I got caught in the middle of a toddler tantrum today. It started when I picked up my sweet three year old from the babysitter’s house and it continued all the way home. Sobbing. Face wet with tears. Screaming at me from the car seat behind me.
I did what I’m supposed to do, but don’t always have the calm to do: I acknowledged those big three year old feelings. I held up a mirror to those feelings, repeating, “you’re very angry with me,” and “you really wanted to stay,” and “you’re feeling very sad and frustrated.”
The tantrum continued. The three year old didn’t care that I was utilizing modern best-practice parenting techniques. We sat in the car in the driveway waiting for the tantrum to blow over. It didn’t. We finally went into the house and brought the tantrum with us.
Eventually, mom lost her cool. She demanded respectful words and a calm tone of voice when the three year old started screaming “I’m leaving! I’m going to find a new family!” It hurt my heart. We were spiraling, and I knew it. I shouldn’t lose MY cool. But I did, because I’m human. I needed a break and a hug.
Cue: light bulb.
My three year old needed a hug too! So, I asked said three year old if a hug was in order. It was. We embraced. We started to rock back and forth. I started singing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” I love that song. My mom used to sing me that song. I used to sing it to my baby brother. I used to sing that song to my baby. My baby who is now a three year old with BIG feelings.
After finishing the first verse and chorus, I started to hum. Hugging and humming is nice. I remember my baby brother used to sit on my mother’s lap during choir practice at church and place his head on her chest. The vibration of her vocal chords were so soothing to him. A sensation he probably recognized on a primal level from those days spent in her womb.
My sweet three year old laid his head on my chest, just as my baby brother used to do with my mother. His breathing slowed, gasping occasionally the way you do after a good hard cry. Eventually I heard humming coming from the three year old too, followed by, “I love you mommy.”
The storm had settled. We felt peace. We felt connection. I stopped humming to say, “I love you too, sweetheart.” We continued to rock and hug, reaching out to pet the cat as he lumbered by.
As we transitioned to lunch time, I was struck by the power of sensation, as well as the distance we had created between the two of us and the impact it made when we came back together.
That healthy and natural distance that creeps between mother and child is necessary and that space between us is filled with history and beauty. Sometimes though, that space between us feels lonely. Sometimes, even when one of us is not acting in a way that would normally elicit a hug, we simply need to feel connection.
The most enlightening and perhaps disturbing thing struck me as a result of this tantrum was that I USED to sing that song to him. The past tense in that sentence hurts my heart. When did I stop singing to him? To be more clear, we sing together daily. We sing fun preschool songs and the theme tunes to his favorite shows, but when was the last time I held my child close and sang TO him, sang FOR him? Why did I allow his request to stop singing to him at bedtime creep into all of the other times? When did I allow myself to let go of moments of connection?
Today I’m grateful for big three year old feelings and giant tantrums. My three year old and his big feelings taught me some important lessons that I really needed today:
- Sometimes you need to express yourself and get it all out, even if it isn’t pretty.
- Go in for the hug even when neither of you are acting very huggable.
- Music can soothe the soul.
- Continue to purposefully seek connection with the ones you love.
- Disconnection can happen accidentally.
The next time you are in the thick of it with your child, spouse, or perhaps even your best friend, give a hug-it-out approach a try. Just try to stay infuriated at your spouse for neglecting the dishes yet again after holding them close for one whole minute. I wont say its impossible, but it does add an extra challenge to holding onto your anger.
My challenge for myself tomorrow is to use three senses to show my three year old love and connection. Maybe we’ll make hearts with play dough, or bake cookies and fill the house with its lovely aroma. Maybe we’ll roll down the grassy hill and laugh until our stomachs hurt. Maybe we’ll just rock, hum, and hug it out.