This summer, Katie and I went on a fabulous little trip to visit one of my best friends, who has a condo in Ocean City, Maryland. And this was Katie’s first time to see the ocean. It was her first time on a beach. It was her first time to go into the ocean. And it was the least favorite part of her trip.
How can this be? I love the ocean. I receive energy and rejuvenation from the sound of the waves and the seagulls. The air feels crisp; and in spite of the sand, which I grant you can be an annoyance, I love the way it feels at the ocean.
And the first night, Katie did, too.
Ironically, there was a storm rolling in, and we only had a few minutes for the girls to play, but this was by far her favorite experience at the ocean.
The next day, when the storm had rolled on through and it was bright and sunny, we were in a different spot on the beach, the waves crested quite high, and they knocked her right off her feet. She didn’t like it. But somehow I convinced her, rather easily, that the next day, nearer to the condo, it would be better, and so she trusted me and stayed excited to go in the ocean.
I probably don’t have to tell you that the next day, nearer to the condo, the waves knocked her over again; and this time, she was done. She had a full-fledged “I hate the beach” meltdown, and I couldn’t get her to do anything. I couldn’t get her to stop crying. I couldn’t get her to walk on the beach and look for seashells. I couldn’t get her to wiggle her toes in the sand or build a sandcastle. The only thing she wanted to do was leave the beach. Luckily, we were only 5 minutes from the condo, so we could easily do this; and after I tried and failed, that’s what we did.
But I was angry. This is not one of my best parenting moments. I didn’t want to leave the beach. I had been waiting for months (since we made these plans) to jump in the ocean with her and experience this with her. I had been waiting to enjoy one of the places I love that I don’t get to visit often, living in the Midwest, and I was ready to relax. None of that happened, and so most of my anger came from frustration that things didn’t work out the way I expected them to.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!
Once I calmed down and she did, too, I realized that I wished I would have handled the situation differently. It turns out her meltdown mostly came from fear–she was scared of the ocean. And let’s face it, the ocean is a big, scary place, where a lot can go wrong. And my anger wasn’t anger at her not enjoying the ocean, it was that I was disappointed it didn’t all go as planned–and that, my friends, seems to be where a lot of our anger and unhappiness comes from all the time.
When we decided to be parents, we also decided that a little person is in our care, and their needs come before ours. I made the right decision, of course, to take her back when she wouldn’t calm down, but I wished I would have found out sooner how she was reasoning and how scared she was, and maybe everything would have worked out differently. Maybe I could have convinced her to look for some seashells with me and had a contest to find the biggest or prettiest one.
So what did I learn? First, I learned that my daughter (and probably a lot of your children, too) have a reason for their behavior. Most of the time, they are not difficult for the sake of being difficult. They are scared, tired, hungry, worried, and so on. And if you can get to the root of the problem, maybe you can diffuse the situation somewhat by taking care of that root problem. Second, I have to watch my expectations. I am dealing with a six-year-old, super smart, strong-willed, beautiful child, and she is not going to like the same things I do. I don’t have to sacrifice everything I like because she might not, but I do have to be realistic in that some things adults just like better than kids.
It all goes more smoothly when I let go of expectations and just be.