Temper Tantrums: Mama Don't Play That Game

Filed under: Single Parenting, Opinions, Divorce & Custody

kids temper tantrums

When temper tantrums hit, this mom doesn't back down. Illustration by Dori Hartley

It's one of those mornings. I try not to take them personally.

There's no rhyme or reason to it. Daughter #2 had gone to bed at a sensible 8:15 the night before. She'd slept through the night. I'd set out her school clothes for her at the foot of her bed, within easy reach.

I wake up both daughters as usual (gently and cheerfully! half-Mary Poppins, half-Caroline Ingalls!) at 6:40 a.m.. Daughter #1 climbs out of bed to ferret out the perfect pair of jeggings from a tangle of clothes in her closet.

Daughter #2 ignores me. This is not a good omen. I pop my head through her doorway. I ask her pointedly to please get dressed, use the bathroom, brush her teeth and come down for breakfast. Odd whimpering and growling commence from under her pillow. I head downstairs to make coffee, pack lunches and release the hounds, hoping Daughter #2 will sort herself out.

I am not sure what it is exactly that flips the switch. But at some terribly unfortunate point between 6:40 and 6:43 a.m., my post-modern Shirley Temple morphs into the full-blown raging spawn of Satan. She refuses to get dressed. She refuses to get out of bed. She refuses to acknowledge the existence of hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, or toilet. From her room comes monstrous groans and terrifying howls: SHE WOULD NOT, SHE COULD NOT, SHE WOULD NEVER. If I do not wait on her hand and foot, as she demands, getting ready for school is not happening.

These are the times that try single mothers' souls. These are the times when it would be nice to have their father here -- a partner in exhaustion, willing to share responsibility for the creation of the rampaging beast upstairs.

I gulp my coffee like a beer. I sigh. Single Mama don't play this game.

I return to The Den of Fury. I tell Demon Spawn that she has exactly 40 minutes to get her shiz together and show some serious respect for her sister and me. I tell her we are not going to make her sister late for school, under any circumstance. I tell her if she does not get dressed, I will be taking her to school in her PJs -- end of story.

Forty ear-splitting, wall-pounding, bed-thrashing minutes pass. I nearly grind my molars into splinters, trying to maintain my Caroline Cool. The dogs cower under the dining room table. The cats take cover behind the couch.

Reasoning does not work. Scolding does not work.

There is no negotiating with a first-grade terrorist. One must be prepared to make a spectacle.

7:40: Time to leave. Daughter #1 gathers up her things and waits by the front door, mute. The siblings of Demon Spawn must also be prepared to sacrifice dignity if they are to get to school on time.

7:45: Now I am forced to take action. I gather up my PJ-wearing, shrieking 7-year-old. She has transformed into an invertebrate, which now makes it impossible to put her coat on over her PJs. Fine. Coat, clothing, shoes: I stuff them all into a plastic bag. I wedge Demon Spawn under my left arm, and carry her bag of belongings in my other arm. We three head down the hill to the car, in the chill winter air. Two neighbors glance our way, alarmed. I smile as if this is perfectly normal morning behavior for our family. Daughter #1 is grim, but quietly impressed. Daughter #2 thrashes and shrieks from where she is clamped in my armpit. "I'M COLD I'M COLD YOU'RE MEAN I'M COOOOOLD!"

In the car, the Patron Saint of Seatbelts takes pity on us and heeds my prayers. Miraculously, we are all belted in and on our way.

"I WANT TO HAVE MY PLAYDATES!" yells Daughter #2, then, knowing full well I am just about to tell her the week's playdates have been revoked.


Daughter #2 spazzes, ad nauseum. In the rearview mirror, Daughter #1 smirks with something resembling vindication.

At school, before hopping out of the car, Daughter #1 whispers into my ear with great awe: "Can I tell my class about this morning?"

"Sure," I say. "This was the equivalent of walking three miles to school in the snow. Go for it."

When Daughter #2 and I pull up in front of the Lower School, she is no longer spazzing but sniffling. She meekly pulls on pants and a coat. We hold hands and head to her classroom.

I ask her first-grade teacher if we can have a word with her in the hallway. I am that mean. Daughter #2 stares at me, horrified. She adores her teacher.

"Miss C.," I say. "H has made some unfortunate choices this morning. If she continues making unfortunate choices, please let me know, because there will have to be further consequences."

I may love her first-grade teacher even more than she does. Miss C. gets it.

"Oh, dear," says Miss C. "I'm sorry to hear that. But I'm sure H is going to make good choices today. Right, H?"

H nods. She looks like she's been through a war. Her hair is pure tumbleweed. She is wearing a bedraggled PJ top with her leggings. She has had no breakfast. My heart aches for her. She doesn't want to be in that headspace any more than I want her to be.

It's hard, being 7. But I don't know what to do other than be her wall, sometimes. If I'm not saying, 'Uh-uh, no way,' who will?

I hug her goodbye. I tell her I know it's been a rough morning, and I love her very much. I tell her we can start over later. I tell her I am hard on her, sometimes, because I know she can do better.

She hugs me back tightly, a smile lighting up her elfin face again. We shake on the promise of a better afternoon, a better week.

We're all still learning.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.