The Epic Tantrum that Changed my Perspective

Three years ago today was both one of the worst and one of the best days of my parenting. In fact, because this toy store tantrum went so horribly wrong, I learned so much.



Three years ago today was both one of the worst and one of the best days of my parenting. In fact, because this toy store tantrum went so horribly wrong, I learned so much.

My daughter and I had been in a small car accident. We were rear-ended, and I needed to replace her car seat.

Rather than sit in the small service waiting area, the dealership offered me a loaner until it was finished.

Thinking I was being smart, I decided to buy her new car seat while waiting for my van, that way we could make the 45 minute drive home without further stops.

My daughter was three. The van was supposed to be done by lunchtime.

Lunchtime came and went.

Realizing she would get hungry, I had brought snacks, but she was still hungry after my purse stash was gone.

Being a cautious mommy, I was putting her in each display seat, checking out the straps, headrests, safety features, seeing which were easy to buckle, but not easy enough for her to unbuckle, checking cup holders, etc.

I had finally made my decision . . . around an hour past lunch and well into nap-time, but my van was still not ready.

My best worst parenting day, I learned real compassion for an EPIC tantrum. Click To Tweet

I should have known better.

Kids do not deal well with being tired or hungry. Three and hangry ain’t pretty.

In order to purchase a car seat at Babies R Us, we had to walk through about 50% of Toys R Us to use their open register.

What do you get with a tired preschooler and shelves of beautiful Christmas and Halloween displays?

Three years ago today was both one of the worst and one of the best days of my parenting. In fact, because this toy store tantrum went so horribly wrong, I learned so much.

A gigantic “Mommy, I want this!” meltdown.

She was inconsolable when I explained that we didn’t have the money for any toys today, but would happily put things on her list for Santa.

You know what else a three-year-old doesn’t understand?

Delayed gratification.

It got ugly at the checkout.

She started screaming and crying, throwing herself around. And I realized then, I might have been able to make some different choices before we got into this situation, but for the most part, we were both coping as well as we could.

And she couldn’t cope. Epic tantrum!

I didn’t ignore her tantrum, just spoke in low deep tones to her. I picked her up and held her, through the judgmental stares of the cashier, but rather than feel vilified, for the first time, I realized HER INABILITY TO COPE was not a reflection of my value as a parent.

HER INABILITY TO COPE was not a reflection of my value as a parent. Life is messy. Click To Tweet

In that situation, stuck far from home, it just was what it was.

I got her out the door, managing to stay calm, then the car seat box didn’t fit in the loaner car’s trunk. I had to reinstall her emergency seat to fit the box in the back seat.

While I was bent over, sweating, and burning my fingers on the metal buckles, she realized she had to use the restroom. The tantrum escalated as she feared having an accident in her pretty skirt.

I can only imagine the picture we made as I raced this excruciatingly hysterical child all the way back through the entire store, back past the judgmental cashier, to make it to the restroom just in time.

But we could not yet claim victory, I had to walk her past all the toy displays, again.

Hysteria engulfed her as we got closer and closer to the door without a new toy.

But I was not going to give in because she threw a fit.

I knew this wasn’t fair for her. She didn’t ask to be stuck running errands waiting for our van or way past nap-time with nowhere to sleep.

But I had no choice that day, and I learned that her reaction was understandable. In her little mind, the world had fallen from its axis. Nothing made sense outside of her little routine.

While I chose not to buy her a toy, I did choose compassion.

Sweet, sweet loves, I know this is hard. I’m so sorry this day has not gone our way, but I will do my best to get you some lunch and a nap as soon as possible. You will be okay. Mommy loves you. We’ll get through this awful day. 

And we did.

A fistful of chicken nuggets and a milk and a repaired van put our day back on track.

Honestly, I’ve never personally seen a worse tantrum than the one she threw that day. Though her behavior was unacceptable, it was all she knew how to do. I could feel embarrassed and angry or see she needed my calm.

Again, I chose compassion.

As a parent, I learned to always carry back-up back-up purse snacks, and to seek the source of the tantrum not just the catalyst. Empathizing got better results than demanding she correct her attitude.

Seek the source of the tantrum not just the catalyst. Compassion got better results. Click To Tweet

As a woman, I learned that reality is sometimes messy. Own it.

But as a Christian, I see myself in that tantrum.

All the times I thought I had prayed enough but God didn’t give me the answer I wanted. All the times life broke my heart, and I thought God didn’t care or wasn’t listening. I realized I’d been wrong.

I couldn’t hear Him over my tantrum.

I’ve learned to seek Him, knowing His perfect gifts trump whatever I thought I wanted.

He chose compassion for me each and every time, inviting me into His stillness, offering His peace for my panic.

