My son starts shrieking from his seat in the grocery cart. “Shh,” I tell him. He is suddenly calm. HA! Not really. He is not calm. He keeps shrieking. Maybe if my tone is more intense, he will know I mean it. He must be thinking the same thing about his tone, because the harder I try to hush him, the louder he gets. My next clever move is to squeeze his hand. I have to come up with something that works, because all the good moms with quiet children must now be thinking I am a really bad mom. I squeeze his hand harder, and he shrieks louder. Finally, his stubbornness gives in to frustration and/or pain, and he bursts into tears.
I feel relief, because crying is something I can deal with, and it is quieter. I also feel guilt, because I just tried to solve my problem by hurting my son. And, I feel anxiety because this has happened before and will probably happen again, and I don’t know any other solution.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was acting in desperation out of fear. I didn’t even know then that fear could be a motivation. I was especially afraid of what others would think of me. After a while, I began to notice that situations like this escalated much worse in public than at home because of the pressure I put on myself to perform properly in front of other people.
So, now that I had identified my fear of judgement, I could work on getting over it. I concentrated on caring less about the imaginary “good mom” in another aisle. I worked on swallowing my pride and accepting the embarrassment of a screaming child, rather than making him cry to be more socially acceptable. I still tried to get him to stop, but I became a little less panicked and a little more calm. This took a long time and a lot of practice, and I still am not totally over acting this way.
This scenario was just my first step in recognizing that a mother has to manage her own reaction, both mentally and physically, in order to improve a situation. Through the years, I have gotten better at understanding why he might be screaming in the first place, but that is a topic yet to come.