My kid being a ratbag? Tell me about it.
The first time the day care worker told me that my son had a “bad character” I was quite irritated and somewhat offended. (Although, admittedly, I did get some joy from the opportunity to gleefully report the event to my husband as an example of classic Spanish diplomacy). A few months later, I find I’m actually relieved to hear that perhaps my child is a bit more challenging than others. It’s kind of a relief to think that the fact everything that’s supposed to be working, or at least seems to be working for other parents, but meanwhile seems to be a very big challenge for me, is actually possibly not entirely because I am doing something wrong.
We’re not even talking about major problems here – just a toddler that can throw a fairly impressive tantrum, has a super impressive cry (the volume and endurance are spectacular) and is unusually determined to do and get what he wants, including exclusive use of his favourite toys at day care. Wilful, one might say. (In fact, the GP told us just this morning that it’s all completely normal for his age but shhhhhh because I was quite enjoying the sympathy).
My shift from offence to gratitude that someone recognised my child was not actually a walk in the park to look after, makes me hope for more brave souls who might risk offending me in the short term. While the last thing I would suggest is that people start dishing out unqualified advice (having been almost drowned by a flood of advice on several occasions), I think we should perhaps be a bit more open about someone’s kid being, well, a ratbag. When and if that should occur. What if, instead of shuffling our child away from the devil child and her parents as we picked them up from school or day care, we were more open about any possible problem and asked the parent how they were coping? Sure, if the problem actually was as a result of bad parenting or violence in the home or your phrasing needed a diplomacy overhaul, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a few harsh words that start with F and end with off, but maybe you’ll be a much needed sympathetic ear instead.
Is it better to let your friend know that while she was away her little Jack threw an almighty tantrum the likes of which you’ve never seen in your life? Should you just mention that he had a bit of a moment when he actually went completely nuclear? I think you should let her know. As long as you don’t imply you think Jack is ‘acting out’ as a result of her failure to take him to the new ‘Expression through Dance’ for toddlers class or for her lax attention to the maximum ideal television hours, perhaps it would be helpful for her to know that it’s not just her that he likes to hit over the head with a pram. You may manage to convey some much needed sympathy and stumble on a parent desperate to talk to someone about the fact that the little sod is driving them mad.
If little Sarah monopolises all the toys and refuses to let any other child play with those she likes, maybe mentioning that Sarah seems like she might be a bit tiring will fill her mother with relief and a realisation that its not her fault that she is unable to say, enjoy a tranquil lunch in a trendy café while her child sits quietly in her chair beside her politely feeding herself spinach and feta pie, (like her ever perfectly groomed neighbour, who never has so much as a fleck of cereal on her person, can do with her child of the same age). Perhaps she may consider ceasing to place unreasonable expectations on herself trying to do so. Maybe she’ll find life easier knowing that she isn’t the only one who instead must go to the Ikea cafeteria for lunch so that she can chow down a sandwich in two minutes as that’s the maximum amount of time Sarah can be expected to sit still, if at all, and because it’s one of the few places perfectly designed for children who like to fling things off the edge of highchairs and for whom the buffet, while not exactly chic, is ideal because they need to have the meal in front of them before even being willing to be seated.
Sure, I, I mean she, still has to miss out on trendy cafes, but knowing it’s not because she didn’t play her child opera when she was in the womb or didn’t follow Gina Ford or Doctor Spock or Bunny McComb or whatever the parent of her perfectly behaved neighbour did, may take away some of the angst at least.
And you know what, if Sarah or Jack or whoever is actually totally normal and isn’t unusually difficult at all, just pretend. Making a parent feel like he or she’s achieved something by not falling apart completely will be a nice little boost anyway (and they may feel a little less stupid for kicking the Pocoyo doll from one side of the room to the other when she completely lost it that one time…).