I sense my son's confusion. The expression on his face is saying, "Why is she crying, Mummy?"
The adults at the party carry on with their conversations as if they can't hear the screaming toddler in the background. It's just a tantrum after all. It's normal for a three-year-old, isn't it? Don't give in. Don't reward bad behaviour. Ignore it long enough and it will pass.
But my little man doesn't agree. He wants to help. He gently rubs her leg. She tries to kick him. I explain to him, she's upset. He asks if he can give her a "big hug". She shouts a defiant "NO".
Her mum tries to console her but to no avail. She's passed the point of accepting comfort. Her big emotions have taken over and her immature toddler brain can't handle it. A tantrum is her only release as her body floods with stress hormones. To her, this is a very real crisis. Her mum is visibly distressed.
I feel my friend's pain. As mothers we'd do anything to feel our kid's hurts for them. To take their falls. To bear their heartaches. But she feels she's out of options. She closes the baby gate to her daughter's room and leaves her be. Time will have to heal this wound.
My little man is now on the outside looking in. He's undeterred by the barrier between them.
He can hear his little friend struggling. He tries to find a way to connect with her. Determined to solve this problem, he explores and returns with a handful of old birthday cards. He slides them through the bars of the baby gate one by one. Maybe they'll make her feel better?
Nope. But giving up isn't an option. Crackers. A rubber duck. A small digger. A fuzzy ball. Nothing helps. "Open" he insists, "Open mama". He's visibly upset. Sorry buddy, we can't go in. He doesn't understand.
His exhibition of empathy and compassion humbles me, and triggers many hours of reflection as I allow my feelings to percolate.
In the end, our little man isn't successful in his efforts. He's disappointed but his dad and I are floored by our son's actions and overflow with pride as we drive home recounting his display of warm love. Unencumbered by social etiquette he was driven by instinct alone. He was there for her unconditionally -- whether her behaviour was deemed to be good or bad.
I ponder how much kinder our world would be if we were able to maintain our own child-like innocence and act more on instinct rather than learned conventions. If we responded from a place of authenticity rather than politeness. If we were wholeheartedly dedicated to the ones we're with, tending to their needs honestly, rather than worrying how others may judge us.
As I get older I find it more challenging to maintain my individuality, which once burned so fiercely. Yet at the same time I find myself constantly swimming against the tide and choosing the path least travelled. It can be a lonely road.
That in itself was a great source of inspiration for me in sharing my parenting journey. I wanted to find a way to heal the broken links in the way we connect with our children, and with each other. To create an online space where we can come together in support of our unique parenting choices.
All too often we fall into the trap of seeking to avoid judgement, or worse still, changing our behaviour to fit in with the mainstream.
It crushes our souls if we live inauthentically and little by little, our ability to connect honestly with others erodes. We risk losing ourselves; our young hopes and dreams can become distant memories.
In our modern lives we often overlook the humanity in one another, assuming the worst and casting judgements all too freely. We take people cutting us off in traffic as a personal assault, rather than considering they could be distracted by their own struggles and doing the best they can. In this grave time of political unrest it has never been more important to shed our preconceived ideals and bear witness from a position of openness and understanding.
When we challenge ourselves to make genuine connections, even for a fleeting moment, our world shines brighter and our frustrations melt away. Often a change in perspective is all it takes to flip irritation on its head, allowing joy to wash over us.
In a world that seems to be creating more and more disparity amongst us, it's more vital than ever for us to re-evaluate the way we treat one another. Nowhere is this more critical than in our own homes. In the way we treat our loved ones, especially our children. It saddens me to recognize society pushing a parenting agenda that encourages us to harden our hearts to our most impressionable little souls.
When a tantrum can be perceived as normal, rather than a cry for help, it's not surprising we've become numb to divisive behaviour, prejudice and judgement. There are no greater teachers in our lives than the tiny figures of our children, whose only filter is one of innocence, acceptance, and the desire to understand.
Let's observe our children more closely, and allow their tender lessons to transform us.
Sitting with my young son as he desperately tried to help, inspires me to focus on trusting and acting on my deepest human emotion: kindness. If it wasn't for him, perhaps I would have ignored his little friend's struggle as well.
I'll treasure these lessons from my wise two-year-old. He inspires me not just to be a better person, but to be me. To follow my heart and ignore convention when I believe it's wrong, forging my own path, no matter the ridicule or resistance I may face. And he reminds me of the responsibility I have to ensure he has the freedom to be his own person, too. To follow his journey in this life. And to continue to brighten the world with his tender heart, his happy soul and his infectious smile.
I want this for all of us, no matter how different our journeys may be.
A version of this post originally appeared on Raised Good.
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