Today I took my 5-year-old daughter into the library to relax a bit after an exciting birthday party at the playground with plenty of cupcakes. She walked in happily and began to create a heart-shaped card for her best friend.
But then, it happened.
She started erasing with an eraser that really didn’t work, and I told her to just leave the words the way they were—it was going to look worse with new words written over poorly erased ones.
Did it really matter? Probably not, but the point is this is the kind of interaction that can trigger a tantrum in my child who is, well, too old for that kind of behavior.
She screamed and threw herself down.
I groped for her hands while dodging her feet and led her out of the door. See, this wasn’t the first time this had happened, and I knew the procedure.
Walking out, I could feel the bewildered eyes of other parents on my back, and I wished they would politely look away or pretend they didn’t notice, but I knew they would stare.
I don’t have to wonder what they’re thinking. I know. Not all, but many parents, are wondering how on earth I could have failed so miserably at teaching my daughter correct behavior. Some might even be inwardly smirking to themselves, thinking this is what happens when you spoil your kids.
But that’s just the thing. My child is not spoiled. I don’t say this to defend myself—I have many parenting flaws.
But, my child is not spoiled.
My husband brought this to my attention recently as we sat discussing my daughter’s recent outburst at school. I was lying next to him on the bed with tears on my cheeks, my hand clasped in his, choking out how I used to work with troubled children who did this, but their parents were addicted, incarcerated, absent . . . why would a child from a perfectly healthy and loving home struggle with similar behaviors?
“I was even considered . . .” my voice broke as I continued, “gifted with how well I worked with these kids.”
My husband sometimes says just exactly what I need to hear, and this was one of those moments.
“It’s good that she isn’t spoiled though,” he noted calmly. “You know, so many parents buy every toy their child sees and stuff? The kid whines and cries until they give in every time? We never did that. We did good there.”
I was so soaked in self-blame up until this moment that hearing my husband’s words put my brain sort of on pause.
Maybe it isn’t something I did or failed to do.
And he was right. We do a pretty good job. We may not be perfect, but we have provided a stable, loving home for our daughter and we have been able to be authoritative parents who kindly enforce limits.
My daughter struggles with occasional, yet highly intense, outbursts. But they’re not a result of bad parenting. She has a strong personality. She’s bright, focused, excited, and sometimes, she has a short fuse too. That is who she is, and I love her for it.
My child’s behavior is not my fault. It’s not her fault either. And thinking about it that way is unhelpful. Her temperament is what it is and accepting that, embracing her fiery little heart, is the best way I have learned to help her do well.
If her energy, passion, and intelligence are directed in a positive way, she may be able to accomplish great things. If it’s not, she may face many barriers. Sometimes I feel like it’s even more important that I parent her consciously because of this, and it’s even more important that I make it a point to offer her unconditional love through her process of becoming.
So, the next time I lead my daughter out of the library or the shoe store or Shake Shack because her behavior is escalating, I’ll have to remind myself that I’m not doing things wrong. I didn’t fail in some way. I am parenting the child I have. These moments are small pieces of a greater picture I’m working diligently on painting.