It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Nope. This is a Dumb Song.

Remember Nigel’s CD? And how one of the songs was a reassuring little ditty about how the people who love you always come back? Well, that song is starting to irk me.

Here’s the chorus:

Who says she’s gonna come back?
Your mommy does, that’s who!
Whoever takes care of you comes back
Because they do love you.

There’s a chorus for daddy, and one for grandma and grandpa, too. And then the all-inclusive “whoever”.

The verses are these:

Sometimes you miss them,
And sometimes you’re sad.
Sometimes you kiss them,
And sometimes you get very mad.

Sometimes mommy goes to work,
And sometimes daddy, too.
Sometimes you go to the babysitter’s house,
And sometimes you go to school!!!

Sometimes you laugh a lot
While waving goodbye.
Sometimes you understand
But sometimes you just have to cry.

And then the reassuring, “they’ll come back because they love you” chorus.

Okay. So I’ve listened to this a dozen times this week, and it was starting to annoy me, but why? Not because I’ve heard it a dozen times. I’ve heard the entire disk a dozen times, and the only other song that annoys me is “Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been”, the one where people “meow” the verses in high, squeaky voices. Ugh.

But this one seems innocuous enough, and with a positive, kid-friendly message. Right?

Or… perhaps not so much as you might think.

I don’t like it because, for starters, it’s not really very accurate to the child’s experience. Yes, there are tears when daycare first starts. However, once a child’s made the transition to daycare, they don’t “cry”, or “feel sad” or “get very mad”. For the first three or four weeks, you will likely see this. Thereafter it’ll be occasional, due to some specific reason – insufficient sleep, teething, change in routine. (And thereafter, smiles at departure are the norm, not “sometimes”.)

Why the tears during the transitional, adapting weeks? Is it because they fear you’ll never come back? Weeellllll…

I’m sure they’re confused. “Why is mommy/daddy leaving? Why am I in this strange place, surrounded by strangers?” When you go to leave them, they’re justifiably alarmed. Parents are a toddler’s primary relationship. The parent is all that are familiar in this strange place – and they’re LEAVING!!! Who wouldn’t be unnerved?

Unnerved, yes. Anxious, of course, But is the fear that mummy or daddy is never coming back?

I don’t believe that toddlers think of it in those terms. This subconscious fear could well be contributing to their tears, of course. But do they consciously have that fear “mummydaddy is NEVER GOING TO COME BACK!!” ?

As I read this post to Emma, her comment at this point was, “Not until you play this song for them, they don’t.”

I agree with Emma. Toddlers live in the “now”. They don’t think ten minutes ahead, never mind “never”. What they are thinking, at the moment of transition, is “Mummy is leaving, but I want her to stay!” Here and NOW. Full stop.


The glory of that ‘now-ness’, of course, is that when the parent leaves, the ‘now’ changes. The parent is gone, and with the parent, the struggle to make them stay goes right out the door, too. Parent is gone. Now they are in this place with this smiling woman, all these other kids, all these new toys, and a yummy snack! Hmmm…

(And what’s with the line, “Sometimes you go to the babysitter’s house, and sometimes you go to school!!” “School” being carolled out with radiant-with-glee inflection, whereas “babysitter” was just, well, just the babysitter’s house. Nothing like school!!!! That’s just rude.)

Here’s my second problem with this little ditty: This song completely lacks any focus on what the child will do at the babysitter’s house. It lacks any acknowledgement of the time that passes when mommy and daddy aren’t there – the time that is filled with activities and people, the time that is busy, happy, content? In fact, the song completely ignores THE CHILD’S ENTIRE DAILY REALITY.

So, are we really trying to encourage the child? Does this song have any real and immediate bearing on the child’s experience? The child’s experience, which, for those transitional weeks is a momentary uncertainty at the door, and then a day filled exploring, interacting, playing? The child’s experience, which, after those transitional weeks, doesn’t generally involve any crying or anxiety at all?

Nope. You know why? Because this song isn’t really about the child. This song is about the parents. It’s about the parent’s experience at the moment of transition. (And even then, only the transition for the first three weeks or so of care.) Because, you see, the parents need a song like this. The parents, the poor parents, they see only the tears. Caregivers all know that within 8 seconds of the door closing on mommy’s demoralized back, the child pops on their smile and chirps merrily through their day. (Little wretch.) Mommy only hears about it after the fact: she doesn’t experience it like the child and caregiver.

But in that case, write a reassuring little ditty for the parents. Don’t pretend it’s for the child’s sake. How about, “In just a few minutes those tears will stop, and she’ll be having fun?”