When I throw an epic tantrum of my own, God reminds me, that I don’t have to cope on my own. I just have to . . .

Psalm 46:10   ESV  “Be still, and know that I am God.

and calls me His – His sweet love, His daughter.

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Tights are not pants

Yesterday, God gave me a real opportunity to meet my daughter where she was. I was heading to a preparatory meeting for a local speaking engagement. I needed her to put her shoes on. After ten minutes, I called for her to come get into the car. She comes out of her bedroom in her t-shirt, sandals, and tights – no pants. Of course I giggled at her silliness, but suggested that she needs actual pants before we leave the house. After attempting to reason with her, I tried to take the easy way out and tell her that they had a hole instead of arguing the “tights are not pants” point.

tights-are-not-pants-pleaHa, ha. The joke was on me. She went into her room for another ten minutes, changing into ANOTHER pair of tights that didn’t have holes. And oh, the meltdown when I said she couldn’t wear that out in public. She even tried to pull her shirt down over her bum. “What if I do this?” she asked. Um, no, tights are not pants. She began to have a full tantrum. Through the tears and cries, I thought I heard something along the lines of “wahhh, I want to feel pretty!’

Luckily, we weren’t really expected at any specific time, so I was able to take a breath and really respond to her.

“Why do you want to wear the tights?”

“They are fancy. I like to be fancy.”

Oh, sweet girl! My heart melted when I saw her disappointment. In that moment, God gave me a soft heart for her instead of one rushed and determined with my own agenda.

“You are right. You haven’t gotten fancy for a while. Would you like to get fancy for church on Sunday?”

“Yes! with my tights?” Her face lit up when I said, of course. Then she immediately got up, put back on her pants and shoes so we could leave. It was kind of amazing.

When I met her where she was, validated her feelings, she was able to respect me and hear me. When she was so bogged down in being upset that she couldn’t hear me, I wasn’t going to be able to make progress with her.

It is a ridiculously simple trick that solves so many parenting battles. Meet her where she is and give her choices. She doesn’t understand why showing her hiney isn’t appropriate. She didn’t understand why I was hurrying out the door. She did know how she felt.

A few months ago, I would have wanted to handle the situation appropriately, but probably would have gotten frustrated. I would have set consequences and gotten her dressed, but would have missed the chance to love her. I loved her by not making it a battle with her. I loved her by taking the time to listen to her. I didn’t let her misbehave, but I gave her control in an appropriate way.

Ephesians 4:2 ESV “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,”

My patience with her four-year-old quirks and my willingness to see from her perspective were real gifts from God. Not only did she feel good about the exchange, but instead of starting the tightsnotpantsouting frustrated, I felt loved and respected right back. And we didn’t end up on the people of Walmart website, which is always a plus in rural Alabama.

Maybe someone needs to forward this information to this poor woman, in the spirit of love, of course.

Let’s Be Real about Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are an inevitable part of parenting, whether we like to admit it or not. And if we’re honest, temper tantrums are often an issue for more than just the kids.

I originally wrote about this topic two years ago, but pulled the original post because it felt hypocritical when I still struggle.

But I’ve decided if my honesty can help other moms, my brokenness is better than staged perfection.

Being a mom is filled with lots of joy. My daughter’s giggles and snuggles cheer my heart, and I love watching her grow in her faith and become her own little person.

But parenting is also filled with HUGE mountains of frustration.

I equate parenting to living with tiny, irrational people with memory disorders.

Parenting is frustrating. It's like living with tiny, irrational people with memory disorders. Click To Tweet

Minutes after we were supposed to leave the house, she says, “I forgot!” to why aren’t you dressed?

“Go put on your socks” is met with either a raging discourse against socks or a debate about wearing cowboy slippers to go to the park.

“Yes, I picked up my room,” is almost certainly a lie. More toys were generally liberated from their bins than returned to them.

And frustrations build. It is enough to drive anyone crazy.

Temper tantrums are an inevitable part of parenting, whether we like to admit it or not. And if we're honest, temper tantrums are often an issue for more than just the kids.

As parents, we are faced with making the same requests, fighting the same battles, over and over and over, day after day after day.

Add the stress of housekeeping, bills, work, difficult relationships and I start to fall apart.

I’ll feel like I’m barely holding my Hindenburg emotions together with duct tape and the next frustration rips through my false calm like flames.

For me, the first step in healing came from realizing that the root cause of my temper tantrums is sin.

SIN? Really?!?

Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV “Be angry and do not sin . . . and give no opportunity to the devil.”

God expects us to have emotions, not be ruled by them. When we throw temper tantrums we damage the trust our children have in us, in our love, in our stability, in our faith.

