Staying Home Instead
Encountering Different Expectations
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 3, May-June 2002, p. 102
"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I take my two-year-old everywhere with me with no problems. She also has one short weekly stay at a community center, where she enjoys herself socially and gets along well with peers. I am proud of my child and of my own parenting. However, I have a friend who told me she does not want her child to play with my daughter because she feels her behavior is a bad influence on her child-and she implied others feel the same. I feel this parent has overreacted to typical toddler squabbling and behavior, but maybe there's something I'm missing. What do you do when your child becomes a villain to other parents?
You sound confident that your child's behavior, while not perfect, is age-appropriate. Although your friend's words must have been unpleasant to receive, it is good that she was honest with you. Perhaps her expectations are too high or she is worried about her child having a negative experience or being harmed.
Some first-time mothers of toddlers can take toddler aggression personally and judge the child based on it, while many mothers who have already dealt with toddlers may view toddler behavior as a phase which passes and does not necessarily indicate future behavior. Disputes among young children are inevitable, but can be best handled with the assistance and intervention of attentive and caring parents.
Perhaps you could consider discussing your thoughts with your friend and asking for specific suggestions she may have which would allow her to be comfortable. A two-year-old is starting to understand expectations, so discussing the rules before entering the play date may greatly benefit you.
Quick intervention on your part can help teach your child what is and is not acceptable and limit negative effects on others. Taking your child with you to a separate room when problems arise may help defuse the situation more quickly and make your words more effective. You may also watch carefully to try to predict and prevent negative behavior by your child. Hunger, over stimulation, and fatigue often contribute to outbursts, especially with young children. Breaking for a snack or leaving after a short visit can help you all have more positive play experiences. Best of luck with this difficult but temporary situation!
If you are comfortable with how you are raising your child, if you are comfortable with how she interacts with other children in general, if you believe your child is learning how to socialize appropriately-because it is learned behavior, not innate-then perhaps your friend is the one who will need to decide what to do. Be prepared, though, because she may well decide not to spend time with you and your daughter.
However, if you can look at this situation from your friend's perspective, it might be helpful for you later. There surely will come a time when your daughter is around someone or finds herself in a situation you might not feel is a "good influence" for some reason. Your choice then might be to avoid that child or situation, or it might be a good time to help your child begin making choices about what she will do when she is faced with behavior that is different from how you hope she will act.
I have three children ages eight, four, and two and your situation reminded me of several experiences I've had over the years with my children. When my daughter was four, I was telling a co-worker about how frustrated I was when it became clear my daughter was too immature for the academically based preschool I had chosen for her. My co-worker told me how upset she was when her first babysitter decided she could no longer watch her son because he cried too much. When I didn't understand the connection, she replied, "This was the first time someone rejected my child." You are probably hurt. I would draw on the fact that you are generally comfortable with your daughter and your own parenting.
When my daughter was four, she also had tantrums and wouldn't share during play dates. For a time I was angry at her as I saw two playgroups start to break up. How dare she ruin my social life as well! In time I realized that some of the friends we had made were destined to drift away as we made different schooling choices and developed different parenting and discipline styles. I was very sad to see some of my friends from my first baby drift away; they had provided so much support for me as a new mother. At one LLL meeting I was commenting about my daughter, "She's very immature for her age," and a friend laughed and replied, "She's only four!" This helped me lighten up a bit. Another friend said once that "parenting is a process." I've always remembered that as I've learned to forgive myself for my parenting mistakes.
When two friends I had with my now four-year-old suddenly decided he was not a good enough playmate for their sons, I drew on many of my previous experiences. You might try to dialogue with the mother who is uncomfortable with your daughter, but I've learned that not every situation is fixable. You may have to just let it go. I would shield your daughter from your own feelings of frustration or disappointment. Our children pick up on our own tensions and are likely to act up more. My husband reminded me that far more of my efforts at networking are successful than not. I redirected my energy and time toward people with whom I felt successful as a parent.
My biggest challenge yet is my two-year-old. He has turned out to be an aggressive toddler who occasionally has bitten, pinched, or kicked other toddlers. I too wondered if one mother was overreacting to typical toddler immaturity and also wondered if I was missing something. I questioned the mothers from our mutual playgroup and was repeatedly reassured. One mother reminded me her daughter was a biter as a toddler. Another mother reminded me that her toddler bonked mine on the head a few months ago. Questioning a few mutual friends might reassure you. I would follow your toddler closely to facilitate her interactions with peers and try to redirect inappropriate behavior on the spot. If the mother continues to be ambivalent toward your child, seek out friends who are more patient not only with your daughter, but with your growth as a young parent. Now go give your little one a big hug!
I have been on the other end of your situation in my mothers' playgroup. The group eventually split up because of our differing expectations about acceptable behavior. Although I don't know what your child's behavior is and how you handle it, perhaps my experience will provide perspective.
The root of the problem was the different expectations of what the parents' response should be to normal childhood behaviors. While all of us agreed that the behavior in question was normal, we did not agree that it was acceptable. Everyone behaves unacceptably at times and we expected the mother to respond with direct, appropriate consequences.
Some of us considered this child's constant hitting, kicking, and tackling to be dangerous to our children and we expected his mother to take some action quickly. His mother (when spoken to about it several times by several mothers) believed it to be "typical boy" behavior. She believed he only hurt others accidentally and seemed to have a much higher tolerance for his behavior than we did. Her response was to tell him to be more careful.
Most of us had been through aggressive phases with our own children. During those phases our unspoken policy was to stay on our feet through the entire play date following the toddler around, ready to stop hitting or biting before it happened. We would follow up with verbal comments such as, "Don't bite/hit!" Then we would physically move the child to another part of the sandbox or playground. If the child continued we would tell him or her we'd have to go home if it happened again. If the child was determined to continue, we voluntarily went home. These phases could last from weeks to years.
My friends and I were frustrated by what seemed to be indifference to our children's pain. your situation may be different but perhaps talking to your friend about your differing expectations will help you come to some sort of compromise that will help.
Lisa M. C.