It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Earnest Daddy

Lord help me, I have an Earnest Daddy in the ranks.

When they first started, I hadn’t pegged him as Earnest at all. Usually, Earnest Mommies and Daddies are easy to pick out, because they have no sense of humour. None. These two laughed a lot, particularly dad. Their son has turned out to be an utter joy – one of that elite group that I actually fall in love with, whom I’d happily take into my family as my own.

(I am very good at my job: Every parent believes that I feel just exactly that very way about their own precious tot. I’ll tell you what I’d never tell them: it just ain’t so. I’m fond of them, that’s inarguable — and pretty much unavoidable in this job. In over ten years of doing this, I’ve only come across one child I simply could not warm to, and eventually I gave them notice. Continuing in care where the child is simply endured, no matter how smilingly, is not in anyone’s best interests. (And no, I didn’t tell them “It’s because I just can’t like your child!”) But to actually love a child, just as one of your own? That child is a rarity.)

It turns out that while Daddy is a cheerful, smiling fellow in most areas of his life, when it comes to Precious Son, he is most Earnest. Sigh.

So, when tot, in his contrary two-ness, decides that he doesn’t want to go to bed at night, I am asked to reduce his daytime naps, even though the child’s total sleep time in 24 hours is inadequate. When contrary two balks at putting on his coat over the weekend, I am asked if I’ve been letting him go outside without one during the week. When the child, who had been giggling and chirpy when dad picked him up at 4:30, has a meltdown and major tantrum at home, dad calls me 15 minutes later to ask what had happened at daycare to throw him off like this. This child was gleeful, gleeful when he was picked up! Somehow his tantrum is my fault?

Because, you see, for an Earnest Parent, a child’s emotions are always rational, and so his misbehaviour always has a logical precursor, and always needs to be analysed, understood, supported, nurtured through. They never, ever simply laugh at their child’s determined contrariness. They never seem to see that the child is merely being two, simply pushing buttons and boundaries for the sheer cussedness of it, that he’s being a little pill just to see how far he can get with it, because that’s what two-year-olds are wired to do. That the tantrum does not originate in some deep-rooted unhappiness. He’s just testing his wings, and man, are you letting him fly!

Which would be all right if it stayed at home, but Earnest Parents almost always then ask me to make some sort of accommodation to their inability to deal with it at home. That would be my perspective. They see it as asking me to be a team player. Except the smallest member of the team isn’t causing me any problems at all: why would I mess with what works?

The thing that doesn’t seem to have occurred to this particular Earnest Daddy – and in this he is not typical – is that the problem might, just might, originate in something he is doing, or not doing. I am going to have to sit down with them soon. Normally I enjoy these conversations: they’re the part of my job where I get to do some tremendously valuable support and training work with the parents. In this case, though, when Dad would far rather believe all the problems originate elsewhere, I’m not so sure how it will go. It will be an interesting and stimulating conversation, I’m sure. Should I start looking to fill the space, I wonder?

Earnest Mommies and Daddies. Every caregiver should be without one.

November 6, 2005 - Posted by | Developmental stuff, parents, power struggle, tantrums, the dark side


  1. wow thats sad he would blame his childs reactions to things on a traumatic experience at home. i’m sure cutting his naps short at daycare have made your life somewhat miserable….
    my kids had their days and nights mixed up many a time…..but eventually we got it figured out. usually took the weekend to stay up all day with no naps to get it to work out.

    good luck with your chat.

    Comment by kimmyk | November 6, 2005 | Reply

  2. Oh eeee gads, woman. That’s horrendous. I think the number rule of parenting should be to never ever project adult rationality on children.

    Comment by MIM | November 6, 2005 | Reply

  3. At least you can boot them out if it gets unbearable.

    What do you do when it’s your FRIENDS who are Earnest??

    Comment by misfit | November 6, 2005 | Reply

  4. Kimmyk: I didn’t say I cut out his naps… 🙂 All the boy needs is for a parent to give him a clear, unapologetic “No”, and stick with it. Once you’ve done that, he can relax, and he’s a complete and utter joy, I swear!

    The only trauma in this child’s day is the one that dad is creating and maintaining.

    mim: Projecting is exactly what it is. More recently, dad has told me that the fits this normally sweet child throws at home-time (but only when dad picks him up) are because “he really doesn’t want to be here. Not that you don’t give great care – He’d just prefer to be home.” This may or may not be true, but I’ll tell you on true thing I believe: DAD thinks child should be home with a parent, and is doing some serious projecting.

    misfit: I can, indeed, and it may happen. Now that I think on it, I realize I don’t have any Earnest friends… Gee. Was it something I said? LOL

    I don’t think so, not really. It’s just a matter of who you connect with – and I do NOT connect with Earnests.

    Comment by Mary P. | November 6, 2005 | Reply

  5. When I first read the title of this post, I wondered if your were refering to one of your readers. In fact for a moment I almost thought it might be me.

    I’d plead guilty to being doting and proud, but I didn’t think I’d stepped over the line to “earnest”! Arrrrgh. It’s too horrible to think about.

    Comment by Simon P. Chappell | November 6, 2005 | Reply

  6. Simon: Nope, you’re safe on the doting/proud side of the line. An Earnest Daddy would never say, “If you must cry, do it quietly”!!

