I recently re-located to Melbourne, Australia from Cleveland, Ohio. It has been a big move and adjustment although we are only here for a year. It has been a challenge to cope with my son’s toddler tantrums and barrage of different emotions while handling my own stress associated with this major life change. I feel my patience wearing thinner at times and my frustration become more apparent to my son through my tone and facial expressions. At times I even check out and disappear into Facebook and feel guilty that I can’t be in the moment with him.
Recently we were out as a family walking and exploring the city. It was hot and the streets were very crowded. I was still coping with jet lag and a little homesick and overstimulated. We entered a Target and I was so excited because Target back home is such a haven for me. It was completely different than what I am used to and there were so many people it was hard to manoeuvre around with the stroller (or pram as they call it here). All of a sudden I felt this wave of emotion overcome me and wanted desperately to sit on the floor and cry. I imagined this in my head and thought of what I would say if anyone approached me. “I’m from the States. I just moved here. Everything is different and I don’t know anyone here” I would choke out amongst my sobs. I wanted someone to hear me, understand, and tell me it was going to be okay. In reality I just continued to push the pram amongst the crowded section of baby goods. “They don’t sell Pampers, how could they not sell Pampers?!” I screamed aloud in my head bothered by this at a very irrational level. My husband must of saw something in my face and asked me what was wrong. I just stated. “I’m just tired” and moved along. We left Target and eventually made our way to the river boardwalk near our apartment. The crowds thinned and I watched the river and imagined kayaking down the river into the ocean and how beautiful it would be. The wave of emotion passed over me and I felt calm again. This is often something I find helpful to remind myself of when I am overwhelmed by emotions: a wave. Emotions don’t last forever and are fleeting. They can come crashing down upon you but they eventually settle before another one comes and you can catch a breath.
Reflecting on this incident inspired a renewed empathy with my son. I understand what it feels like to have a wave of emotion overtake you and not really know why it’s there or what to do. I felt such a primal instinct to fall apart in that moment but as an adult I am armed with so much more than my son has at his disposal: logic, perspective, coping skills, language and communication, and insight. And it is so easy to forget this empathy when I am trying to get the dishes done and my son is crying after I take away some small household item that could be a choking hazard or when he has said “Mommy” for the 43rd time to show me again that he removed all of the wipes from the wipes container and spread them across the floor.
We have a right to our frustrations as mothers. But we don’t have a right to use these frustrations as a mean to invalidate our child’s feelings. We can challenge ourselves as moms to relate and empathize with our children in the most trying times instead of sending the message that their feelings are frustrating to us. Imagine you are having a drink with your friend and after venting about your frustrations with your partner, your job, or your kids she rolls her eyes, takes a frustrated sigh, or says “Can you just calm down?!” I doubt you’d be calling her for drinks after that. We all have times where feelings overcomes us, when we can’t articulate what we’re feeling, or we can’t see any solutions. And for our children this may happen even more often because of many factors, a change in environment, a new insecurity they aren’t sure how to cope with, physical changes, or some stressor they haven’t been able to articulate or feel comfortable about talking with us about.
So next time your child is pitching a fit take a deep breath and hold them tight. Remember a wave is crashing down on them and although it won’t last forever, they need you. You are their lifejacket.