It was late afternoon and both the woman and her child looked very tired. The tension began as the child wanted to play with his Mom’s phone when Mom wanted to use it. So the child fussed, reaching for the phone. His mother got up and slammed him back into his seat. Naturally, this worsened the situation and the little boy went into meltdown mode. Mom retaliated by slapping him a couple of times on the side of the his body and adding verbal abuse. She was melting down too, shouting, “Go to sleep already – this is ridiculous!” Mom’s energy was escalating ferociously. The passengers around me peered over their reading devices or shifted nervously. Then, the mother loudly threatened to give her child “something to cry about” as she started taking off her belt. I looked at the passengers in the car with me and suddenly realized that the best person to talk to her was — yikes — me. I was the only other passenger traveling with a child (my infant son was sleeping on me in a carrier) and I felt that perhaps this could be best handled as discreetly as possible, mom to mom. I took a deep breath. I imagined warm energy radiating through my palm. I got up, put my hand on her shoulder and said in a firm, calm voice, “I can’t let you do that.”
I made eye contact with the child and took several deep breaths. The child stopped crying as he matched my breathing. I looked back at his mother to softly say, “Your child is very tired. Just take a breath. Give each other a little space.”
I went back to my seat. The mother got on her phone and called someone to decompress; she didn’t make eye contact with me for the remainder of the trip. The little boy fell asleep while his mom was on the phone. I prayed silently for the situation, while looking busy with my phone. The woman calmed down as time passed. We pulled into the last train stop and she exited with the sleeping child in her arms. There was a woman waiting for her at the station; perhaps it was the friend she had been speaking with on the phone. As I passed by, I saw that the mother, who had threatened to beat her child just a short while ago, was now tenderly holding that little boy and crying. And she had a friend standing beside her, patting her back.
This experience had a profound impact on me. I want to share my takeaways with you, fellow mamas. I hope these reminders serve you well in the near future.
- Gratitude. I have felt very angry with my own child on occasion. This mother showed me the terrifying and unreasonable face of misplaced anger.
- A desire to develop my self-control. Oh, I’ve experienced surges of rage in motherhood that are unparalleled. Whew boy, I’ve been there. I want to train my impulsive reactions so that I am not abusive when I’m feeling tired and frustrated.
- Breath. There is ALWAYS room to take a breath. I want to parent with authority, but I don’t want to shame or scare my child. I desperately need to work on this.
- Humility. Approach another caretaker only if you can serve that person from a place of solidarity. We all have fury-inducing moments (in public!) with our children. (Props to Janet Lansbury for her gentle but firm line, “I can’t let you do that.”)
- Call a friend! That mom made one great choice – she called someone. I want to always remember that I am not alone. I can ask for help. I need help.
** This essay of mine appeared today on the website, happiestmommy.com
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