When your little one is yelling his head off, it’s hard not to feel judged, says writer Lucy Mangan
Is there anything better than a good scream? Not much, I’d wager, but only when it’s coming from you. When it’s being emitted by someone below the age of reason in a crowded supermarket, it’s a different story altogether.
We all know that panicked feeling when our child throws a tantrum. ‘Who is this shaking mass of infantile fury – and how can I make it go away?’ your inner voice cries as the rest of you looks around for placatory possibilities. And the shock is fast replaced by guilt.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll do a mental cycle along the lines of, ‘I’ve failed! No one could be this upset about something so small I haven’t even identified it yet, unless their entire experience of life has been nothing but a swirling vortex of misery and despair at the hands of a negligent parent.’
If we’re out in public, this is quickly followed by a dash of paranoid rage: ‘Don’t look at me like that! I don’t habitually drag him along the ground – I’m trying to get him out of your way. Yes, you, with your basketful of wine, fillet steak and baby frigging sweetcorn, obviously intended for a romantic dinner a deux with your bloody boyfriend. You! Oh, why is this child still screaming?’
It's not that bad
If you’re just starting out on the tantrum experience, perhaps I could offer a few pieces of advice for dealing with your own inner turmoil? Firstly, remember that children’s reactions are usually defined by their disproportionality. This is why they laugh uproariously when you hide behind your hands and it’s also why they have a total meltdown whenever they aren’t allowed to eat the ice cream while still in the trolley.
They’re learning the breadth and depth of emotions, and staking out the boundaries of acceptable demonstrations of each one. In short – it’s not you. It’s them.
Secondly, bear in mind that other people aren’t your problem. If they don’t have kids yet, they will (probably) and they’ll learn (definitely). If they do have children, you’re no doubt inwardly convulsing for nothing.
It took a wiser, more experienced friend of mine, who is a mother of four (four? I shouldn’t take her word about anything, actually. She must be mental), to make this point: ‘Think how vile you’d have to be to get snotty about someone “not controlling their child” when you know what it’s like,’ she said. ‘Most of them are probably ignoring you out of politeness. Or trying to give encouraging looks, but getting it wrong. We’re British. We’re not good at looks.’
And you know what? She’s right. Good luck. I promise you, one day the lambs will stop screaming.
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Lucy’s new book Charlie's Chocolate Factory: the Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket and Roald Dahl's Greatest Creation is out on September 4th.