It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It’s not all sweetness

“Mummy! Mummy, mummy here!”

End-of-day is very sweet. All that excitement. The children jostle around, the anticipation thick in the air.

“Daddy! My daddy!”

Daddy swoops the child up, Mummy kneels down with her arms open, and there is much mutual adoration. I love it.

“Mummy, mummy, mummy!”

A child breaks from the wee mob around my knees and bolts for the door. Only, it’s not the child of the mother coming into the door. And as her child struggles to the front of the pack, the other child flings herself into the arms of the mother.

Sometimes this is cute. Sometimes this is the overflow of enthusiasm, the exuberant anticipation of their parent’s immanent arrival, and for a moment any warm parental body will do.

The parents almost always receive it like that. All this enthusiasm, even when misdirected, is truly very sweet. They take the child into their arms and give them a snuggle.

Only, you know? Once the children are over two and a half or so, that’s not usually what it’s about. It’s not simple affectionate exuberance any more. By this age, usually, it’s competitive one-up-manship. Usually it’s the prima donna child, the one who cannot conceive of anyone but them getting the prime spot in anyone’s affection and attention. This child will do this with every incoming parent, to the point of pushing the rightful child aside.

I do not find this cute. My feelings always go to the parent’s child… you know, their actual offspring? The one who has been waiting for their parent’s arrival with eager anticipation, and must now stand to one side while the cuckoo’s child gets the attention that’s rightfully theirs? It’s odd how rarely it seems to occur to the parent to at least open their other arm so as to hug both children. Now, when I know I have one of those kids in the mix, I make sure to be holding them when any parents but their own are arriving.

I will also have a priming conversation before the parents start to arrive: “We’re all excited when the mummies and daddies come. But no matter how excited you are, you must let Suzie say hello to her mummy first.” That sort of pre-direction works sometimes, particularly if pushy child catches me giving her/him the stink-eye as they prepare to launch themselves at someone else’s parent.

I don’t know whether the other parents are honestly duped by this, whether they’re too naive to see the negative aspect of this behaviour, or whether they do see it but just don’t know how else to respond, but in almost every instance, unless I prevent it, the pushy child gets a reward for their behaviour that just shouldn’t happen. That’s injustice, people, and it really annoys me.

Which is why I was about ready to kiss the dad who smiled down at the child clamoring for his attention, arms upthrust, and said, “I bet you’re really excited to see your mummy. I’m sure she’ll be here very soon!”, reached right over the interloper and scooped his own child into a big bear hug.

That, my friends, was true parental finesse. Beautifully done, dad!

August 8, 2011 - Posted by | aggression, manners, parents | , ,


  1. That’s funny, I’ve never thought about it that way. On the rare days when I get to pick up the kids early, I always find it amusing that I seem to end up with one or two extra children crowding my lap. While I’m always willing to give someone an extra cuddle, I do make sure that mine are the first ones in my arms.

    Assuming that the kids you’re cuddling are the kind of kids I’m talking about, it’s probably never occurred to you because you don’t see these kids all day long and watch them nudging to the front of the group, trying to be first with everything, stealing toys, demanding attention from teachers, pouting when they have to share it…

    Comment by Dani | August 8, 2011 | Reply

  2. I wonder if it’s partially because he’s a dad? I know my husband is squeamish about hugging other people’s kids even when I wouldn’t think twice about it.

    Not this dad. He happily cuddles the other kids, so it can’t be that. But this dad? He worked in a daycare centre for a few years some years ago, so he’s probably got The Eye.

    Comment by ktjrdnktjrdn | August 8, 2011 | Reply

  3. I used to get that a lot at the village school, because I went in to help as a volunteer and all the children knew me. It didn’t occur to me not to open both arms and include Ronan, whoever else was there.

    I find it quite odd, the way that including both children so often doesn’t seem to occur to the parent. (Is this a result of so many of my charges being, at least so far, only children?) Not that this situation happens so very much, really — the one with an attention-hogging prima donna, I mean, rather than children happy to see a familiar face, as you describe — but when it does, it’s so odd, and the injustice of it rankles.

    Comment by Z | August 8, 2011 | Reply

  4. That was VERY well done. I think I make it a point to give both kids a hug, at the very least, but I much prefer this dad’s approach. My parents were that way, too, and I think they just didn’t know how to react. Unfortunately, it caused me to wonder if I really mattered more than someone else’s kid.

    That’s my feeling, too. While of course the parents want to be warm and welcoming to all children, their own child(ren) should know that they are particularly loved.

    Comment by MJ | August 8, 2011 | Reply

  5. The first time I read this it didn’t resonate with me much – probably too tired. 🙂 Then today my niece returned after two weeks’ vacation and I’m all OH THAT. Because she is very much like this.

    “nudging to the front of the group, trying to be first with everything, stealing toys, demanding attention from teachers, pouting when they have to share it”

    Holy moley, that’s it! That’s what she does. Every day. I couldn’t put my finger on why I find the days with her so much more exhausting than the days without her – but that’s it. One on one, she’s fine. But in a group, she always increases the amount of work because she can’t bear the idea that another child might be getting something (toys, cuddles, snacks) that she isn’t.

    So what do you do day to day with these kids? I’ve been taking the “you must wait your turn” approach even when she throws a tantrum (she’ll be two in October and is very verbal) – any other tips?

    Comment by hodgepodge | August 9, 2011 | Reply

  6. […] asked what I do with the pushy-needy-demanding prima donna kids, those kids who feel their place is always the center of any adult’s attention, and just hate […]

    Pingback by Dealing with the Attention-Hog « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | August 9, 2011 | Reply

  7. What interesting behaviour! Cuckoo children is right…

    Comment by IfByYes | August 9, 2011 | Reply

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