So, no, I don’t like this song. I don’t like the interpretation of the child’s response at transition; I don’t like the idea it promotes, that tears at departure are normal and ongoing; I don’t like the way it denies/ignores that lots of fun things happen all day long when mommy and daddy aren’t there.

And I really, really resent that it typifies my home, filled as it is with cheerful voices, chortles, hugs and kisses, music and play, being described through umpteen verses and choruses as a place to be endured until “the people who love you” come back.


March 28, 2007 - Posted by | daycare, music, parents


  1. Um, don’t take it personally, Mary!

    You’re right though, of course.

    Comment by z | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  2. I agree, this is a dumb song. Nothing like giving kids an idea of what to be upset about. (“What? You mean I’m supposed to cry when Mom and Dad drop me off in the morning? Even though I love Miss I (Mary/caregiver’s name here)? Okey doke – WAAAAHHH!”)

    Comment by BookMama | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  3. Song written as a sop for parents.

    No one wants a song entitled “Ok Mum, leave now I’ve got some serious fun to have” doo dah, doo dah.

    Comment by Karyn | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  4. I hadn’t thought about the whole transition thing from this perspective… Thanks! Knowing that my little guy has conquered his tears just seconds after the door shuts should help stiffen my spine as >I

    Comment by susan | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  5. Your perspective on the transition was very helpful. We went through a rough patch at drop-off time a few weeks ago and it would have really helped me to think of it that way back then. My son absolutely loves his day care and usually more upset when I get there to pick him up than when I drop him off.

    Oh, and I think you are spot on about the song too.

    Comment by dee | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  6. Like a lot of Children’s songs and stories, I’m not sure the author has really thought out the concept, After all it is just a kids song. (sarcasm intended)It all too often seems that if a child’s song is “cute” the content is ignored. For example, we endeavour to teach children it is wrong to do things that are compulsive and annoying like poking siblings repeatedly just to get a reaction, then we teach them songs like “This is the song that never ends.”

    I realise that the never ending song is simple humour, but an adult will do it for a while to be a pest then stop, but have you ever been in someone else’s car while their children sing this thing unchecked for klm after klm.ARRRRGGGHHHH.

    I may never have heard the song you mention but after reading the words I concur the song is Dumb.

    Comment by Bill | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  7. No kidding, this ignores the child’s reality. Maya cried at daycare drop-off for perhaps the first week or two. These days, after she’s found her “spot” (usually doing something very, very messy – her favorite), she looks up and says, “Bye, Mama.” It very much reminds me of a 12-year-old’s attitude like, “would you just LEAVE, already?”

    Then, she squeals when I pick her up in the afternoon, so I know she’s happy to come home too. I only wish I loved every part of my life as much as she does hers!

    Comment by Allison | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  8. huh. try playing it to a kid who’s parent has died!

    Unless they have experienced someone not coming back, why would they think it might happen? I would ban the song on the basis that it could cause problems with other children in your care. Parent A doesn’t know the personal circumstances of child B, C, or D I assume?

    Comment by juggling mother | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  9. They should publish a CD of songs for the parents to listen to in the car when they drive away. The Lessening of Guilt song, and such.

    Comment by Lady M | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  10. I have been reading for awhile, but I’ve never commented. This song got under my skin right from the first post for all the reasons Mary mentioned. It’s absolutely about guilt tripping the parents. I love Lady M’s idea – How about some songs about how happy your child will be playing all day in a fun and interesting environment. So now you can have peace of mind and get your job done. How about that?

    Comment by girlprof | March 29, 2007 | Reply

  11. My father-in-law is constantly explaining to me that dogs whine when you leave because they truly believe you will never return.
    Children can, at some point, even articulate their fears! Your daughter is right on–why would they think that parents would not return, unless it is suggested to them?

    Comment by LoryKC | March 29, 2007 | Reply

  12. I had the same reaction as juggling mother. My first thought was “they don’t always come back.” And if for some horrible reason they don’t come back does that mean they didn’t love you? What a terrible song.

    Comment by twoboysmom | March 30, 2007 | Reply

  13. Z: Can’t take it personally when it wasn’t directed at me, but if the writers of this song think they’re helping children adjust to childcare, they are sorely mistaken. The song, despite its good intentions, is wrong-footed and just plain annoying from start to finish.

    BookMama: A friend of mine, quoting a friend of hers, says of small children, “Don’t ASK how they feel; TELL them.” This is not to deny the emotions of tots, but to recognize that very often they don’t have the words. Adults can interpret, and, yes, direct feelings in constructive ways. This directs feelings in a misguided and worry-enhancing way.

