This week I was in Wal-Mart with William, getting some groceries. It was all going well until we reached the check-out line. I began loading groceries onto the conveyor belt while he browsed the ridiculous selection of merchandise at a five year old's eye level, and when he walked over holding a $9.99 Toy Story flashlight, my heart sank an inch or so in my chest.
"I want this," he stated. "You have a lot of flashlights already," I replied. "No, not like this one," he argued, and from there it began to go swiftly downhill, in the way that these things often do. He began to cry and become more insistent that he needed this particular flashlight, as it had Buzz and Woody on it, and I was equally certain that spending $10 on a flashlight was not going to happen on this day and at this time.
When these situations have occurred in the past, I usually go through a series of steps: anger, embarrassment, frustration, threats and aggravation (not necessarily in that order). But this time, I took a deep breath, and thought about all that I have learned in my parenting course, and decided to try something new.
I told myself, in the calmest inner voice I have, that he was not trying to piss me off. He has an annoying habit of becoming fixated on something he wants, and letting that small thing dictate his mood and emotions (an area I also struggle with so he comes by it honestly), and I tried to come alongside of him and recognize that he was frustrated because he couldn't have what he wanted. I know what that feels like, and it doesn't feel great, so I decided to try empathy instead of authority.
I got down on one knee and gave him a hug. I spoke quietly into his ear about how I knew he wanted the flashlight, and it was a cool flashlight, and maybe when we got home we could write it down on a list for the next time he might receive a gift. He cried even harder, and louder, and said that I would forget to do that (and this was a valid concern). I stood up, found paper and a pen in my purse, and wrote it down.
At this point I was feeling quite proud of myself, and I was sure his crying would stop, but it didn't. It actually intensified as he began wailing about how someone else could buy the flashlight, and then it would be gone when it came time to buy him a present, and all of the other urgent concerns that feel critical to many five year olds and trivial to most adults.
For one of the first times ever, I worried less about what strangers might be thinking of me and my son, and I felt more concerned about the health and strength of my relationship with him. Our relationship should always be the higher priority, but I didn't recognize it before I began attending this Power to Parent course. The couple in front of me in the check-out line smiled at William, even though he was still crying, and then smiled at me.
"You're a good mom," the woman said to me. "You didn't give in, and you got down and talked to him, and I think you handled that really well." I almost bawled, right there in the harsh overhead light and cement floors of Wal-mart, at this kindness from a stranger. To not worry about what others thought of my son's meltdown over a flashlight was the first bonus, putting him ahead of my fears of being judged was the second, and to be told I was a good mom when he was still gently sobbing was the icing on the cake.
We can change how we do things at any given time. When we learn a new parenting skill, we can try it out wherever we find ourselves. It may work, and it may not, but I was so glad that I didn't squeeze his arm and resort to blunt force and threats like I've done many times in the past. This time I wanted to say no, and not worry so much about his tears of disappointment and frustration. I think we both grew and changed in that check-out line, and I'm grateful that it's never too late to achieve a better relationship dynamic.