I hear this story from tired working parents all the time.
“She loves the nanny more than me – I see them playing so nicely on the monitor while I’m at work, then the moment I come home, she shrieks like a banshee and melts down. It’s nothing but frustration for the hour and a half before bedtime, at which point I feel so conflicted. On the one hand, I’m so relieved to be done with her horrible outbursts, but on the other hand, I miss her, and regret that our time together wasn’t more joyful.”
I keenly feel the frustration, worry, and disappointment in every iteration of this drama I’ve ever heard. And the fact that I’ve heard it many times should come as reassuring to those of you who have had this experience as well.
You see, there are a few very good reasons why your child is melting down in your presence, and none of them has anything to do with your child’s seething, covert hatred for you and everything you hold dear. Here are the two main ones that may come as no small relief to you, and any other loved ones who also feel the full gale-force brunt of toddlers going to 11 when you get home from a long stint at work:
- It’s the end of the day. No one is fully in their right mind at the end of the day. Not even you, and especially not toddlers. If there is going to be a likely time for meltdowns, this would be it. As if sheer exhaustion and a rapidly impending bedtime aren’t enough to account for this phenomenon, I present you with an even more compelling reason.
- You’re their safe person. Let’s face it; no matter how much your child likes their nanny, babysitter, teacher, or other care provider (and we want them to enjoy being with that person, don’t we?), fundamentally, this person is not you. You are the parent. The attachment figure. The home base. The safe person. Let’s explore what it means to be your child’s safe person in greater depth.
Have you ever noticed that your body doesn’t fully relax unless you’re in a safe place? Case in point, sometimes it can take a day or more into a vacation before my daughter (or I for that matter) will have a bowel movement (not to be excessively scatalogical, but there is a reason why we talk about uptight people being anal retentive – holding on is a global phenomenon, folks!). I take it as a great compliment when a usually reserved toddler finally has his/her first dirty diaper in one of my classes – I know they finally feel safe. Personally, I don’t feel fully safe or relaxed until I’m at home with my yoga pants on. Those are the times when I finally feel the toll of the day, in my familiar space and in the safe presence of my trusted partner.
Similarly, when our child reunites with us at the end of the day, they can finally “let go” of everything they have been holding throughout our time apart: feelings big and small, some likely about having missed us. It’s hard not to take such outbursts personally, especially when we were hoping for a joyful reunion. We do get those sometimes, to be sure, but they aren’t always what love looks like.
Instead, love can be very, very messy indeed.
So, to you fellow busy, working parents, take this message very much to heart:
Your child loves you more than anything else
in the entire world.
Love just doesn’t always look like it does in stock photos.
Real love is a lot messier.
Embrace the mess, or at the very least, don’t take it personally.
- The Body Beautiful
- What love smells like: On bathing with my daughter
- Parent Q&A: When kids prefer one parent
- Parent Q&A: When kids prefer one parent, part 2: This time it’s personal
- Green eggs and super-strong adhesives: What I learned about my parents by reading Dr. Seuss
Rebekka Helford is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. With over a decade of experience working with parents and young children, Rebekka specializes in short-term intensive parenting consultation, using a variety of tools including home, office, and school visits to help families navigate developmental hiccups and get back on track.
Click here to schedule an appointment or contact Rebekka with a question – who knows, she might even answer it in her next post!