Letting Go of the Rest: I’m Not Playing the Parental Shame Game Anymore

My four year old is a real jerk about 40% of the time. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m not ashamed to truth tell. I think this…all of this…needs to be said.

On a recent trip to Target, I was acutely reminded of his incredible capacity for jerky-ness.

Scene: School supply shopping…ugh. Miserable. Am I right?

Arrival at Target 11:30AM. 4YO child melts down about my refusal to take/use the only special needs cart in our local store. Immediate about turn happens. We leave the store (I’m not putting up with this behavior. BOOM!). Two of three children are now in tears—one crying about a cart, one crying about a cancelled shopping trip. Cart cryer stops crying and sincerely apologizes. We return to store. One and a half hours of searching for supplies and checking lists for three kids happens—1.5 HOURS.. For. The. Love. ..4YO has been patient, and upon finding a clearance toy asks if he can have it. Mommy agrees. 1:00PM – proceed to checkout. Kids are hungry. Mommy suggests the purchase of a small treat for everyone to share on the way home to hold them over until lunch can be made. 4YO proceeds to LOSE HIS EVER-LOVING MIND because he wants his own treat.

This is not a quiet whining and the release of sweet alligator tears whilst clinging to Mommy’s leg. This is full-tilt hysteria with the entire population of Target staring in equal parts aghast horror and jaws-dropped-brows-raised awe. The stares. The whispers. They were not imagined. They were very very very real—skin searing in their intensity, nauseating in their judgement.

What does Mommy want to do? She wants to do exactly what the 4YO is doing. She wants to scream and cry and yell and possibly smack his little devil possessed face into next week. However, as that would only escalate the situation on many levels, solve nothing, and increase (if even possible) the number of stares, she rises above her base shamed-into-wanting-to-explode-animal instincts and thinks…

“What should I do?” 

The checker was half way through my took-an-hour-and-a-half collection of goods. I wanted to die inside at the idea of walking away from that cart. So… I told 9YO to stay with the cart and asked 11YO to go with me. I marched out of Target, a sheen of embarrassed “keep-it-together” sweat glistening on my face. I briskly and not-so-gently buckled 4Yo into his car seat, turned on the car, and asked 11YO to sit with His Jerkyness and wait. I ran—literally RAN, back into Target, paid for my wares and eventually…eventually…we—all three children and I—returned home alive.

It was not over.

By this time, 4YO had calmed down. Between sub-sucking breaths, he apologized for “throwing fits and ruining the shopping trip for his sisters and Mommy”. However, upon learning Mommy did not purchase the toy he had selected at the store due to aforementioned epic tantrum, a repeat of the Target incident ensued within the confines of home.

I ignored him. In fact, I sent a Snapchat video of his dramatics to some of my girlfriends. He was tired—it was nearly an hour past his regular nap time. He was hungry—it was approaching 2pm. I take responsibility for a portion of his emotional instability at that point. He eventually calmed, ate, and slept. Things were better.

Here’s the thing—the itchy under my skin, can’t be ignored, thing…

I wanted to scream at equal volume to my little man’s voice in that store. I wanted to rage to all those onlookers, “I KNOW, people. I freaking KNOW. I know his behavior is outrageous. I am fully aware it is unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch. Believe me, I EFFING KNOW. And…I’m doing my best. Whether I’m doing it the way YOU think I should or not, I am trying to do what is best…for him.”

My kid is a jerk sometimes—a lot of times. He just is. I am especially stretched and stressed and challenged every day with the raising of this child at this stage. Maybe that makes me weak. Perhaps it makes me ungrateful. Or…it makes me human.

Hubby and I are team players. We have worked together to try to be consistent with discipline and strategies. We’re wading through this murky swamp of parenting, giving it all we have in an effort to raise responsible, functioning, loving members of society.

If I’ve learned anything in my eleven years as a mom, it’s that there is NO ONE right way to do this, because there are no TWO children who are exactly the same. All three of our kids are vasty different from one another. And among many differences, 4YO has what can arguably be described as volatile emotions, which rule his small body and growing brain. It’s just part of who he is. And like everyone, it’s something he is going to need to learn coping skills to control. As his parents, Hubby and I are figuring out how best we can help him do that. It’s a work in progress…a messy business of trial and error, failures and successes.

I’ve been made to feel shamed. That is exactly what happened at Target, and has happened a million other times in my Mommy Life. I’m done with playing my part in this game.

I’m not going to let gut roiling, heart burning shame fester and infect me any longer. I refuse to be shamed by Target gawkers, other parents, or worse—other non-parents for how we do or don’t handle the difficult moments, the oh-shit-this-is-beyond-my-control behaviors. I’m truly, deeply, honestly, doing my best. And that is going to have to be enough.

This parenting gig is brutiful. It is so so so hard at times, and so so so wonderful at others. And with God as my witness, I’m here to say, it’s never easy. It is life altering, paradigm shifting, love defining. But…It. Is. Never. Easy.

So… should I see you, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie…whomever, in Target or anywhere else, and you’ve got a little jerk in tow putting on a show, and you’re in the thick of it—the trenches, doing your best to keep your shit together and do whatever is best for your kid. I will not gawk. I will not silently (or not so silently) judge.

I will be fist pumping in solidarity. My internal dialogue will be one of encouragement and support. Keep on keeping on, warrior.

It is my sincere belief with time and parental perseverance, that little jerk will one day be a wonderfully decent human, capable of a myriad of emotions without meltdown, AND a complete start-to-finish trip to Target to boot.

And If not?

Well, I’m still standing with you. That’s right. I’m. Still. Standing. With. YOU.

YOU are my people. Because if you tried your best—truly, deeply, honestly, tried your best, there is nothing else for you to do.

We love them. We do our best. We have to let go of the rest.

This is me letting go of the rest.


P.S. Target gawkers, you can kiss it. They sell earplugs in aisle ten and you can look the other way for free.