It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Why I love dads

A while back, Noah started showing some reluctance at drop-off. It doesn’t matter that he’d been coming for well over a year and has been just fine for all but the first month. No, there’s no reason for it. It’s just one of those two-year-old things.

There probably was a reason, initially. Maybe he’d had a bad dream just before waking. Maybe he was coming down with a cold, or had had a squabble with a fellow-toddler, or was sprouting yet another tooth, or hadn’t eaten breakfast, or was under-rested, or, or, or…

There are any number of reasons for a sudden change of attitude, and you know what? Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t matter what the reason might be. One time in ten, it does: on that occasion, you deal with the issue — maybe another child is routinely picking on the reluctant one, maybe the parents are too often fighting in his presence on the way to daycare, maybe a child is chronically under-rested. All those things can be dealt with direct, but generally the adults involved do the figuring. We grown-ups put our heads together to see if there’s a preciptating cause, and, if so, to see if there’s something we can do to eliminate it.

There is almost no point at all in asking a two-year-old “Why are you sad?” They don’t know. They just are. If you press them, they get confused, and it makes the anxiety worse. If you try to help them out by making suggestions, they’ll either just wail harder, or latch onto something at random. “Yes! I’m sad because gramma went home! Yes!”

Is that really it? Who knows?

And really, it rarely matters. What always matters is how you respond.

And Noah’s dad, GOD BLESS HIM, responds well. So well. This guy is a master of managing the drop-off uncertainty that Noah was evidencing for a bit there.

After getting his customary good-bye hug, Noah was not trotting off to see what the others are up to — which used to be customary. Now he was turning back to daddy.

“Nuther hug,” he said, a tremor of anxiety in his voice.

“I get ANOTHER hug?!?” daddy exclaims, with great enthusiasm. “Boy, am I lucky!” And he would scoop his son up into a wild and happy embrace, swinging Noah’s wee body from one side to the other, laughing all the while. And Noah laughs, too. How could he not, with dad injecting such positivity and fun into the proceedings?

And then, when dad set Noah down the second time, he cheerfully announced “Have fun today!” — and left. Immediately. He didn’t wait to see what Noah does next, he didn’t make eye contact, he didn’t linger to see Noah settled. He just left.

And Noah? Noah was now in my arms, off to get a book. Which we read on the couch, and by the time the book is done — and it always involves at least three enthusiastic verses of Old MacDonald — Noah has made his transition. He is here, and he is happy.

In fact, the second hug/book/sing-song has become such happy part of our morning ritual that I’d forgotten it orginated in drop-off anxiety. It’s just what we do. Noah hasn’t shown any concern for several weeks, but he’s still getting that second, swooping, laughing hug. It’s just adorable.

And then, today, Mummy did the drop-off.

And when Noah evidenced that tiny smidge of anxiety, which hadn’t been obvious for five weeks or more, mummy squatted down and made eye contact, stroking her son’s shoulder, calming him.

“It’s okay, Noah. You know you have fun at Mary’s.”


“It’s okay to be sad, sweetie, but I know you’ll have a good day.”

Whimper, sniffle.

“Oh, honey. Come and give mummy a big hug, and then try to smile, okay?”

And the dam bursts. There are tears everywhere. He is clinging to mummy, wailing. She is patting and soothing.

And I am wishing Daddy had done the drop-off this morning…

February 23, 2010 - Posted by | daycare, Noah, parenting, parents | , , , , ,


  1. Thanks for this post! I am one of “those” moms (not THAT mom, lol) and have just learned how I *should* be doing things, daddy’s just know how diffuse situations eh!

    I lost my parenting manual when I got pregnant and am always looking for pointers. Your blog helps make sense of simple situations that I seem to complicate without intending to.

    Thanks πŸ™‚

    Why, thank you. What a nice compliment!

    Though I’ve seen it reversed from time to time — tender daddies and hearty moms — speaking in general terms, most moms are one of ‘those’. It’s one of those areas we can learn from our partners!

