This morning at daycare drop off my child and I experienced their first lobby meltdown (I’m surprised it took this long before it happened to be honest). It started out with protest to get out of the car and elements of emotion and control just kept stacking. We waded through the 20 minute long process of varying intensity as other parents and children walked in going about their morning getting their kids off to childcare. Most were probably too busy to notice the challenge we were having in the corner. Some were probably empathetic, as most parents have experienced public meltdowns and the anxiety it evokes for both parent and child. And there were probably some judgemental thoughts for those who were present during the screaming and hitting climax. But through it all not a single parent said a word. In fact at one point another child made a statement to their mom, “he’s kicking mama”. His mom said nothing in response and just avoided acknowledging it was taking place.
After nearly 7 years of parenting and having one child with a provisional ASD diagnosis, I’ve experienced these meltdowns regularly enough to not get overly flustered by them. However, it’s emotionally taxing nonetheless. I’ve heard hundreds of stories over the years of emotionally trying times parents have with their children, and it’s the ones that happen in public that are the most anxiety provoking for the parent. Typically it comes from a place of loosing total control and/or judgement from others. I must admit there was a moment or two where I thought I wonder what they are thinking about me as a parent, what if they knew he was on the spectrum, they probably think he’s a “bad” kid. But there wasn’t enough time to stay focused on these thoughts amidst trying to regulate my sad, angry, and overwhelmed child; nor did I want to ruminate on them. After his daycare teacher came and picked him up from me to shift the current experience I had time to think about the bigger picture of our experience.
Although there was likely nothing any of the other parents could have done to help with this blip in my child’s day, I thought about how we as parents support each other. You know the saying, it takes a village to raise a child. What if we reframed that to, it takes a village to raise a parent.
No I didn’t need another parent to intervene and assist; however, it would have felt more reassuring if there was a simple expression of, "this parenting stuff is tough, you’ve got this". We hear stories occasionally of the stranger who made a difference through their words of acknowledgment and encouragement during tough parenting times and I wonder why it doesn’t happen more often. I have more of a tendency to connect with parents when they are solo in these moments trying to move through it with the least amount of attention drawn to them or their child. In most situations it leads to a conversation about parenting that is mutually validating and beneficial.
So for all you parents out there I have some questions.
If your child experiences a meltdown in public is it helpful or not to hear a sense on camaraderie, support, or encouragement? If so what messages would you like to hear?
If you’re witnessing another parent working through a meltdown what’s your immediate thought? What messages would you like to convey, and what holds you back?