Have you ever seen a young 2-3 year old child go ballistic in a public place? I'm talking about a complete Chernobyl-quality meltdown? I remember witnessing this once when, in lieu of Sydney's regularly scheduled nap, we were out shopping as a family. I hope you didn't miss that tricky bit of foreshadowing. While we circled the store like birds of prey intoxicated by the scent of cheap children's wear, an already tired Sydney became more and more exhausted and cranky. She was systematically reaching critical mass, and she was telling us, but we were ignoring the situation because we are model parents.
Finally, her escalating protests convinced us it was time to leave. As I stood in the checkout line Sydney's cries of frustration reached the same audible level as the store's PA system, so I squatted down and got really close to her face, you know, in order to rationalize with her. At this point she promptly struck me in the nose. Before I could react it was our turn at the cash register so Dewdette picked her up and carried her out of the store.
Ironically, we were in the middle of reading a book called Scream Free Parenting and we had been trying to follow the advice of the author (Hal Runkel). One thing he hammers home is that we, as parents, need to keep our cool and be calm and consistent. Raising our kids is an emotional endeavor, but if we can't get control of our emotions, what gives us the right to expect our kids to control theirs?
I walked out of the store with our loot and found Sydney absolutely hysterical and Mommy being cool, calm, collected and firm. She had deduced that trying to drag a hysterical 2 year old through a busy parking lot alone was not a safe option, so she had restrained Sydney by putting her in a make-shift timeout corner formed by the exterior of the store. I stood back and let her handle the situation. At this point we could have both managed to man-handle Sydney safely into the car, but Mommy was trying to wait her out and calm her down. In fact she kept repeating just that, "Sydney, please calm down. Calm down honey. We're going to stay here, and you are going to stay in the corner, until you calm down." Meanwhile Sydney was doing everything in her power to get out of that corner. She was screaming, flailing her arms, pushing herself away from the corner, and kicking her feet. Mommy was consistently keeping her restrained to the corner and repeating her words. Sticking to our guns and waiting for her to run out of gas seemed like the best option to me, too, so I stayed out of the way, but close enough to help if needed.
And that's when we were blind-sided by the social worker.
"Excuse me," she said. "I'm a social worker and I'm also a parent, so I have experience with this, and I just want you to know that technically what your wife is doing right now is considered child abuse."
It is amazing how this woman had found the exact right combination of words to turn my brain and my tongue to complete pudding. By the grace of God alone Dewdette did not hear her.
She continued, "Now I'm not saying that as a threat, I'm not going to report this, but I just want you to know so that you and your wife can make better decisions in the future."
Somewhere in the pudding I managed to find the words, "So now we're not even supposed to restrain our children in public?"
"Oh I'm not saying that," she protested, "I'm just saying that this sort of thing should be handled privately in the home. Also, you and your wife should consider taking some parenting classes. You can find more information about them on the government website."
And then she left.
I have two regrets concerning this whole ordeal. The first is my part in creating the situation. The bible talks about making sure we don't exasperate our children, and I think that is terrific advice. After the tears and crying and feeling like we were run over by an emotional garbage truck, we were able to stop and legitimately reflect on the situation. We realized that we had made an unwise decision to take Sydney shopping at the exact same time that her body is programmed to be sleeping. We pushed her past her limits and that is our fault.
My second regret is that I was so blitzed by this woman that I followed her advice immediately. I took over with Sydney, picked her up kicking and screaming, carried her across the parking lot, forced her into her car seat and strapped her in. She went totally ballistic trying to get out of the car seat all the way home. It was unsafe, unwise, and traumatic on the whole family. In hind sight I can think of several safer alternatives.
I'm not here to slander social workers. They perform many needed services to our community. I'm also not here to have you tell me we were right and she was wrong. This isn't a compliment fishing expedition.
What I am here to do is help you avoid making the same mistakes I have made. In this case I know I made a few and I do not care to reproduce them. Dewdette and I made a family rule that day and as silly and shallow as it sounds on the surface, here it is.
Being good parents is more important than shopping.
Only in America, right? We've applied the underlying principle to our lives also. Which means we have skipped out on doing many things that would have been fun so that we can keep our girls happy. Being a parent means making sacrifices and we don't regret that.
So what about you? Have you traded in an opportunity to be a good parent for something much less important? I'd love to hear about it.