It’s Not All Mary Poppins

From the Archives: Why I love dads

I’m still on holiday this week and feeling distinctly lazy. There’s a lot of good stuff in the archives, though. Here’s one.

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…

August 29, 2011 - Posted by | manners, parenting, parents, Peeve me | , , ,


  1. The dads are so much better at the “bye, have a good day!” drop off. I had a mom for a while who would say goodbye (her son was about 10 months old)… and then say goodbye again… and then hug… and then back for another hug… and then stand in the doorway blowing kisses… and when I finally managed to shove her out the door she would pause halfway down the front steps to KNOCK ON THE WINDOW AND WAVE GOODBYE AGAIN.

    By the time this little display was finished, the baby would be a screaming, hysterical mess, she’d be in tears, and every other lower lip in the place would be trembling.

    The one time his dad dropped him off, he was out the door so fast he had to come back five minutes later because he’d forgotten to leave the diaper bag.

    That mother was insane. Totally selfish, too. That display was all about her needs and insecurities, and nothing at all about what was best for her baby. Bet you just wanted to kiss that dad — and DEMAND that he did drop-offs from then on in!

    Experiences like this are what got me giving clear instructions for drop-offs during the signing interview. Most parents are grateful for the guidance, and it sure saves us a whole heap of tears and angst.

    Comment by hodgepodge | August 29, 2011 | Reply

  2. With the family I nannied for this summer it was actually Mom who was much better at leaving in the morning. She knew not to ever say the word ‘bye’ (which would always send the little one into hysterics), and would just come give K a quick hug or kiss while I was beginning to distract her with a morning activity, then would be out the door before she could even notice. Dad though, the few times he was still there when I arrived, Drew It Out. K was definitely more of a mama’s girl, and I think he almost *wanted* the drama of a messy goodbye.

    Yup, sometimes it’s the dads. I’ve had two dads like that over the years (and a couple dozen moms). I think you’re right, the ones who make it the biggest, messiest deal sure do look like they’re cultivating the drama to meet their own needs, consciously or not.

    Comment by Kelley | August 29, 2011 | Reply

  3. With some reluctance, I admit I was one of those parents who had a much harder time with separation anxiety than my kids did and in fact, for a time, I know I made it worse.

    I was a young single parent the first time around, the second time around I was a young married mother of two. At 23, the mother of a 6 year old and newborn baby, I was still extremely insecure and worried constantly about my role as a parent.

    What really helped us through it was having the head of the daycare centre we enrolled Daughter in take me aside. She, very kindly, explained to me that my emotions, though valid, we’re mine alone and had nothing to do with what my child was experiencing during the time we were apart.

    She told me about how Daughter, once I stopped peering in through windows to blow kisses, eagerly embraced her environment and thrived on her interactions with the staff and the other children.

    It was a wake up call for sure. And it most certainly made all the difference with drop offs becoming much less stressful for all involved.

    Still I think that, at any age, new parents feel a sense of protectiveness and obligation that goes slightly beyond the rational. Some of us just need a little more reassurance than others that our babies are just fine without us.

    And I would bet money that for most of us, it’s purely unconscious.

    Comment by Sheri | August 29, 2011 | Reply

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