It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Some days you just want to smack someone

Lily, my challenge baby, arrived QUIETLY this morning. For the first time in months, she did not announce her arrival from the street with ear-piercing wails. She did not cry her way up the front steps. She did not turn and hide when her father opened the door.


She exited her car without a fuss, came up the steps calmly, stood quietly (albeit a little somberly) on the front step as her dad held the door open for her.

And then her dad said, “Okay, honey, we’re here. Do you want to go in the house?”


Does he have no sense at all? Does she want to? What do you think, you idiot man? She’s only cried at entry every day for three months. Every.Single.Day. And now, the first day she’s arriving calmly, and you REMIND her of her former distress. Worse, you let her think that coming in is OPTIONAL.

Does she want to go in the house?
No, she f*&ing doesn’t.

At his question, her quiet, sombre face crumples and the wails begin.

Of course.

In fact, once her dad left (which, to his credit, he did quickly), she calmed very quickly. Even with that mis-step, it’s the best start to our day we’ve had since Christmas.

But, ye gods.

“Do you want to go in the house?”

I didn’t smack him. But, lordy, it was a near thing…

March 30, 2011 - Posted by | Lily, parents, Peeve me


  1. Been there, too funny!

    Oh, me too, more times than I can count. I wrote it up acerbic, but in fact I found it pretty funny, in a wry sort of way…

    Comment by Debbi Does Dinner Healthy | March 30, 2011 | Reply

  2. Oh Mary! You will be announcing your sainthood any moment now! I hope the father realized as soon as he left that he did a stupid thing. Maybe a note in the bag reminding him of the struggle and that daycare is NOT an option for lo would help? Wishing you clear skies for the rest of the day!

    Oh, I doubt he will. I’ve spoken to him before about this habit of asking questions instead of issuing instructions, and either he just doesn’t get it, or the pattern’s too ingrained (I think a lot of the time he doesn’t even know he’s doing it), or maybe he just plain old disagrees with me. I don’t think he’s continuing simply because I asked him not to — I’ve had some parents do that! (more often dads) — but he’s not that type, I wouldn’t say.

    (Yes, it’s true. Some people really do stuff just because they’ve been asked not to. Some people just never get past being two…) However, it might be that it’s time to repeat my original suggestion!

    Thanks for the good wishes: Today has been GLORIOUS! Mild and sunny and just — spring!!!

    Comment by Jess | March 30, 2011 | Reply

  3. Ohmigod. Okay, I know on my blog we’re talking about the whole never-say-never thing, but I swear, as a dog trainer, that I will never ask a question when there is no actual choice in the matter.

    There are three things, as a caregiver, that give me the most consistent grief, and this is one of them. If it’s a non-negotiable? If there is not actual choice? STOP ASKING QUESTIONS!!! But really, exasperating as I find it, it’s the parents who suffer most because of this pattern.

    Comment by IfByYes | March 30, 2011 | Reply

  4. Yikes. This seems to be a common mistake, and I really think it’s just a bad conversational habit that we (and I mean that in a general way, and especially men) tend to have. People often forget that we shouldn’t necessarily speak to our children in a nonchalant, conversational way that we would use with adults, a sort of “So how ’bout we do this?” kind of tone. Kids are confused by this, of course, but it’s easy to not notice.

    But the fact that you’ve talked to him about it before? Eek. Wow.

    I see it all the time, and I have gotten into the habit of addressing the issue as soon as I see it. (It usually starts when the child is very young, before it’s having much impact, if any, on the child. My hope is that I can nip it in the bud before it becomes habitual… but that’s probably naive.)

    I think people do it for two different reasons. There’s the reason you cite, that it’s habitual in their normal conversation with adults (in which case, good luck to Mary to try to change a life-long habit!). However, the second reason, the one I might have a hope of changing, is that a lot of people don’t like to feel like they do nothing but issue orders all the day long, and so soften the order by turning it into a question. Now, that works with adults fairly well, but it fails abysmally with a toddler, who will, quite reasonably, take the question entirely at face value. As you say, confusing.

    When I’ve explained that their attempts to be polite are merely confusing the child and setting everyone up for conflict, some parents have actually managed to change the pattern.

    Comment by rosie_kate | March 30, 2011 | Reply

    • I wonder if this is a bigger problem in Canada? Canadians rarely issue direct orders to each other. It’s always “do you want to…” or “do you mind…”

      Comment by IfByYes | March 31, 2011 | Reply

      • I’d agree with that… Except that this dad is American!

        Comment by MaryP | March 31, 2011

  5. Sort of like the parent who insists on hanging around until the child starts to cry because she needs to feel wanted. By the way, one of my professional gurus says that 99% of separation anxiety and school phobias have nothing to do with school and everything to do with what’s happening at home. Interesting thought.

    Comment by jwg | March 31, 2011 | Reply

    • I believe that.

      Comment by IfByYes | March 31, 2011 | Reply

  6. I do this all the time and it drives me crazy. I caught myself talking to my 16-year-old and saying “Do you want to call him and tell him you’ll be late for school?” What the hell? What he wants has nothing to do with it, he needs to call, now!

    I think it is ingrained as a politeness thing; if I phrase it as a question, maybe it isn’t so pushy?

    (exactly like that statement above)

    I agree that mostly this is done as a politeness thing. It’s well-intentioned, but sadly misguided. A teen is, (well, could be) old enough to understand that it’s not really a request, but a toddler? Waaay too sophisticated for a toddler! We all know that there are a fair number of teens who will happily use the form as a pretext to pretend that they didn’t know what you really meant. (They are more sophisticated than toddlers, but often no less contrary…)

    “pretext to pretend”? I think it makes sense… 😀

    Comment by Sylvia | March 31, 2011 | Reply

  7. reminded me of a mother I got stuck behind in a motorway service station restaurant, had three young children, all too young to read the menu boards, “What do you want to eat?” she would ask and they would shout out an item, she would check the boards and then say “No, they havnt got that, what do you want?” this went on and on…I ended up getting a sandwhich from the shop.

    Oh, isn’t that the silliest thing? If they can’t read, you find two or three things you think they’d enjoy on the menu, and give them their choice of them. Why on earth set yourself up for such a pointless waste of time? (Never mind how rude it is to the people behind you in line!)

    Comment by jenny | March 31, 2011 | Reply

  8. […] when the situation dragged on for months without improvement, the hope receded. What follows is a post from my draft file, written in some month ago, and a good […]

    Pingback by Gathering up that loose end « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | September 30, 2011 | Reply

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