This article was originally published on Argyle in Spring. It has been republished here with permission.
To the mother of the screaming child at the scholastic book fair,
I see you in the library of the elementary school I teach at, and your four-year-old child is screaming at you. He is blood-curdling screaming right in your face. That’s why I’m looking at you. That’s why everyone is looking at you. He’s so mad that you won’t buy him that brand new $39.99 Lego Star Wars book with the included lego guys that he “need need neeeeeeds” to have.
He’s putting up a really big scene. I heard him all the way down the hall. He’s yelling and punching your legs as he writhes in emotional pain on the floor. He’s crying and crying, screaming how mean you are and how rude that you won’t give him what he wants. His world is caving in. He just told you you’re the worst mom ever.
More people are looking at you now. The lady at the register is frozen, not sure how to react. Everyone is watching, just waiting and wondering how you’re going to handle him. He’s making a scene, and that scene is getting louder and more uncomfortable to watch.
I see a tear welling up in your eye, but I also see the face of courage and strength you’re forcing to stick on your face. You are calm and collected, seemingly unfazed by his tantrum. You continue your business at the register, then place the books in your bag, quietly take your daughter by the hand, scoop up the screaming toddler, and walk out of the library. He continues to squirm and punch you. He just clawed your face, leaving a large scratch down your cheek, yet you calmly walk on.
As you walk to your car (and I can’t help but follow and watch in awe at your magical parenting techniques), I hear him scream, “YOU PROMISED I COULD GET A BOOK TODAY!” in between sobs and trying helplessly to catch his breath. To this, you calmly reply, “I gave you $5 to spend on a book today. You picked a book that was more than $5. Then you chose to spend your time in the book fair crying and screaming instead of looking for another book that was $5. I’m sorry you made that choice, that must be very sad for you to leave the book fair with no book today.”
He of course didn’t like this reply. In fact, he’s screaming louder now. He’s squirming so much that he practically falls from your arms. You set him calmly on the ground and firmly, but lovingly, grab his wrist so he doesn’t run away. In your calmest, most patient motherly tone, you say, “(name), I love you. I love you so much. I can see that you’re sad right now and I feel sad that you are so sad. let’s get in the car and find your special blankie, that always makes you feel better.”
He replies, “but, but, but… you didn’t get me my book…” You again repeat what you said earlier: that you were sad he made the choice to waste his time crying instead of finding another book that was $5.
Then, without another word, you give him a big hug (which he resists), scoop him up (only to be again scratched in the face), and put him into his carseat. You close his door and lean up against the car for a brief moment. You breath out a sigh of frustration before you climb in the car and drive away.
You didn’t give in today. You never gave in, and for that I want to say thank you
Thank you for being a mother that sets boundaries for your child. Thank you for being a mother that doesn’t give in to social embarrassment to appease the wants of your crying 4-year-old.
Thank you for choosing to not give him everything he wants.
Thank you for having the maturity to scoop him up in your arms as he flails and screams, and calmly explain to him the reasons why you wouldn’t be purchasing the Lego book for him today.
Thank you for having the maturity to talk to your child like an adult and allow him to see the consequences for his actions. Thank you for taking the time to explain to him that this wasn’t your problem; it was a mess he created for himself based on a choice he made.
Thank you for setting an example to all the other mothers that being a firm parent that sticks to her word is much more important than giving in to soothe the screams. Thank you for being a mother that your children can rely on because you are consistent and firm.
Thank you for being a mother that your children feel safe with, because they know their boundaries and expectations. Thank you for loving your children enough to step away from being their friend, and assume the role of being their parent.
As a teacher, I experience everyday a wide variety of parents and see the full spectrum of parenting styles and approaches. And as a teacher, I can see the dire need the world has for more mothers like you.
The scholastic book fair was three months ago, and I’m still thinking about you and the way you handled your child’s tantrum that day. You left an impression in my mind, and the minds of everyone that watched you like I did in February.
Thank you for being the kind of mother that raises respectful, humble children. Your influence is far greater than you will ever realize.
A grateful first grade teacher