Martini in hand, I’m sitting on the kitchen floor, as far away from the sounds of my tantruming child as possible without leaving the house. It’s my wife’s turn to do bedtime. Our 2 year old has been showing us the meaning of “terrible two’s” over the last two nights (not to brag, but tantrums aren’t exactly an every day occurrence over here). She’s in a phase of screaming “NO” in our faces just to see what will happen – just to see how much power she has in this family, and to see what it takes to make us cave. We’re blundering through this phase, as I’m sure most parents do, just trying not to fuck up our child – in my mind, it’s all about striking the balance between disciplining the bad behaviour while making sure she feels loved unconditionally.
These evenings of bad behaviour bring out the parenting tensions between us. Usually we’re on the same page, but certain things seem to highlight our parenting differences (mostly just sleep issues and disciplining tantrums). We’ve learned to save our heated discussions for after our daughter has gone to bed, and that has two benefits: 1) our daughter won’t hear us disagreeing about how to discipline her, which would weaken our stance, and 2) our strong opinions and emotional reactions have had time to settle and we’re better able to discuss logically, without getting upset. So currently, I’m letting my emotional reaction settle and my wife is carrying on doing bedtime routine with a wildly disobedient child.
Is it weird that one of my favourite times to be with my child is immediately following a tantrum? It’s like the biggest payoff of parenting. You put up with the absolute worst that your child can give: the hitting, the scratching, the demon-voiced scream, the dead eyes that make her look like a zombie, the sweating and the snot and the absolute inability to reason – or even to hear another human voice. And then it breaks – like a demon was exorcised from her body and my real daughter was released from its clutches. Her gaze changes, and she looks around as if she didn’t know where she had landed, and she reaches out to me for comfort. I imagine that a tantrum is a scary experience. It seems that she loses control over herself, and that the emotional reaction is bigger than she is. Lately, when the tantrum ends, she has started to say with a mix of pride and disbelief, “I calmed down!” She holds me tight, she chokes out the last of her sobs, and sometimes she even says “sorry” for the outburst. It’s the closest bonding we have now that she no longer breastfeeds.
So maybe I’m a little possessive over how I deal with tantrums. I want to be close to her for comfort. I want to model how calm I can be while she’s flying off her handle. I want to See the clarity in her eyes return. I want to be there for all of it.