As a parent of a pre-schooler, like many I suspect, I go from feeling like a superhero mum to hapless heroine from one moment to the next. Some days I’ll make my three year old daughter fresh and nutritious home cooked food, others I’m throwing frozen finger food in the oven and letting her eat way too much sugar. One morning I’ll send her off to day-care well-presented and well-fed with French-plaits in her hair; the next day still holding a piece of banana bread looking like she’s been dragged backwards through a hedge. Sometimes I feel calm, accomplished and self-assured that I’m sufficiently meeting all her practical, intellectual and emotional needs; other times I’m frantically googling parenting guides, fuelled by fears I’m failing. Or we’ll be sharing a tender moment; a cuddle, a book or a gentle look, the next second I say no to some screen time or a second ice-cream and suddenly I feel like the enemy; queen of the land of mean.
It’s these meltdown situations that probably test my confidence the most. In one swift second our interactions go from magical to miserable leaving me wondering whether it’s just a normal childhood incident or whether somewhere along the way I’ve failed to implement a critical element of good parenting or discipline. Her fits of rage initially stun me into silence. Sometimes, admittedly, although I wouldn’t let it show, I want to laugh incredulously at the dramatics displayed by the solo star of a superbly-acted tantrum stage show. Mild amusement quickly turns to anger. I breathe deeply until it dissipates. I have learned by now that acting on it only exacerbates her emotions, invalidates her vulnerable infant feelings and leaves me languishing in remorse. The anger goes and I detach, careful to not let her actions; screaming and sometimes hitting or throwing things, stimulate a response. I calmly explain why she can’t have what she wants, express some understanding and wait, only to recurrently check if she wants a cuddle yet. She eventually gives in and throws her arms around me. I breathe a sigh of relief.
However, occasionally, the tantrum persists. The longer it goes on I feel my patience slowly ceasing to exist. This recently happened on our way out of the house after I refused a third chocolate biscuit request. She begged, bribed and badgered me, but, in a superhero mum moment, I stood strong. The corners of her mouth abruptly turned down accompanied by a frown. She was about to push out that all too familiar horrendous, high-pitched howl. Out it came and it wouldn’t stop. She rejected my reasoning, declined countless offers of cuddles and was refusing to back down. It was beginning to grate on my ears and I was also worried the neighbours could hear. I pleaded with her to give it up, realising my super hero mum moment had passed and I was now the hapless heroine. She turned the volume up instead. My voice started to raise; I was becoming the baddie; controlling, crazy and enraged. I walked away and took several deep breaths. I returned to where she stood and in desperation at the situation contorted my face at her in a playful way.
Her voice cracked. I heard her laugh! She started to whinge again, so I did it again. She couldn’t control it; her cry gave way to a belly laugh. Soon I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying and we got the giggles together. She ran over to me, flung her arms round my neck and we squeezed each other while snuggling and sniggering.
It was the first time I really comprehended just how much I make my little girl laugh. That even in the middle of an extended and outrageous meltdown of indignant rage, overwhelming emotions and desperation to get her own way, she couldn’t control her giggles at her mummy’s funny face.
And I realised that no matter how much I may be getting wrong on my journey as her mum, one thing I’m getting right is making sure we have a lot of silly fun. That, while I’ll never stop learning and trying to do everything better, no amount of reading can add value to these special moments we have together. My little girl makes me laugh a lot too. It’s our super power. Our shield against the challenges of life. And the best one too.