    Comment by Mamameah | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  2. I find empathy to be good at the end of the day while my son decompresses before sleep. But he’s 5. I mostly mmm hmmm and how did you feel then and what else.

    Empathy is essential, of course, and an evening decompression sounds like an excellent place for it. At daycare drop-off, when time is limited and empathy only encourages the negative feelings? Not so useful!

    Comment by Rayne of Terror | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  3. I was just going to say that Rayne. I am best at bedtime. Mike is best at other transitions.

    I think, having talked about the need for upbeat and ‘suck-it-up’ responses, and how to do them, I should talk about times when empathy is the best response. You and Rayne have both pointed to one key feature: there has to be time to do it right.

    Comment by Bridgett | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  4. You have to love dads at drop-offs, no nonsense, see ya later, have a good day, no chance for whimpers or tears.

    Yes, you do. They make my job so much easier, and they get their kidlets off to such a happier start!

    Comment by chantelle | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  5. i think i need to anonymously link the parents i nanny for to this post. they are just like the mom in this situation. dad is the kind that will carry BOTH almost 2 year old twins as long as they want around the house because he doesn’t want them to cry. i can just imagine what the first day of school will be like for THEM!

    Ugh. And of course, because they make it their mission on earth to ensure that their children never cry, what they end up doing is teaching their children to cry at the drop of a hat. This is the irony of this parenting strategy: in their efforts to avoid tears, they end up with children who cry far more.

    Comment by shel | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  6. “It’s okay to be sad, sweetie…” Oh boy.

    One can just imagine the little guy thinking, “You mean, I SHOULD be sad? It’s just Mary and my friends. What’s going to happen?”

    You know Mom means well…and I have been that Mom. I had to learn that I was actually making it harder by projecting my own anxiety.

    Fortunately, Hubby took Dad’s attitude and I was able to learn by example. Instead of feeding the separation anxiety he diffused it by giving control over to our child.

    This is going to happen, it’s not a bad thing so let’s be super excited about one more hug and then I’m outta here.

    Still, it was something that seemed to come more naturally to him than it did to me.

    She’s a lovely woman, and in fact I very much like her parenting style… except this one thing. πŸ™‚ Happily, as a couple they have figured out that dad does it better (though she doesn’t quite get why), so they have dad do it whenever possible. That’s called teamwork! Playing to each one’s strengths, and, as you did, learning from the other where you can.

    Comment by Zayna | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  7. Sometimes it’s really conflicting to be the Mum. I have a dear friend who’s child cheerfully runs into his daycare when dropped off. His happy, well adjusted attitude is due in no small part to his loving no-nonsense upbringing, and Mother is rightly proud. However, she confides in me that every time she drops him off, she feels a twinge of hurt and rejection that he *doesn’t* seem distressed to leave her, like some of the other kids do with there parents.

    That dratted emotional catch-22! I understand it. Of course, if her child were kicking up a fuss, she’d have the other twinge of discomfort, wondering why her child was so dependent and clingy, unlike those other kids who are obviously so much more confident and well-adjusted! This is why we eventually learn, as your friend has done, to ignore many of those damned twinges… πŸ˜›

    Comment by Altissima | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  8. You really need to write a “Parents do this” book. I know these things (well most of them) but see other parents not even comprehend that what they are doing is actually hurting the situation. Of course, as a good parent, we want to know our children are happy and it pains us to see them sad but if there was a real issue our qualified, lovingly chosen, caregiver would let us know.

    Oooo, thanks for that last line! You know, I honestly hadn’t even thought of it — but you’re right, of course. And what a nice, indirect compliment that could be from my clients to me. Hee.

    Comment by Jenn H | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  9. Oh, geez. She’s practically FEEDING him the emotions and telling him how to act for maximum clinginess. Might she want that just a bit because it’s how she feels?

    Comment by kittenpie | March 2, 2010 | Reply

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