Before I had them, I was the doting aunt that didn’t mind being around kids.
There was once a baby shower where boyfriends, husbands and kids were invited. A cute little boy (whose mom was then an acquaintance but has now become a good friend) came running up to me. I was seated at the dessert table, and he pointed towards the goodies behind me. I saw he was asking for a brownie, and I automatically reached over to get one for him. He was too cute to resist!
Somewhere in the motions of me reaching for the brownie and him reaching up towards the said dessert, I caught his mom’s gaze from afar. I smiled and mouthed, “he’s asking for this“. My hand hadn’t made it all the way down (and his fingers were inches away from the brownie) when she jumped up and ran to get him, saying, “No no no no…” to me. She did it very pleasantly, but in the end the little boy realized he’d been spotted and that he wasn’t going to get his brownie treat. He started to cry, but his (wise) mom was able to distract him quickly enough with something else.
I also caught my then-boyfriend-now husband looking at me and he reprimanded, “You should have asked first.”
What I couldn’t understand then is something I TOTALLY understand, practice and advocate now.
I find I’m constantly in that mom’s shoes: pulling my kids away because well-meaning friends, family and relatives just hand my kids sweets, treats, and all these other things without checking with me first. I understand everyone just wants to see them happy, but it doesn’t make my job as a parent any easier (and parenting is already hard to begin with!). In fact every time I’m put in this position, I think of that mom friend and how irritated she must have felt towards me then. I don’t blame her, because that’s how I feel now! Even when the children are polite and ask nicely or wait patiently for their turn. I have been told many times that my kids are hard to resist… but I cannot say it enough: PLEASE ASK ME FIRST.
Moms are already the bad cop by default, and we don’t want anything else to reinforce that unless it’s absolutely necessary. Often enough we’re the rule enforcer, the one that’s more strict, and the “un-fun” one (as my niece would say). We have rules that you may not know about. And we have rules that are different from your own, for reasons you may not understand. I’m personally happy to share ours when asked though, and I would guess that other moms would too.
What if the child is allergic to something you offer, or it’s against the doctor’s orders? Only a mother will know. And it’s safe to assume that if the nanny also tells you so — then take heed (because in my case) she has been properly briefed.
Another thing is to ask mom IN PRIVATE. If you dangle chocolates in front of a child’s face and say “Look what I have! Oh but let’s ask your mom first,” it puts us moms in an awkward position. And the poor child, it’s like such a big tease to see it and to not be able to get it! It’s not fair to them and all the more it causes trouble. But I’ve also found that if I’m consulted first in private, if it doesn’t go against some of our non-negotiables (like no sweets after 6pm), I will bend and compromise. I’m happy to find a win-win-win solution, because I too like seeing my kids happy and being given special care and treatment. But I need your cooperation too, as do most moms.
Why should we give every mother this courtesy? Because all our parenting styles are different. We all operate under different rules and circumstances. This small effort is a subtle way to show mom, “I respect your style.” Letting mom know can also help her plan a little better. And give us moms the benefit of the doubt. We don’t want to be mean or difficult, just because. In the end, whatever happens to our children, be it a tummy ache, an allergic reaction or a tantrum — we have to deal with it. We have to explain why and why not. It’s all on us.
Something else needs to be said too. When you ask — WAIT FOR A RESPONSE. Some people know the “rule”, are great at asking — but they don’t bother waiting for mom to reply! They just do what they want anyway. Why ask then, out of posterity?!
Once I was asked if Sam could have chocolates (this was before lunch). I said yes she can have a few but after she eats a proper meal (who doesn’t know that chocolates ruin a child’s good appetite anyway?!). The chocolates were left in front of my poor daughter who just kept staring at them. After a few minutes of Sam’s prodding (that I was so patiently trying to ward off), my instructions were ignored and Sam was told she could reach into the box and take a small bite. That’s not exactly very helpful is it?!
This is for all the other moms and parents who go through the same things I do. I am completely aware — no one purposely wants to cause trouble, or break the rules. Everyone just wants to help or to please the child. But I hope this helps us all realize that the best help you can give is to mom by asking first (and listening next of course). Just respect that boundary, and things will go smoothly. Everyone will get what they want, and we’ll all live happily ever after.