Every morning starts the same: an alarm, a wimper, a large cup of coffee or tea, the frenzied search for a bookbag, purse, keys, pair of shoes; all while done with half an eye on the clock. It would be one thing if everyone was synchronized in this daily ritual, but that never happens. Just like a 3 legged race, there is always one person dragging an unenthusiastic participant across the finish line.
As a preschool teacher for many years, I had the best seats to the parent vs. child fight. On a good day, the dramatics would be kept to a minimum. It was a hurried goodbye, kiss, an “I love you” and a “have a nice day” then a rush out the door. What was more impressive was if the adult doing the drop off was dressed for work, hair and make up done and smiling, just like an old 1950’s TV show but both in color and in the flesh.
If it was the opposite, God help us all. Those were the frustrated days when a caregiver would show up wrestling with a distressed child. Both adult and child had tears in their eyes, furrowed angry brows, messy hair and clothing askew thanks to the wrangling of the passive-protester-child . It’s not a pretty sight to watch a mother and child cry and shout at each other at 8AM in the designated safe space for meltdowns, otherwise known as the drop-off zone.
I feel so much empathy for both the adult and child in these situations. When things have cooled down and everyone takes a step back from the anger and frustration you’ll find absurdity at the root of such dramatics.
‘Nicole refused to eat breakfast or leave the house until someone put her temporary tattoo on her forearm. NO! SHE WOULDN’T WAIT! I told her we’ll do it once she gets to school but she didn’t want to do that. She wanted it NOW! I can’t do it NOW! We have to leave!’
‘Leo spent too much time on the toilet singing songs rather than doing what he was supposed to do and poop which is why we’re late!’
‘Adam wanted to wear his Batman costume to school. It’s too cold outside and it’s not Halloween. So he refused to get dressed, eat his breakfast, get in the car, and he threw his shoes at me.’
‘David left his favorite toy of the day in the car. Now he is lying on the ground and refuses to move’
In the heat of the moment, it feels like an epic battle for power between reason and unreasonable. However, in reality it’s the literal problem of shitting or getting off the potty. From the kid’s perspective all liberty, freedom, choice and respect was taken away from them the moment the adult denied a request. From the adult’s perspective, it’s like Sisyphus rolling that big boulder up the hill only to have it fall down once more everyday. We always have to fight over something, today it is this.
Wouldn’t it be easy to have help with their daily task? When you are trying to meet 2-3 deadlines before getting out to school and work at 8AM, wouldn’t it be nice if the children were helpful participants? Wouldn’t it be nice if your child did not stage a naked morning hunger strike early and instead just got dressed, packed their bag, put their shoes on and got ready to go? AND wouldn’t it be nice if that child could watch an hour of Paw Patrol in the morning, throw on their Captain America costume, cover their face in temporary tattoos and tote along a little red wagon full of their toys to school? That would be the best day if we all had our way all of the time but it’s just not feasible and not how life works. Life is full of rejections, barriers and the word ‘No’. If we are not exposing our child to limitations and boundaries, then we are not preparing them for the world in front of them.
The sign of a good parent is saying yes and no to the right things. Sometimes a result of saying ‘no’ to the right things is a power struggle which can easily morph into a screaming, and sometimes public, tantrum. It is only natural that the parent (who isn’t always made of steel) feel and even mirrors the distress.
Needless to say, that as an educator for all those years, I never judged the parent in those trying moments of a sad morning drop-off. I had as much empathy as I could for the parent who 4 out of 5 days delivered their child to school on time, bags ready, quick goodbye and a smile. And who, by the looks of things, on most other days had it all together except for that one day where despite all logic and reason they were met with opposition at every turn. Days like that will happen. All you can do is try to help out any way you can.
As a parent now, I find the tables have turned. I often find myself in public with a screaming child in my arms, awkwardly pushing a stroller weighed down by bags of groceries. And yes, when someone asks what is wrong, the answers are equally ridiculous and comical. ‘ Don’t mind me, she is just crying because I wouldn’t let her play with electrical wires.’ ‘Oh, she’s just upset because she wanted to buy cat food because she liked the picture on the can but we don’t have a cat, so what can you do?’ ‘I gave her a taste of the coconut curry. Apparently she hates coconut. My bad.’
People who have worked with kids or are parents themselves understand the comedy of the situation and chuckle along with you. “Oh, I’ve been there. I know’, they smile and say. Others who haven’t had the same experience will look on with horror. ‘Ugh…this is why I don’t have kids’, they say and leisurely go on about their day basking in all the free time and extra money they have. I can’t help but relish in the likelihood that the person giving me the disapproving stare will be in my position one day. Perhaps it’ll happen with their own child, a friend or family member’s child or maybe even a loved one who struggles with dementia. After all, these kinds of things are not exclusive to ‘badly behaved children’: at some time in their lives, everyone has something that is really important to them but which looks absurd to onlookers denied. There will a public meltdown over something ridiculous. When that day happens, I want you to know this: I get it. You don’t need to make excuses to me because I understand. Now…what can I do to help?