God expects us to have emotions, not be ruled by them. Temper tantrums damage relationships. Click To Tweet

We give Satan footholds into the lives of our children. With our temper tantrums, we build weak places in their hearts that Satan can exploit.

Totally unacceptable! So, I had to root out where my anger comes from. Primarily stress, pride, and lack of self-control. Yep, sin.

We hold onto stress like it’s our human right to explode during difficult circumstances, but God’s answer is not to. PERIOD.

Philippians 4:6 ESV “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

In the calm moments of motherhood, I find it easy to write this, but when I’m tired, have a headache, and my kid won’t stop talking long enough to eat her dinner, it is much harder to demonstrate self-control over the frustrations.

Many temper tantrums come from selfishness and pride.

I wanted today to go my way. I wanted to be on time. I didn’t want my favorite mug shattered on the ground from carelessness. They asked for more of my attention than I wanted to give right now (which is especially true in the bathroom) or all those things have happened at once.

And I used to snap.

Living with the me of the past had to be miserable. No one could anticipate my mood or my threshold for the day. I am truly grieved over the temper tantrums that ruled my life for years.

Every day I would wake up and promise myself to be better, and most days I would fail, robbing me and my family of joy and peace.

I couldn’t control myself because there was an anger born of selfishness inside me. Until I began to die to that selfishness, I wasn’t able to be different.

I had to see others, including my children, as more important than myself. I had to grow in humility.

Philippians 2:3 ESV “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

I realize now God’s highest commandment to love others comes before keeping house, writing a blog, folding laundry.

Sometimes, I am still tempted when faced with blatant disobedience, but I recognize my anger doesn’t reflect a humility in my position before God, or the ability to look at their sin with grace and compassion, without having to join them in anger.

James 1:19-20 ESV “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

The purpose of my life as a wife and mother is to produce righteous fruit in my life, in the lives of those with whom I fellowship, and the lives of my husband and children.

The anger of man doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.

So what are we supposed to do?

Psalm 4:4 ESV / “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.”

I love that – God invented time out.

If you’re angry, go sit on your bed, think about your own heart, and be quiet!

Taking a few moments to get myself under control in prayer always changes my attitude, setting aside my selfishness, exchanging it for God’s peace.

Temper Tantrums? Psalm 4:4 - God invents time out. Go sit on your bed & search your own… Click To Tweet

When I sit in quiet and reflect, I’m reminded how God loves them, to see another perspective, consider how to solve the conflict over being right.

It sounds too good to be true. Just pray?

It is where I start. Prayer opens our hearts to God. Then through scripture, He reaches into our lives with His wisdom. In prayer and reading His word, we learn to listen, be convicted and challenged.

In this communion with Him, we are granted His peace.

Philippians 4:7 ESV “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In the face of truly heartbreaking struggles, mind-numbing frustrations, and painful realities the peace of God is absolutely beyond my ability to describe or explain, but is so real.

I’ve felt it, like silk, wash over my heart, changing my perspective and emotions in an instant.

With joy and thankfulness for my full life, I ask to have the correct attitude toward this season as wife and mother and set aside my anger.

God has been working on my temper tantrums for years now.

I can safely say He’ll be done with me about five seconds before never, but I know I’m making perfectly imperfect progress every time I pray for His peace, patience, and maybe some time alone to pee.

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The “No Thank You” Day

I think my mother-in-law uses this term, a “No Thank You” day, to refer to one of those days that for whatever reason, someone just isn’t happy. Someone else might describe it as waking up on the wrong side of the bed, but you get the idea. Today was that kind of day around my house.

I woke up before my preschooler. I got out of bed, was brushing my teeth in a pretty good mood. Then she woke up. And that was pretty much the end of that. After a “good morning, Mommy” full of the promise of sunshine, she pretty much rained on my parade the rest of the day.

She didn’t want to eat her yogurt. It was apparently gross, and by gross I mean absolutely nothing wrong with it, but she wasn’t allowed to watch Sesame Street until it was gone, so it became a battle.

Then she wanted a drink, but not any of the actual choices we had available, including water. Then she couldn’t remember how to make her bed. I know she is only four, but every day for the past couple of weeks, I walk her through how to do it, tell her just to do her best, and that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Today she refused to make the bed, like sat down in a huff and full on pitched a fit, a screaming crying jag because she didn’t know how to make her bed. I sat with her, talked her, and walked her through it again, but literally every second was a total battle. I was so tempted to do it for her.

But I knew if I let it go this one day for the sake of ease, she’d be ten before she ever made her bed again. Absolute consistency is key for my child. One moment of weakness and she’s on that like the lion on the weak gazelle, so I pressed onward, determined to hug her, smile and move past this momentary blip in our day. Ha ha, we call this irony ’round here, folks, because that was nothing compared to the rest of the day.

