Going to play groups, Anya and I come into ever more contact with older kids. I found, to my own astonishment, that I really didn’t know how to talk to them. The first time it happened a child, much older than Anya (like two or three – hah!) came up to Anya and wanted to take away the cool little tractor thing she was riding. My first impulse was to react in a very childish way myself: ‘No, Anya is playing with that!”… and then slowly I remembered a slightly more sophisticated approach and said ‘hey there are so many toys here, why don’t you go play with the toy kitchen’ and, to my surprise, that worked… off he toddled, happy as Larry.
Then it happened again, another kid another day came up to Anya and wanted to yank something out of her hand. What do you do? You see, generally if a kid is hitting, grabbing or otherwise interacting with Anya my line is ‘if she is okay, I am okay’. I consider them all ‘siblings for rent’ in a way. It is good for Anya to learn to share and learn to take a little shoving and grabbing and I am lucky – she is very sturdy and doesn’t mind being manhandled at all, generally. But then again that has mostly been with kids her own age, roughly.
Now, the challenge for me has been, as I said, with older kids. Like if a four year old comes over and starts shouting or throwing sand around right near my precious little baby. Amazing how those kids who before I had my own child would have looked sweet and innocent now look like threatening giants to me, with the potential to (albeit unintentionally) hurt or harm my darling daughter. And when they do something that crosses the line (your line, at least) how do you handle it? I have observed other mums skillfully manage this. There seem to be different approaches but this is what I have settled on and feels comfortable to me, now: I talk to all other kids as if they were my own kid (‘now, remember to be gentle with the baby’), at the same time remembering I am not their mom and at any moment they or their real mom or dad could call me out on that (‘who are you?! you are not my mom!!’).
At first I was cautious because I didn’t want to undermine other mum’s efforts by appearing to correct their children’s behaviour or, even worse, give the child a different message from the one their caregiver is instilling in them. I still am cautious. I mean I try not to interfere when another parent is correcting their child for doing something to Anya, for example. Sometimes I will let them know I am fine with it (as long as Anya is fine, as I say); but if they are giving their kid a talk about ‘sharing’ for example I just stay out of it and assume they are using this as a teaching point. But now, if I need to interact with a kid because they are in some way impinging on Anya’s wellbeing, I will step-in with minor guidance if needed to protect Anya in some way. I mean this is all minor stuff and still they are all valuable life lessons, not just for the two kids, but for me, too.
For example, one time, in the library, Anya discovered that pushing her stroller around in a circle was a lot of fun, so she proceeded to do that for 30 minutes (30 minutes!!!). I thought it would be fun to let her explore this new activity for as long as she wanted to, so I just steered the buggy round as she pushed, to avoid striking any objects. While I think it was good to let Anya stick to it and focus on that activity while it held her interest, as you may imagine, it was pretty boring for me. So every now and again, I would grab a book and read it as I steered or at other times I would find myself idly staring into space. At one of these times a kid, probably around five, obviously thought I was staring at him and said ‘what?!’. I responded, as if a kid too: ‘what?!’. He said ‘what?’ I thought he might be having fun, so I said: ‘what?’ again… he clearly wasn’t having fun… he was getting increasingly frustrated and even a tad aggressive. Suddenly, though locked in combat and wanting to say ‘what?!’ again I remembered, actually, I am not a kid anymore, I am a mommy now. That’s when it hit me. It kind of monumentally hit me that I am no longer a kid. Okay I am 35… it is not the first time I have realised I am a grown up, but it was the first time it really struck me that I am a mom now and that isn’t just about being a mom to Anya but also about acting like a mom, giving strong, loving guidance and being a positive role model to all kids.
So, this rule of thumb applies: I try and talk to all kids with the compassion and empathy I would with my own children (not telling them off for being ‘wrong’ or clumsy but gently reminding them to take care with little ones or whatever) whilst remembering I don’t have the authority of their own parents. So far it has served me well.