Uuggh. I just got back from the grocery store where I witnessed a 3-4 year old girl having one of those EPIC melt-downs that only a child of that age can have. She was crying, screaming, face bright red, banging her little fists on the ice-cream freezer door; she'd spied those adorable little Ben & Jerry's single-serving containers and she was NOT LEAVING until she got one.
The poor woman apologized to ME, because her daughter was blocking my Ben & Jerry's. I looked at her with complete sympathy and said "No need to apologize; I've been there myself. I am so sorry you're going through this right now. It will get better." I thought she was going to burst into tears right then. I left the ice-cream isle and as I gathered the last couple of items, paid for them, and walked out of the store, I could STILL hear the little girl screaming and saw the mother trying to physically force her into the cart and out of the ice-cream isle. I could tell by the mother's face that she was at her absolute breaking point.
We've all been there, when the urge to say and do things you'll regret later is so huge, so overpowering, that the ONLY thing stopping you is that you are in public and you don't want others to witness the child-abuse you are momentarily flirting with. I remember the first time I actually thought "Now I can kind of understand how it happens, how a parent who is overly exhausted with not enough support could just snap" and lash out at a child who has pushed you way, way beyond your limit.
At that point what you need is someone to step in: a spouse, your mother, a friend or neighbor...someone, anyone who can put some physical and emotional space between you and your child so that you can take a few deep breaths. So that you can find your center, so that you can think and gather your wits about you and walk back into the line of fire with a calm mind and a plan. You need someone who understands to step in and help you, just for a minute or two.
I saw all of that on that mother's face and I wished there was something I could do. I thought about trying to distract the child, I thought about asking the mother for her list and her cart so that I could finish the shopping that needed to be done. But being a complete stranger I couldn't really do either of those things. I walked out to my car feeling sick with helplessness.
Should I have done something? Was I minding my own business or did I take the easy way out, heading home with my own Ben & Jerry's? What would you have done, if anything?