky out of the diaper bag and handed it to Charlotte. I wiped the tears from my eyes and thanked her. She said that it was no problem at all and that someday she knew I would do the same for another mom. She stayed by my side as I strapped Charlotte, who was still sniffling, into her seat.

Charlotte (on a much happier day!)
I have no idea how long the scene lasted, but it felt like hours. The woman patted my back and said “You are a good mom, sometimes this just happens.” I held back the tears and thanked her again. I got in the car, buckled myself in, and lost it completely. When we got home, Charlotte and I were so exhausted that we just snuggled on the couch until everyone else came home.

Looking back now, I know this mom was right. Charlotte had never been so upset and I could not have known what would happen that day. It was the perfect storm of a change in routine, warm weather, an overwhelming environment, and a day when my baby was more sensitive than usual. I am grateful for this mom’s help and I hope she knows how much it meant to me. It seems like there is so little patience and tolerance for kids and families these days, but the few minutes she spent with us had a huge impact on my life. Now, when my kids are upset or frustrated, I remember how calm she was. When we are in public, I know that there are other people around who understand what I am experiencing. I am able to ignore the impatient and judgmental people and focus on my kids.

And, she was right, I will help someone else someday.


  1. I need to remember this I see a mom with a distressed child!

  2. My 16 month old is starting these tantrums occasionally and I can completely relate to how you were feeling that day. I am now much more understanding and need to remember that there are other people that understand & have been there too. It is also good to know that these times are not our fault, they just happen.

  3. Thank you for your wonderful post. I have a 2 year old daughter and have been working as a RN in maternal child health for 8 years. I really related to your experience. Having a child helps professionals not only talk the talk but walk the walk (which is the most difficult part.)

  4. I need to remember this story for myself and others!
    -- robertsmom