My daughter threw a 30 minute tantrum today.
I say tantrum, but I look at it through more of an RIE parenting lense so really she had a 30 minute emotional release. And it all started because she wanted to play with the printer’s tray and I wouldn’t let her. I said, “I won’t let you play with the printer” and physically prevented her from reaching it. She pushed against my legs, crying for the next 30 minutes. And I just let her. I didn’t put her in time out; I didn’t try to bribe her or distract her with something else; I didn’t try to rationalize with her – I just quietly and calmly held the space for her to have her feelings. The most I did was prevent her from hurting me or herself and acknowledge her feelings a few times at the beginning. And I didn’t take it personally – I knew that all this crying and pushing wasn’t about me or about the printer. It was about something else entirely. Perhaps it was about all the changes that have taken place in our lives the past two months or the busy-ness of it all. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. To be honest? It doesn’t matter what it was about. What mattered was that I was able to be her safe harbor as her emotions crashed over her.
When we were about 20 minutes in, I started to wonder what the world might be like if everyone were able to have such emotional releases. If there was a judgment-free, intervention-free place where adults, teens, or children could express their anger or frustration or confusion or sadness or whatever else they might be feeling and have others quietly and courageously bear witness.
I was lucky enough to be a part of such a space for 7 years in my women’s circle and I can attest that it is truly powerful to be allowed to express one’s feelings with total acceptance. These marvelous women would bravely sit in a silent circle and bear witness to my pain. They would not offer me a tissue when my nose began to run or give me advice on how to ‘solve’ the problem. They would simply sit there, listening, watching & waiting, as I moved through my emotions. At times, the sobbing would slow down and it would seem that I was done, but these women were wise and knew to wait. A few minutes would pass and a new wave of grief or pain would wash over me and it would all begin again. They trusted that I was strong enough and capable enough to feel my feelings and to know when I was done. It was a powerful experience that I am incredibly grateful to have had and to have given to others as well, including my daughter today.
And what happened, you might ask, at the end of that thirty minutes? My sweet daughter lay on the floor, stomach down, completely spent and sniffling slightly as her breathing began to return to a normal pace. She lay there quietly breathing for about 5 minutes before she looked up at me slightly and said, “Can I watch Sarah & Duck?” And that was it. It was over and we cuddled on the couch watching our favorite duck waddle about on the TV.