Recently, after chatting to someone about my blog, they told me that their kids had never pushed their buttons because, “my kids never had tantrums”.
But I don’t think that’s what button-pushing is.
See the thing is, my daughter doesn’t really tantrum either. She’s nearly four, and we’ve been unbelievably lucky, in that she doesn’t do that classic meltdown thing. She gets upset sometimes if we leave a playdate when she’s having a lot of fun, and she sometimes gets a bit annoyed that we have to race out the house for nursery if she’s playing and doesn’t want to go. But a few grumpy ‘humphs’, and a few requests to ‘stay here!’ are not really tantrums. And yet, the button-pushing, for me, can be off the Richter scale.
I don’t think button-pushing is about bad behaviour or tantrums. When it happens, it’s normally because a toddler is simply behaving like a toddler. They rarely do anything malicious or mean, kids are usually just trying to have fun: it’s how we react that pushes the buttons! Never was the phrase, it’s not you it’s me, more relevant! Don’t get me wrong, bad behaviour or a temper tantrum will still wind a parent up! But most of the time when a button gets pushed, kids are just being kids.
My buttons are pushed the most when we’re trying to get out of the house. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not known for being punctual. I do try! I swear! I hate the thought that I’m keeping people waiting. But I’m what the Swedish call a ‘tidsoptimist’ or a time optimist: someone who is habitually late because they always think they have more time than they actually do. I’m always convinced that I have time to just empty the dishwasher, just send that email, or just scroll through Instagram for 5 more minutes. And when a small child is involved, there is rarely time to just do anything more than is needed. So as I’m racing around getting ready, even a request to go to the loo can wind me up! Ridiculous isn’t it? A child says, I need a wee, and I suddenly feel a bit more annoyed about being a bit more late. Or when I ask my almost 4 year old to get her shoes on, and she carries on playing (because nothing makes a child more parent deaf than a request to stop playing). Did she hear me? Does she listen to me? And expecting her to be ready just because I’m finally ready, is an expectation she can never meet at this age. At most ages! But it has the power to test my patience and annoy the hell out of me. Why? Because it’s a big old metaphorical slap in the face. A reminder that I’m running late again. It’s not what my daughter does that pushes the buttons, but how it makes me feel, and only I’m in control of how I feel. No one else. Only I can work out how to not have my buttons pushed.
Don’t think I’ve worked it all out though! Just because in calm moments of clarity I’m aware of why something happens, doesn’t always mean that in the actual moment I can keep calm and be the mum I want to be. Y’know the mum who never shouts (is anyone ever that mum? If you are, answers on a postcard please).
Button pushing isn’t about kids having tantrums. I think it’s about what we’re reminded of that we perhaps dislike in ourselves (why am I always late?). Or it rustles up a long felt emotion from when we were a child, or a teenager (is anyone listening?). A tantrum will do it too though! But I don’t think it’s the tantrum itself: it taps into a feeling of embarrassment (why my child?!). Or feeling frustrated (why are they doing this?) or feeling annoyed or upset at the consequences beyond the tantrum (this will make us late / we’ll have to just leave the shopping and walk out of the supermarket / I feel like a mum who doesn’t have a handle on this). And it doesn’t mean we don’t love them any less. That’s the strange thing about kids: that rollercoaster of emotions. I think they should give out anti travel sickness bands at baby showers. 😳
And so back to that parent who said their kids never pushed their buttons: I take my hat off to you I really do. If waiting for a threenager to put their shoes on (and on the right feet!) never once annoyed the hell out of you when you were running late, then you are a calmer and more more patient person than me! Not entirely sure I believe you though! 😉