Frazzled Parenting In Public

I personally love the holiday season, all the different varieties of them. What I really enjoy is “window shopping" to see what will inspire me to think of a loved one while browsing about. However, there is one year I remember when my husband was working out of town and Rylan was much smaller. I would think about going shopping and it would just feel overwhelming. Just to get out of the house and go out in public, let alone doing any actual shopping. Especially during holidays, I’m wondering if you have noticed, just how much commercialism is out there.  There is so much less relaxation and ease, and I feel so much more stress and pressure from the environment. My system thinks it’s just a little bit too much.

There are so many more items on display, and they just seem to tempt you to impulsively pick them up - and they beg to be purchased. Especially for kids, the visuals, smells, and sounds can be overwhelming the sensory circuits to navigate, so they get overloaded much more quickly. That is intensified when impulse control seems to be at the forefront to begin with. 

I know I would find myself in shame spirals just feeling hopeless when my son would become inconsolable in stores. He would beg for a toy, shoes, or for candy, whatever would catch his attention in the moment. I remember asking myself, “how in the world do you navigate this territory when your child is too big to pick up and carry away from the scene?” He was just too big for me to pick up anymore.

I remember I planned a trip to Wal-Mart to pick up some photos I had printed. I wanted to do what I call a pre-hersal, now I’d call it a time-travel to the future. It is an effective way to bring in the imagination of the right hemisphere into relationship. 

I asked Rylan, "Would you like to go window shopping with me today at Wal-Mart?" We had looked at a Wal-Mart catalog together and he’d circled many things that he had been dreaming about being able to get. So, I knew there were going to be quite a few things there that were on his wish list.

What I decided to do was to share a story. Stories are also an excellent way to engage the imagination with resonance so there can be a felt-shared experience.  I shared with him how as a child I loved, on a very rare occasion, when we’d get to go window shopping during the holidays. With intention I clarified, "Window shopping means looking at what stores have rather than buying, you just notice what you think others might enjoy, and then we'll share with each other what we would enjoy. Does that sound fun?" 

"Yeah!" Rylan responded with enthusiasm. 

I double checked and asked, "Will we be buying anything that is not on our list?" to which he replied, "No way!" 

When we bundled up for these types of excursions, remember my son had sensory processing difficulties, you can create a bag that you take with you. It would have all kinds of sensory toys in it. You could have squeezy balls, you could have things you could suck on, or different sizes and shapes of objects. Just something that can help to get the fidgets out and start to calm and relax the nervous system. We called it our sensory bag of tricks, and we used them for transitions out and back and then we headed off for our great adventure. 

We were successful picking up the photos and began browsing our way through the store to pick up the few items on our list. Wouldn’t you know it, he saw what then was then, the new Xbox 360 Halo game system. Oh, my goodness, he was like, "Oh Mom, this is so cool, this is all I want right now! Please Mom, would you get it for me right now, p-l-e-a-s-e?" 

I was able to quickly take in his mounting excitement, and I empathized, I said, "Wow, this is the one you marked in the catalog that you really like, isn't it? Let's see what all it does and check it out." We took the time to get the box down and look at it. He read out loud to me everything it said on the box and I would reflect back what I heard was catching his interest. After he was done with that he set it down and as we moved on. I noticed he kept looking back at the display with longing, his eyes looked so mournful, and the corners of his mouth turned down, his shoulders began to slump, and his feet dragged like they had enormous weights on them. 

He said, "Oh Mom, won't you please just buy it for me now and put me out of my misery?" he just moaned. 

"You feel torn right now," I guessed, "Is it just so much fun to see something you've wished for in person and walking away is tough?" 

He was like, "Yeah, I just want it so bad right now!" 

Wouldn’t you know it, just then a small family group walked by us expressing excitement and delight as they saw the display, they picked up the game system and carried it away. 

My son’s eyes got huge as he witnessed this act. He said, "I just can't do this mom; you have to buy it for me now or I’m going to die!" He slowly crouched down onto the floor by our cart. 

What I did was, I took a moment to give myself a little self-empathy. Acknowledging just how much pressure I could feel from the environment. I put my son and I into a little bubble and I sank down tight next to him. I allowed myself to feel into a new well-spring of compassion. Just really getting how hard this was for him.

I made a guess for him, I said, "Does this just feel so incredibly big? Like this moment might never end, and you don't know how you'll ever survive? Is it something like that?" 

His body shifted and he sniffled, and he looked over at me and said, "Just buy it for me now please Mom, please!" 

I honestly responded to him saying, "Ahh, Rylan, I'd buy you the world to nurture you if I could," I gave him a warm smile and a hug. 

We stood up together and I pointed over to where I saw a digital reader. At the time I didn’t have any such thing. But I said, "Rylan, look, I really want that, and I bet you'd buy that for me too, yeah?" He nodded in agreement. 

I said, "Oh Rylan, please, won’t you just buy it for me right now?" I inspired myself to just playfully begin to express myself as I imagined a small girl might. I stamped my foot and pouted my bottom lip out, then I tilted my head and I smiled at him.

I said, "Won't you buy it for me right now?" 

Rylan straightened up, and shaking his head he said, "But I don't have any money." 

To which I said, "Neither do I, but I want it now Rylan, what are we going to do?"  

We pushed the cart and we slowly walked on together and he began looking around and he stopped in front of a display of men's necklaces and bracelets. "Look Mom, these are really cool." His voice sounded steadier and calmer. 

"Can I try them on and see how they look?" Then we explored the different styles and colors. As we moved on, I asked, "Which one did you like best?" 

He said, "Oh, this one I guess," with an engaging smile, "I was just choosing to look at them to distract myself so we could window shop again, Mom." 

I just took that moment in. That was worth all of the stopping and learning how to stay in relationship with my son. I could feel a flush of pleased surprise cascade down my face and radiate over my body.

I said, "I'm so pleased and happy you are using your own internal resources in public, Rylan! How cool is that!" I gave him a great big mommy hug. As we embraced, I sang softly to him, "Yay Rylan, Celebrate Rylan…" 

We moved on through the store I asked, "Isn't window shopping fun?" He said with twinkling eyes, "Sure is. Now, what do you think Dad wants?" And on we with our exploration. 

Reflecting on this experience it reminds me once again just how important and powerful it is to meet not only my loved ones with compassionate curiosity, but to myself there as well. To take the time to drop into my roots of self-connection in order to stay present with my child in public.

When I begin to expect the "unexpected" to happen at any moment, and not make it wrong, then I am empowered to remain present in the face of the unpredictable. I really did want and still do want the world to be a community where my son continues to experience nurturance. 

That begins with me, as his mom, choosing to remain in an enduring relationship with him wherever we are in the moment. But especially when we are in public and it's the most challenging. Because this is where we are building the new neurocircuitry that does continue to support him to have a meaningful life.


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