My daughter was screaming, crying, sobbing. “I want to watch Dory in the basement!” she repeated, over and over again. My dad and his wife were in town and about to leave – as in their whole visit of a few days was over.
I had just turned on Dory on the TV in our living room where we were all sitting. My son was in my lap. It was late in the evening and we weren’t all going to move to the basement “theater” right before they left.
She was sick and has been all week. She’s spent most of the week in bed, or on my lap in the chair. She was already upset because I made her take Motrin, and because she’d stayed up all day to visit. And because she had less than a plate of food in three days. Plus, it was past bedtime.
The crying continued to escalate into screams. My husband barked in anger, “Stop screaming! We’re not watching it in the basement!” to which I of course hissed, “Stop!” – which apparently has become our code for: what you’re doing is not conscious or developmentally appropriate.
She was still crying. Weeping, wailing, in a tizzy, as Llama Llama would say. I told her that I heard her, I understand. Invited her to come sit with me from my seat across the room. She wasn’t calm enough to say much more to.
My son was still in my lap. I asked my husband to see if she wanted a hug, offer her a hug. He didn’t ask, just got down on the floor and tried to force her into one, chasing her across the carpet. Now she looked completely distraught and disgusted with all of us.
I could feel my husband’s energy sinking lower and lower, frustration about to boil over even more than it already had. I could feel my father’s do the same, though I was honestly very surprised that he had remained quiet all of this time. From the old parenting perspective, this sounded like a bratty outburst. The old parenting paradigm was uncomfortable. It wanted it shut down. She was in pain and the old parenting paradigm wanted nothing to do with that. Pain is not allowed there.
Finally, I had to put my son down, which of course made him cry, even though I handed him to my husband where he’s usually quite content to sit on his lap.
I picked up my daughter and carried her, which she loves, but my back doesn’t as she’s already tall and 50lbs. I said, “Let’s go for a walk.” I heard my son’s little feet follow us.
We needed some nature. I opened the front door, but it was cold and drizzly. The fresh air hit both of us and we connected. “Brr! Let’s go back inside!” “Yeah! Brr!”
Holding her and resting my cheek on her head, I quietly told her, “I know it’s so much more fun to watch the movie in the basement. The screen is bigger, you get all snuggly in the big chair, and it sounds better too. We love to watch movies in the basement, don’t we? It’s special time for you and Dad. It’s more fun down there.”
She looked at me and her wet face nodded and her lips turned down in a pout, ready to cry again.
“You really want to watch Dory in the basement tonight. I understand honey. The problem is, Grandpa and GG are going to leave in a few minutes to go back to their home. Their visit is over and we want to sit with them and chat until they leave. I know it’s hard when they leave, we miss them don’t we? The other problem is that it’s bedtime after that, so we just don’t have time to watch the whole movie tonight. But we can certainly watch it down there tomorrow. Would you like to do that?”
She gave me a wet nod yes.
“Should we go sit and tell Grandpa and GG about the movie before they leave?”
A wobbly “Yeah Mommy..” came out.
Back in my chair, she sniffled, and quickly pointed out some character on the screen and the funny part that comes next. She took a deep breath and was fine.
When our babies are upset, especially when they are tired + sick + hungry, I know they need loving support, and that they have “every sovereign right to throw a fit”, as Dr. Shefali says. It is a challenge to not enter their discomfort but to hold space for it and allow it to move through them. I’m so thankful that I have done this work and this situation did not escalate.
If tantrums are a challenge for you to respond, rather than react, to, click “Re-Write Your Story” to request a free 45 Minute Discovery Call.