    Karyn: Sop for parents, agreed. But me? I’d rather know my children were happy all day than that they were miserably pining for me for hours on end. (Yes, my kids have been in care for short periods in their lives.)

    Susan: I once told a parent whose child made the most unholy fuss in the mornings to pause in the entry before leaving. (I had two doors in that house: one into a teeny entry, and then the outer door.) “Just listen for few seconds,” I suggested.

    Just like every other day, it took the child all of three seconds to sniffle up the tears and move on with his day. Dad’s response? “I’ve been HAD!” 🙂

    Dee: In almost every occasion of tears at drop-off, the best thing a parent can do is be cheerful, upbeat, and FAST. If your child fusses at drop-offs, you should stay no more than two minutes. I mean that quite literally: 120 seconds, max. And you leave with a smile. Parents are amazed at how effective this is at encouraging their child – far more effective than trying to soothe and reassure.

    Bill: You’re quite right. It was well-intentioned, but just not well thought out. Given their mission to introduce children to quality music through superior education, I doubt these people think of it as “just a kids song”. But was it misguided? Absolutely.

    Allison: It’s the most parent-centric “children’s” song I can recall. When both parent and child can enjoy the same song, that’s an excellent song. But this one is a song for guilty parents masquerading as a kids’ song, and it conveys all manner of questionable messages – both for parents and for children. Just not well though through.

    Juggling Mother: You’re the first person to post that thought, but you’re not the first to have it. A couple of commenters have emailed me with that very concern. Because sometimes, tragically, people don’t come back. Now, you’re not going to tell a toddler that, and create very real fears of something that is highly unlikely to happen – but “highly unlikely” is not the same as “impossible”.

    Generally speaking, you’re right: the families do not know the situations of the other families. Nor do I, necessarily, but in this group, there is one who is missing a parent. So, no, not an appropriate song.

    LadyM: Brilliant idea! Wouldn’t that be a great thing to pop in the CD player on the way to work?

    Girlprof: You know, I hadn’t seen it as guilt tripping, at all, but rather the reverse: earnestly, though misguidedly trying to reassure everyone. I suppose, though, that a song that tries to reassure the child that he isn’t being abandoned also conveys to an already-guilty mommy that her child is fearing exactly that! Round and round it goes. Oh, dear…

    LoryKC: Psychologists have suggested the ‘fear of abandonment’ as a childhood issue, but can they know for sure? And even if it is a genuine fear, it’s unconscious. Are you doing a toddler any favours by making it conscious? Wouldn’t it be better to show them through experience, not wordswordwords (which don’t mean nearly so much) that the fear is groundless?

    Twoboysmom: And that’s the final conclusion of that thought! You’re absolutely right. Yes, an ill-considered song all round.

    Comment by MaryP | March 30, 2007 | Reply

  14. Bah. We rarely if ever have had tears on leaving because you know what? I really believe that she has a good time and that daycare and her former nanny were FUN for her. Why make a hurdle out of it if they’re going to have an enjoyable day? I really often think we make things way worse by making a production out of them.

    Comment by kittenpie | April 1, 2007 | Reply

  15. “…we make things way worse by making a production out of them.

    Absolutely, absolutely, ABSOLUTELY!!!!

    Comment by MaryP | April 1, 2007 | Reply

  16. I hate this song also. It’s sitting in my head and just harrassing me. It tries to sound reassuring and positive but is totally CREEPY. They should have rewritten it to say “whoever takes care of you is going to leave because they don’t love you” – because the underlying theme is your loved ones are leaving you and they resolve it only by, well, they love you, so they’ll come back. Hmmm, you could sing that “your daddy loves little johnny so he’ll come back” 100 times to your child in that annoying melody, but all they are going to hear is – daddy’s leaving, daddy’s leaving. Now if I can only get that miserable death march out of my head.

    Comment by eli | October 3, 2007 | Reply

  17. Ok, one more thought, maybe the writer of this song should come out with an even more clever song with the same melody – “whose going to die one day, mommy and daddy that’s who, everyone you know will one day be dead, it’s unavoidable.”. Wow, that’s genius. We can sing about all other tragedies in life too with this song – divorce, illness, pain, and just put a nice spin on it (you’ll see mommy and daddy in heaven one day, you’ll spend the weekends with your daddy after the divorce, etc.) and it’ll all be good, because well, that song just makes it so easy for kids to understand and be ok with.

    Comment by eli | October 3, 2007 | Reply

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