Then I asked her to get dressed. She is four. She’s been dressing herself for over a year (mostly). She still doesn’t do buttons, but she can put on her pants, shirts, and shoes (even if they’re on the wrong feet). She sat, in her panties, not the clean ones, screaming that she didn’t know how to put on her shirt.

1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

I stood staring at her in complete shock and frustration several times today. And I had to choose to handle her in the Godly way I am modeling. She deserved my anger, but not my sin. Her meltdowns were not my fault. She was making her own poor choices. My reactions to her were my responsibility. I had done all I knew how to do.

I fed her, got her something to drink, gave her a hug, checked her forehead. When there was nothing obviously wrong that I could correct, I had to let her suffer the consequences of her choices. She got harsh words and time outs, toys put up, and spent a lot of time being talked to today.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”

I was waging war against Satan today, in my home, in my child, and in my heart. I had to choose to take control of my anger (even though justified) because in my anger I didn’t want to sin. A few times, I needed to apologize and ask her forgiveness for getting too loud, but I was able to mostly just let the day go. It wasn’t going well, but if all I could do was fix my reaction to it, then that is what I was going to do. I had the armor of God to take every thought captive.

The older of the children we babysat is very much like my child, so much so that they are either best friends or tattling and bossing each other around. The one time they did play nicely for an extended period of time, turns out they were dumping sand from the sandbox around the yard and throwing it at the dogs. And as I snagged my child, running with her alligator scooper full of sand toward our yellow lab, who was pretty sure this was the most amazing game ever, I noticed she had sand all over her face.

“What did you do?”

“I ate some, Mommy,” she beamed proudly.

“Why?”I asked incredulously.

“To try it.”

“And was it tasty?”

“Nope.”

I’m in hysterics now thinking about this. We watch a lot of cooking shows, and we encourage her to always try new things, so I guess I shouldn’t assume that she knows sand is gross, but we had another talk about how food is the only thing that goes into her mouth. Which we had again after she put Epsom salt crystals from a science experiment into her mouth. I think they are edible, but they are a laxative, so not recommended snacking.

I was trying to balance our checking account, watch a climbing one year old, supervise two energetic four-year-olds, and was dealing with all the intensity of their tattling, squabbling, or colluding against me, with the stress of a broken computer, shattered iPhone screen, a credit card bill that is higher than I’d hoped. I wanted to text my husband and complain. I wanted to be angry all over someone, darn it. I chose not to. I have no idea what kind of day he’d had, what mood he was in, and had a choice to suck it up and deal or make his whole drive home full of stress about what he was going to find when he got home, make him angry before he even walked in the door. That wasn’t the tone I wanted to set for our evening.

I was nearly in tears by the time her father got home. I spent some quiet time, just in thought and prayer to handle this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. All I could think was that I was just giving a friend advice about this kind of day last night. I need to practice what I preach. My daughter’s struggles were frustrating, and continued through dinner and bath time, but were not about me. My job was to maintain consistent rules and consequences and not bash my head against a wall.

Romans 5:3-5More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Ask most moms about praying for patience and they will look at you horrified – NEVER, I mean, never pray for patience. God doesn’t give you patience. He gives you the opportunity to practice it. Praying to be a good parent is kind of the same thing. Better be prepared to learn quickly.

My daughter is only 4. This day will be far from the last tough day or far from the worst day we will ever face. Today was part of giving us endurance, producing character, and giving us hope in that He will always provide the strength to avoid temptation and to persevere through the most difficult challenges using His divine armor, not our own strength.

At the end of this “No Thank You” day, she refused to pick up her toys in her bathtub because she was too tired. I said that was unfortunate, and she could just throw them in the trash so she would never have to pick them up again. When she saw I was holding a trash can next to the tub, she picked them up. Then she started dancing in the tub, and I reminded her that we don’t play in the tub because she could slip and fall. Then it was another round of I forgot how to brush my teeth, then her Fancy Nancy nightgown and stories. She picked a story about two best friends who don’t get along all the time because they have to share and are both bossy – PERFECT, used it as a teachable moment. Then we said her prayers and asked forgiveness for being naughty and thank you for friends coming to play, and for healing for a sick friend, and for the cat to close her eyes because we are praying, Amen.

A kiss, a hug, a goodnight, don’t let the bedbugs bite and today was over. I didn’t get it all right, but with God’s strength, nudges, and love, I got it a whole lot more right than I ever could have imagined a few years ago. Phew, gonna pray for coffee tomorrow, with a chance of grace – that couldn’t backfire, could it?