Confession time: I aim to parent in a certain way. I know the theory and the research base for it. I know how and why parenting in this way grows awesome humans. What I’m aiming for, what I want, is for my parenting to be responsive. Compassionate. Loving.
But I don’t even come close to parenting in my ideal way 100% of the time.
I’m not a perfect parent. I lose my cool, I shout, I threaten, I punish, I say some downright mean things. And I feel guilty and ashamed when I admit those things to myself and others.
There are plenty of times when my parenting has fallen a little (lot) short of the mark. It goes spectacularly, epically wrong.
And so, I give you: the supermarket trip.
There have been many supermarket trips during my time as a parent (until I learned to leave them with someone else and go on my own. Best. Decision. Ever. You can actually browse and take your time, as opposed to flinging various things in the trolley while trying to get out of there as fast as possible). Anyway – this particular trip was the most disastrous (and was the point at which I decided that my children and supermarkets don’t mix and I wasn’t going to put myself – or them – through it any more).
On this fateful day, we were going to meet friends up at the bike park. We went, the kids had fun. They asked for a drink. I’d forgotten them. They asked for a snack. I’d forgotten them, too.
We stay a bit longer and then head off. The kids are tired from riding their bikes. They’re thirsty and hungry. Just down the road from the bike park is a supermarket – and I needed to do the shopping. As we approached the supermarket, for the briefest of moments I considered whether this wasn’t my greatest plan and whether I shouldn’t just go later in the evening once the kids were in bed. But nope – the supermarket’s right there, I don’t really want to go out later. Let’s do it.
Needless to say, the kids weren’t enamoured with this plan. A lot of moaning occurred. I was tired, didn’t want to think about how to empathise and reason with them, so I brought out the good ol’ tool of bribery. I promised a drink and (most importantly) a croissant once we were inside.
We make it in. The first part of the supermarket is fruit and veg. Croissants and drinks are past the halfway point. I want to do this quickly, and I don’t want to walk backwards and forwards, so I start doing my shopping. The moaning starts again. I try to divert it by giving one the trolley to push, but the other one wants to push it too and turn-taking isn’t going to cut it. They start fighting over the trolley. I talk calmly to them about taking turns and being careful of other shoppers. They carry on fighting over it.
It gets perilously close to some other shoppers. I get perilously close to losing my shit.
So I do what any self-respecting parent does in these situations. Which is bend down and whisper-hiss at my kids so that other people can’t hear my threats. ‘If you don’t stop this RIGHT NOW, I’m not getting you a croissant!’
The fighting gets worse. My four year old starts having a tantrum. I hiss again, ‘I warned you! That’s it! No croissant!’
All hell breaks loose. He starts screaming blue murder, sits on the floor with his fingers grasped round the trolley, and refuses to move. I try to move the trolley, but he’s insanely strong. Like Hulk. I have to prise his fingers off the edge of the trolley, one at a time. Then pick him up and plonk him into the trolley (still screaming) so I can carry on. My two year old, realising that now is the not the time to join in with this shitshow, trails behind me forlornly.
At this point I’m cursing the fact I decided to self-scan my shopping (I freely admit that I would have left the trolley of shopping and scarpered if it wasn’t linked to me). I keep talking to him in a calm voice (because after all, we are in public, so I’m trying to hold it together), attempting to get him to shut the eff up. It doesn’t work. Everyone’s looking. And in my distracted, frazzled state, I keep forgetting stuff and have to keep going back and forth across the aisles – right in front of where the bloody croissants are.
And every time we go past them, my son leans dramatically over the side of the trolley, hand outstretched in desperation, and sobs a loud, long, drawn-out, ‘CROISSANT!’ They were Oscar-worthy. More people stare.
I finally finish the shop, surprised I don’t have lockjaw from gritting my teeth, and sit in the car. And I cry. I cry for most of the drive home, beating myself up about my shitty parenting, how I failed, how I’m a terrible person, and how I’m a complete and utter fraud for running workshops on toddler behaviour.
And then I think about all the chances I had to change things. To stop it escalating to the extent it did. To parent in a way that was responsive, compassionate, and loving.
- I could have taken snacks and drinks to the bike park
- I could have not gone to the supermarket
- I could have got them a drink and a croissant straight away at the supermarket (like I’d promised)
- I could have not threatened to take away the one thing that I’d promised my son and that he needed to stop being hungry
- I could have apologised for my threat, not carried it out, and gone and got the croissant
- I could have apologised for carrying out my threat, and gone and got the croissant
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that if the most basic human needs aren’t met, then it’s very hard to progress to the next level of the hierarchy. Hunger, thirst, tiredness – all on that bottom level.
Let’s face it, I didn’t parent in my ideal way because I was tired and stressed. And that’s as an adult with far greater brain maturity and far greater impulse control than my four year old who had a triple whammy of being hungry, thirsty, and tired, who was being made to do something he didn’t want to do – who then had the one thing he’d been promised, that he was looking forward to, that would have stopped him from being hungry, taken away from him.
When we got home, we cuddled. I apologised for the way I’d behaved and explained that although I was stressed, it wasn’t ok for me to take that out on him. That particular fracture in our relationship was healed and we moved on – with me making a mental note to myself to do better next time (and to remember to take snacks and drinks with us when we go out).
by Sarah | founder / consultant | Nurture Parenting
Sarah runs workshops and meets centred around all aspects of parenting, families and children, from pregnancy to school-age.
She’s a mum of 3 who still struggles with parenting in an ideal way when she’s tired / stressed / touched out – which is a lot of the time, tbh.
But she’s trying and is ‘good enough’ – and wants other families to know that they are too.
Our 2 hour workshop forms the core of our ‘build your own’ course (you must attend this before attending any others). It takes an in-depth look at our children’s brains and how our parenting helps to shape them.
Tempers and tantrums
This 2 hour workshop forms part of our ‘build your own’ course. It takes an in-depth look at why younger children behave the way they do and provides strategies and techniques to help you navigate this tricky age.