Out to Dinner
My husband and I joke that I should never go out to dinner with the family. When I go, the kids behave terribly.
My husband frequently takes our three sons (ages 6, 4, and 1.5) out to a sit-down restaurant by himself. When he gets home, he always reports that the kids behaved perfectly, sat in their seats with no tablets or phones, and ate their dinners.
One recent time when we all went out to dinner, one child desperately tried to escape his high chair into my lap the entire time. Another child dramatically whined of being tired and wanting to leave. The third spilled a beer all over my lap, down my legs, and into my new shoes. But if I’m not present, going to dinner with the kids is reportedly “easy.”
I’ll admit my husband is the stricter parent. But for the most part, we try to parent consistently. We discuss what the rules are so we can enforce them the same way. I do give in to more negotiations and probably “baby” them a bit more. But I also discipline them and hold them to the rules.
I think the real reason they can behave worse around me is something else–they really, really love me. (Does that sound like a desperate justification? Just bear with me.)
How We Treat the Ones We Love
My Pappy (my maternal grandfather) used to say, “We treat the ones we love the most the worst.” We put on a good face all day at work, with our friends, and with strangers we meet. We’d never dream of snapping at a friend or rolling our eyes at a co-worker. Then we come home tired. We let down our guard. And sometimes the people we really love get the worst side of us. The tired, grumpy, impatient side.
We expect those few key people to stick by us even if we are difficult. Our spouses–they vowed to love us ’til death do us part. Our mothers–they pretty much have to love us no matter what, right?
After delivering my third son, I was barely holding it together in the hospital. Post-partum hormones were raging. I’d had another scary delivery. My son was okay but would have a short NICU stay. I was holding it together, just barely. When my mom arrived at the hospital, she helped me hobble to the bathroom. When that door closed behind us, I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I could barely squeak out the words, “I’m . . . really . . . sad . . . to be back in the NICU. Even in my thirties, my mom feels like a safe place. A place where I don’t have to “hold it together” or put my best foot forward.
A Safe Place
This perfectly explains why children sometimes behave the worst for their moms. They let down their guard, and sometimes that means letting real, ugly emotions come out. The biggest of tantrums are saved for those they are most comfortable with. (To be clear, I think this phenomenon can occur around any caregiver that a child feels very comfortable and safe around!)
I have walked into a calm, peaceful room where three previously content children started whining and crying at the mere sight of me. And when they are sick? They could be playing happily and when they see me, THEY ARE NOT OKAY.
So the next time your child behaves perfectly for their teacher or their grandparent and then transforms into a pint-sized monster when you arrive, remember that “we treat the ones we love the most the worst.” My children feel comfortable expressing sadness and pain and exhaustion–all their most negative emotions–to me. And I think that’s a compliment.
Originally published April 2019.