Friday, April 20, 2012

How do you stay present when the present moment SUCKS?

Want an opportunity to learn about yourself and grow stronger through many trials and tribulations?

Have children.

There are far worse things that could happen to someone than having a particular rough visit to the grocery store with a toddler. BUT, in the middle of the tantrum from hell, it felt like I was in the worst situation of my life. After chasing my two kids around the store for the entire trip, I finally got fed-up and told them to ride in the cart while we checked out at the register. That was the tipping point.

My oldest child was fine. She was a little disappointed, but rode quietly and contently in the cart. My younger daughter, however, pretty much lost it. As we stood in line, she started crying, yelling, thrashing around, hitting herself, kicking the cart, and screaming at the top of her lungs. As I've mentioned in a previous post, here, I'm not really a spanker... so I didn't look as that as an option right then - especially with half the store watching me. To be completely honest, I HAD NO IDEA what to do with her. I didn't want to give in to her and let her get down after the horrible behavior she was displaying. I didn't want to yell at her. I didn't even consider leaving my cart full of food and produce to take her out to the car. All I knew to do was try and keep calm so that we could eventually make it out of the store.

I have been working on being more mindful and present every day - being aware of what is happening, while it is happening - instead of spending most of the day worrying about things in the past or planning for things that haven't come yet.While my child was screaming, I paid attention to all the thoughts I was having. I knew people were looking at me, judging my ability to discipline my child. I knew people were looking at my child, possibly making judgements about her. I felt every pair of eyes in the entire store, focusing on me and my screamer. I even noticed a few annoyed and disdainful stares out of the corner of my eyes. I was trying so hard to be calm that I'm sure it looked like a half-decent effort to everyone there. But on the inside, I was on the verge of tears. I HATED what I was experiencing at that moment. I was embarrassed. I was self-conscious. I felt sad that I was having to watch my child go through such a terrible situation (it was terrible to her, no doubt).

When I finally got out to the car, I had a few minutes to decompress from all the stress I had been feeling in the store. And I wondered to myself, "How am I supposed to stay present when all I want to do is get away from a terribly unpleasant sitatuion?"

Luckily for me, I got home and picked up the book I've just started reading, "Buddhism for Mothers" by Sarah Napthali. I don't think it was any coincidence that I opened to "Finding Calm," one of her early chapters. Transferring Buddhist principles to parenthood, she suggests the following when confronted with an emotional or stressful situation:

  • "Remind yourself that no matter how intense your current emotional state, it will pass. Find opportunities to share this teaching with your children."
  • "Ask yourself what you could be learning from a difficult situation."
  • "As you grapple with the coming and going of emotions, be compassionate with yourself."
My worst enemy during the grocery store debacle wasn't my child, but it was myself. I was worried about what other people were thinking of myself and my child, and I'm sure that many of my thoughts were much worse than what I was assumed were the thoughts of others. I was stressed because I was worried about upsetting other people around me. Truth be told, I probably would have been okay if there hadn't been another soul in the store. I hate seeing my child in such emotional distress, but I knew that the tantrum would pass. And the more I fought against the anxiety over who was watching, the more anxious I got, beating myself up for feeling so flustered and not knowing the best way to respond. 

In the future, I hope that I can not only put on a calm front during meltdowns in the store, but that I can actually FEEL calm, knowing that the moment will pass. I want to have some compassion for myself and the way I'm feeling - whether it be anxious, embarrassed, or even angry and resentful - because these are normal, human emotions that will also pass (and that every other mother has experienced too). And I also want to have some compassion for my child. My children are 4 and 2. They are still learning the concepts of self-control and calm and there is no better way to teach them than by modeling it myself.


I HIGHLY recommend Napthali's book to any mother who feels tense, irritated, or "fed-up" with their children at times. Check it out here on Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Amen! I hear you. No mother really knows what to do in those situations. Remaining calm on the outside is all we can do. And yes, that will help our children even though the situation is probably taking a few years off our life! lol

    I read that book last year, and I LOVED it. It still helps me now, although I've forgotten the finer points. Thank you for reminding me of some of them!