    Comment by Mary P. | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  7. Imagine a daycare environment with 8 children in the room. Six of the children had Eager Parents. My daughter and another child were the only ones who did NOT have eager parents. I may HAVE become an eager parent had I not seen the other parents brow beating the daycare workers for utter silliness. At the end of the day, I knew that my daughter was loved and well care for, and that was all I wanted.

    Comment by Misfit Hausfrau | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  8. Makes me wonder what category I fall into now. I took my kids to a party at the whacky warehouse, my youngest son decided it would be cool to jump from the top of the slide (about 8 – 9 feet), on his second jump he was astonished when he hurt his foot.

    I called him a muppet for doing it and told him to get over it. I’m pretty sure the other parents thought I was heartless and uncaring.

    Comment by Si | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  9. Si: You’re only heartless and uncaring if you throw them off yourself and then tell them not to come running to you if they break their legs.

    Comment by Simon P. Chappell | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  10. I KNOW the mommies in town think I’m heartless and uncaring!
    Yesterday my son was at a birthday party at a gymnastics place. As the kids were playing in what I can only describe as a giant foam pit, one child accidentally jumped on top of my son.
    Sure, sounds terrible and everyone was quite concerned but me. As you know, you get to know the different cries your children have. I could tell my son was not phsycially hurt but he was offended he’d been jumped on! The other mommies had horrified looks on their faces when I explained this. (I was hugging him and rubbing his back for a minute but I wasn’t examining him for injuries.) As I told him he’d be OK, another mommy kindly knelt down and asked if my son could tell her where it hurt.
    She was sure I was overlooking something as he kept crying. Until the boy who’d fallen on him came over, looking crushed, and said he was “so sorry.” The tears dried up and my son ran off with him to play again.

    Comment by LoryKC | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  11. Hausfrau: Six of eight? I cannot imagine it. It would be a nightmare. In fact, there is another Earnest in my crew, but she sees me as the expert, and seeks my input, rather than seeing me as the problem and expecting me to change…

    Si: Oh, you’re a rotten dad, no doubt. You can tell by the way your kids all race from you in fear whenever you enter the room. Just like they are in that picture. (Love the prison-bar eye stripes, BTW!)

    Lory: She intervened? How appallingly rude. If the child is upright, coherent, moving, not bleeding, then it’s none of her business. In your situation, I’d have been livid, not only because of the insult and presumption, but because there’s so very little you can do in those situations.

    Comment by Mary P. | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  12. We have an earnest parent next door who absolutely drives me nuts and is turning her kid into a whiny little brat. (She had a good start on that to begin with.)

    Everything the child does is right – everything the other kids do is wrong. I finally said I’d keep my gang over here so she could be sure hers wouldn’t get hurt. Then she was unhappy because her little girl didn’t have anyone to play with. Everybody except her girl drifted over to my house.

    I explained it was her decision, not mine, but kids needed to learn to solve their own squabbling problems unless one of them is a bully. They’re playing together once more and so far she hasn’t shown up at my door.

    Comment by Granny | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  13. I think I might be an Earnest Mommy.

    Is there a support group or something?

    Comment by Homestead | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  14. Granny: What these Earnests don’t realize is that in their attempts to make everything perfect for their child, they are undermining their child’s long-term happiness. Instead of a happy, content child, they are creating:

    a child who is rude and disrespectful because they’ve never had to put someone else’s needs ahead of their own; a child who can’t get along with others because they’ve never had to put someone else’s needs ahead of their own; a resentful adult who always feels cheated by society, because it expects him/her to put someone else’s needs ahead of his/her own from time to time.

    Hmmm… I see a pattern here…

    Homestead: Repeat after me “Although I love my child, I know he can be a little pill bytimes”… if you can say that without heart palpitations, you are not an Earnest Mommy. If you see the slightest bit of humour (it’s not huge, but a little) in that, you are not an Earnest Mommy.

    It is quite possible to dote on your child (have you read my doting posts about my children: April 13, and July 12) without being Earnest.

    So, no intervention is necessary for you, even though you clearly love your little guy to bits!

    Comment by Mary P. | November 7, 2005 | Reply

  15. They arn’t prison bar stripes !!

    I’m protecting thier anonymity incase they decide to join the SAS in later life 🙂

    Simon. LOL, reminds me of another thing I say to them “Those that ask don’t get, those that don’t ask don’t want” 🙂

    Comment by Si | November 8, 2005 | Reply

  16. Thanks, Mary for your support (regarding my story above, I was livid inside but just took a deep breath and kept my comments to myself). He does hurt himself often (he is ALL BOY) but it makes it easy to recognize the times he is not physically injured!
    Thanks for the explanations of “earnest” too…I think I’m OK. I love my children very much but I hear “you are the meanest mommy EVER” enough throughout the week that I figure I’m doing something right. ; )

    Comment by LoryKC | November 8, 2005 | Reply

  17. […] that no toddler has the cognitive and emotional maturity to know why they do what they do. – it is developmentally normal for a toddler to be testing the boundaries. Who are you? Who are they? Are they a separate person […]

    Pingback by Power Struggles « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | January 17, 2013 | Reply

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