We’ve seen them.
The child screaming, red-faced at the park, oblivious to parental admonitions.
The toddler rocking in the cart, yelling because he didn’t get his way.
We sigh and shake our heads as we move along our way.
Until it’s us and our children.
My toddlers rarely threw real tantrums, but when they have, it’s been at the grocery store.
Sure, at the grocery store or in the middle of a crowded park, when we have guests or when we’re visiting a new church, perhaps even the disciplined child knows now is his chance to try out a tantrum and see if it works. What can mom do about it here?
The first time it happened to me, when my first born child who never threw fits was melting down in the grocery store in public, I attributed it to manipulation. And, certainly, some toddlers are expert manipulators.
But maybe there’s something more going on.
Why do generally well-behaved, well-disciplined, and well-loved children still have their worst moments in public?
Personally, I think Providence is behind it.
Before children, or if we have only a docile child or two, it is easy to assume that all tantrums at all times are a result of poor parenting.
Like 1+1=2, a toddler throwing a fit in public without being effectively stopped by a parent = toddler who needs more discipline than he gets.
You know what causes us to think that?
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6
Those tantrums fell our pride.
And that’s a good thing.
When we are the parent feeling ineffective, it teaches us we aren’t all that. We don’t have it figured out after all. We still need grace.
When we have the red-faced, screaming child in public, it forces us to pay attention to our child instead of our reputation. We realize how deeply we care about what others are thinking, when that’s irrelevant to the moment.
When we are forced to deal with the situation under watching eyes, we naturally adjust our tone and realize with a shock that a harshness we know is unacceptable has become our default reaction.
And when that has been us, more than once, when we hear that screaming child at the grocery store or see the red-faced toddler at the park, we think of other stories that might be playing out instead of ineffective, “worse than me” parenting. We realize we have no idea what story is unfolding there, and that’s why it’s not our place to judge the story. We can offer up a quick prayer, we can offer an encouraging smile, but if we automatically decide the situation is one of moral fault, we should watch our back because
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2)
In other words, those assumptions you made about others as a bystander will be made against you by bystanders.
I know, because that’s been me.
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24)
What should we judge? We should first look to ourselves.
If it’s my child throwing the fit? My concern is my child, not appearances and what others might think of me. What others think is their business and not actually mine.
If it’s a random grocery store stranger? My concern is to love my neighbor. I can at least offer up a quick prayer for them. I can offer them a kind smile. I can, like a gracious older lady once did for me, bag her groceries for her and take them to the car and put her bags in the car while she holds her child.
“I had four kids,” she said, “It’s my turn to help.”
And as I drove home I thought, “I want to be like that when I grow up.”
Those public tantrums are not random.
They are not meaningless.
The public meltdowns are not meant to shame and punish us, but to teach us and move us to repentance. After repentance comes joy and freedom. Not freedom from public tantrums, but freedom from thinking more about what others think than about what God has for us to do right now, in this moment.
Those public meltdowns are for our good if we receive them with open hearts. We can thank God for them. He visits them upon us, and He does it for good.
This Christmas season, as we’re out with family or at the store late with children who have had too much sugar and too much excitement and too much indulgence, let’s remember what we’re called to each moment – not to guard our own reputations, but to care for our children and guide them.
We see in them only ourselves as we are with God, our Heavenly Father. We are spoiled children, tired and overwrought, pitching a fit over nothing. Yet He loves us, comforts us, teaches us, and still takes us home.
Praise God for the opportunity to imitate Him.