It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Reading between the lines?

“My mommy is at work.”

First thing in the morning, and we have the usual busy scene: I kneel on the floor, greeting the child who has just arrived, the children who have already arrived trot over to greet her. One parent is just leaving, pulling the door shut behind him, another parent is hanging the snowsuit of the child I’m greeting.

Tyler is the one who’s just spoken. The parent hanging the snowsuit turns to respond. Her maternal heart pushes her to respond. The poor little guy, missing his mother already!

“Yes, mommy is at work,” she says, her voice warm and reassuring, soothing his anxieties, “but she will come back. Mommy always comes back, doesn’t she?” I wince at bit. I don’t see worry on Tyler’s face. I’m not sure why he’s telling us this, but I’d rather she weren’t projecting her assumptions onto the boy. Was he worried that mommy might not come back? Well, if he wasn’t before, he probably is now! There is such a thing as too much empathy. Mom is well-intended, but she’s leading the witness.

Tyler, thankfully, is made of hardier stuff. He gives her a blank stare, and repeats himself.

“My mommy is at work.”

“But she’ll be back at the end of the day, sweetpea. Don’t you worry!” And, giving her child a hug and kiss, off she goes. To work. From whence she, too, will return at the end of the day.

Tyler turns his attention to me. “My mommy is at work.”

Now, I still don’t know what, if anything, is his reason/agenda for his dedicated pursuit of this topic, but I’m not going to assume a negative emotional response. Let’s just chat with him about the idea and see where he takes it. When a child makes what could be an emotionally-charged statement without any sign of a particular emotion, my practice is to either be equally neutral, or to assume a positive emotion. I mean, really: If you’re going to project an emotion onto someone, why not make it a happy one?

In this case, I keep it neutral.

“Yes, she is. And Grace’s mommy is at work, and Rory’s mother is at work. All the mommies are at work!” Because they all are, and in our little world, this is perfectly standard. Nothing remarkable about it at all. Nothing exceptional, nothing worrisome, nothing negative. All the mommies are at work, all the daddies are at work, all the kids are at Mary’s. And the sun is in the sky, too. It’s just how reality rolls.

Tyler starts to grin. “Yes, all the mommies are at work,” he says, his eyes sparkling, “but MY mommy has SNOWPLOWS at her work!” His face breaks into a beaming smile. Oh, the wonder of SNOWPLOWS!!! “There are TWO snowplows! A yellow one and a big, big, big blue one!!!”

And for the next few minutes, Tyler regales us all with the wonder of the snowplows in the parking lot at mommy’s work.

So it turned out that “My mommy is at work,” carried no negative charge for him at all. It was merely a segue, his springboard to boasting. HIS mommy is at work, yes, and his mommy has the BEST WORK EVER!

Lesson for the day: When you read between the lines, make sure you’re on the same page.

March 28, 2011 - Posted by | daycare, parents, Tyler | , , , , ,


  1. Tyler rocks…I totally knew that he wasn’t worried and that he was about to tell you something awesome! My son is equally boastful about the fact that his mum goes on a BIG YELLOW BUS to work everyday! Cool stuff when you’re a small boy. Go Tyler!!

    A BIG YELLOW BUS?!? What could be better? Unless you took a FIRE TRUCK, maybe!

    Comment by Tammy | March 28, 2011 | Reply

  2. This is great!

    I know what you mean about the insta-guilt that comes up whenever your kid uses “work” during pretend play.

    Oh, how we judge ourselves… Our kids? They just love us.

    Kids don’t analyze their reality. They just live it. They don’t compare it to other people’s reality, they don’t worry that it’s wrong in some way. It’s just… life. And so long as they’re happy, it’s a good life. They know nothing of the ‘shoulds’ that their parents might struggle with. When they play “mommy’s going to work”, they’re just playing with their reality. You don’t feel guilty when they play “Let’s be firemen!” or “Puppies!”, or “Let’s go grocery shopping!” Neither do you need to feel guilty about “You be the mommy and go to work!” In fact, you can be happy that for your child it’s not trauma, it’s just a reality to play with and practice.

    Comment by Good Enough Mama | March 28, 2011 | Reply

  3. lol – AWESOME.

    Tyler’s so cute. And he has his priorities straight: Emotional trauma or HEAVY MACHINERY!?!?!!! Nooooo competition. 🙂

    Comment by Hi, I'm Natalie. | March 28, 2011 | Reply

  4. Ha! I love to see how their little minds work.

    It is. I love it.

    Comment by rosie_kate | March 28, 2011 | Reply

  5. Love it! The kids I work with talk about mom/dad at work in their play time constantly. It’s surprising how often it is BOASTING too!

    I’m glad Tyler didn’t fall for the ’empathy’ rout!

    They play with things like this because they’re practicing reality. Sorting stuff out. (Well, I guess the “You be a dinosaur and I’ll be a monster” aren’t exactly reality, but you know what I mean…)

    Yes, I’ve had kids who would have totally gone there with the mom, and I’d be stuck with a weepy child. The weepiness wouldn’t be a result their own thought processes, though, but projected on to them by a mom who’s got the wrong end of the stick. How exasperating for me! Yay, Tyler, for sticking with your OWN agenda!

    Comment by Chelsea | March 29, 2011 | Reply

  6. You rock and Tyler rocks. Let’s hope all the mommies can let go of our collective guilt. The mommies are at work. The kids are at Mary’s. The sun is in the sky. LOVE IT!

    Exactly. There are all sorts of ways to organize your family, and you know what? Barring abuse, kids thrive in all of them!

    Comment by Sarah | March 29, 2011 | Reply

  7. Oh, man, I’ll have to remember that one!

    Assumptions. So much of it comes down to assumptions. You just can’t assume you know what’s going on in someone else’s head!

    Comment by IfByYes | March 29, 2011 | Reply

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