Back when I worked as a toddler teacher, a familiar scenario occurred weekly, if not more. Imagine a busy room of ten toddlers playing in the various learning centers in the late afternoon. An exhausted working mom slips into the room and quietly watches her daughter playing with the other children. The teacher approaches her.
“Hello Ms. Salad, how was your day?”
“Good. I’m glad I managed to slip out early. How was Arugula?”
“She had a great day. She loved it when we played with the baby dolls in the soapy water. I changed her about ten minutes ago, so she should be good for a while. Here is her daily sheet.”
“Thank you.” Ms. Salad immediately looks at the nap time. “Wow! She took a two and a half hour nap. That’s incredible. I can’t get her to nap more than an hour at home. What do you do?”
“We just have quiet music playing, a dark room, and a short transition from lunch to bed. Some children we have to pat their backs to get them to sleep, but Arugula is such a great sleeper, she falls asleep all by herself.”
“I do all of that! I wonder why she naps for you and not for me.”
“It’s because I’m not mom.” The teacher jokes.
The Ms. Salad laughs, but realizes the truth in the statement. The teacher smiles, but thinks that Ms. Salad just isn’t firm enough with Arugula.
The idea that children were different in child care than at home is a very true and real thing. When a child at any age is placed in a room of his or her cohorts with non-parental supervision, the child learns that the behavior that is accepted is different than at home (regardless if it’s more or less strict). I accepted that toddlers in a room with a lot more toddlers, competing for toys and attention would bite, scratch, hit, and hurt each other; just as I accepted that at home, where there was only one, two, or no other children that same aggressive child would be sweet, careful, tender, and calm.
It didn’t stop at environment, teachers with children at the school rarely (almost never) got to be in the same classroom as their own child. Often, preferential treatment was not the reason, but the significant change in the child’s behavior and the overall dynamic (mostly the child fighting for the 100% attention of his or her mother). The truth is, children behave differently for their mom than for other people. I call this the Mom Factor.
I totally forgot about the Mom Factor when Princess Pea came along. When she was an infant I had this crazy thing going on: I had all this experience with other people’s children, years and years of experience. I also had a ton of education (almost equally in amount). I knew it all. I was going to be an amazing and great parent. But that was because I completely forgot about the Mom Factor.
The Mom Factor starts right off the bat, in the hospital room. Pea was born at Poudre Valley Hospital, where it is standard protocol to have the newborn sleep in the room with the mom. Looking back, I believe that this is the origin of the M.F. but who knows, this isn’t a scientific, research based thing.
When Pea was a baby, she was a terrible sleeper. She woke up several times a night, she would struggle going to sleep. It was frustrating. It wasn’t long before I realized that when Superman intervened in the situation, Pea would sleep fine. After almost two years of bedtime battles, I finally enlisted Superman to “sleep train” our child. What had been impossible for me was completed in a matter of days for him. (I’m trying to talk him into potty training her).
I started to notice all these other times when Pea would behave better or even just different for him than for me. This led me to notice her change in behavior for her aunts, her grandparents, her uncles, her nursery teachers, and our friends. It was very aggravating to see that my child saved her grumpy, stubborn, monster self for me. I cursed that darn Mom Factor.
My pot didn’t boil over until Superman was gone almost every night one week, leaving me with the bedtime battle. I tried to be the loving, sweet, understanding mother that I strive to be all day, but something about bedtime flips my switch. I become the Hulk of all mothers and feel like smashing things to prove my power as Ultimate Mother. Of course this only makes everything much worse. I switch gears and become the Glenda the Good Witch of all Mothers. This leads to Pea popping my bubble and somehow I’m sitting in the dark on the couch with her bedroom door open being as quiet as possible until she’s asleep. I was elated when Superman was home for a few nights. I noticed that of course he went in and gave his Superman powers and she was asleep right away, with the door closed, no gimmicks. The next night I noticed that when I put her to bed, she went with hardly any battle while Superman was in the other room. How does he do that?
I felt like I had just choked down the largest slice of humble pie and boy was it dry. I was not the best parent ever. I was not even the most amazing parent in the Denver Metro Area. I could not get my two year old to bed without help or a long battle. The Mom Factor. I felt like I would never be as cool and awesome as Daddy because of that darn Mom Factor. He could get her laughing harder, playing sillier, and repeating crazy phrases more. And if all that wasn’t enough, he could put her down without a fight.
A few days later we went to a barbecue and Pea was loving life. She was playing with her friends, running wild and hamming it up. During this party, I talked to another mom about momming. I looked up and realized I had something Daddy didn’t, I had the Mom Factor. When Pea was upset or unsure, she looked to me for protection, love, and guidance. When Pea needed help with something, she walked past Superman and asked me for help. When Pea wanted to “Poop on the Potty” she wanted me for her Potty Pal. The Mom Factor wasn’t a bad thing. I had missed the good parts. The parts that meant that only mom got certain parts of Pea.
I’ve accepted my Mom Factor (most days. Sometimes I’m still frustrated by it). I’m working on embracing it. I also am realizing another important component I over looked: The Dad Factor. Pea needs her dad for many things that she doesn’t want Mommy to do. She shows a little different side of herself to him. She also shows her sassy, stubborn, defiant side too, but in cuter doses (at least to me it’s cute when she sasses her dad, because she’d never do that to Mom). I guess what I needed to realize that the mother child dynamic is totally different than any other dynamic. It has is good and its bad, but no matter what, it’s vital, it’s important, it’s irreplaceable. It’s part of what keeps me calling my mom every day to chat about nothing in particular. It is powerful and unique. The same can be said for the Dad Factor. I’m sure when Superman and I have another child someday that the Mom and Dad Factors will be completely different (especially if we have a boy). There is just something special about having parents with different dynamics.
How have you seen the Mom or Dad Factor affect your life?