I heard her first. Annoyed by the crying, I looked over. The little girl appeared to be about five years old with long, jet black hair pulled back with a bow. Her mom held her closely in the seat of the cart while her cries steadily grew louder.
The little girl repeated, “I want a Barbie.” This was no ordinary tantrum.
I looked away, not wanting to stare.
As I waited in line, I kept glancing their way with growing concern for them. The mom was incredibly patient holding her daughter and quietly speaking in her ear while her girl continued to cry louder and with more force.
Although it shouldn’t have, the whole scene caught me off guard. Having taught special education, I know some children struggle with disorders and emotional challenges that have little to do with the way in which their parents parent. I knew this to be true for this little girl. She could not help herself. Asking for a Barbie was her way of desperately needing someone to help her calm her spirit because she couldn’t.
I completed my purchase and began exiting the store. In my peripheral vision, I saw the mom pick her girl up out of the filled cart and walk to the exit.
She struggled to carry the little girl toward her car. I watched her unlock the back door of her SUV trying to put her girl in the car seat. The girl kicked and held on for dear life, fighting her mom, not wanting to be put in the car, all the while crying, “I want a Barbie.”
And, yet, knowing what I know, I froze and watched from afar, surprised by the intensity of it all. After much struggle, the mom finally strapped her girl into her seat and drove away.
I realize now I should’ve offered to help. Next time I will.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about how amazingly well this mom demonstrated unconditional love. No matter how many filled carts she has to leave, no matter how long her girl’s tantrums last, and no matter how many people judge her parenting, this mom clearly demonstrated the kind of love for which we all desire.
Unconditional parenting assumes that behaviors are just the outward expression of feelings and thoughts, needs and intentions. In a nutshell, it’s the child who engages in a behavior, not just the behavior itself, that matters.” ~ Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting
Despite possible judgment, this mom showed her daughter unconditional love with patience and presence. She saw her girl through the tears and panic. She separated the child from the behavior sacrificially with no expectations for anything in return.
In all my relationships, especially parenting, I try to be conscious of my expectations. In fact, love is not about receiving what we think we deserve. Alfie Kohn says, “…love from one’s parents does not have to be paid for in any sense. It is purely and simply a gift. It is something to which all children are entitled.“
As we continually prioritize what’s most important, let’s remember the biggest gift we can give: unconditional love. It’s hard and humbling, but it is what truly matters in the end.