There’s always at least one. That one child that, no matter what activity or group event is occurring, finds a way to disrupt it. Maybe they shove smaller kids over, or they tip over an activity stand, or throw food everywhere. They punch, kick, and shout in children’s faces. The entire group will be familiar with their name very quickly as adult after adult shouts it with “NO!” attached.
Then there’s the Problem Child’s mum. That poor woman with the permanantly harassed look on her face. She turns her back for a cup of coffee and a panicked mother behind shrieks as the Problem Child launches from a chair onto their daughter’s head. She asks another mother to keep an eye on the Problem Child so she can nip to the loo and is met with hasty excuses of being busy or having a cold or needing to pop out for a moment.
Freud, damn him, made a career out of blaming mums. He decided that we just don’t have enough to feel guilty for and decided that any issues our children have is almost entirely our fault. The Problem Child’s mum is carrying that weight of guilt before she even reads it’s because of her bad parenting. As well as guilt she is carrying the glares that follow the Problem Child as he crashes about, the mutters of disapproval that come after the forgiving smiles that don’t quite meet the eyes, and the lonliness that comes from having a child nobody wants their kids to socialise with.
But is it her fault?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Some children are just different. They’re not broken or defective, they’re not bad or nasty, they’re just different and that difference means they don’t understand why what they’re doing is wrong. It means that their mums might do every single thing the parent of another child does, might use all the techniques to explain why behaviour is wrong, might reward good behaviour with star charts or pebble jars, but nothing at all makes a difference. Because they’re not a Problem Child, they’re a different child.
Some children handle pain by acting out. The loss of a family member, an illness, or recovering from abuse. Problem Child’s mum might be desperately trying to help that child handle their inner pain by allowing them to be around other children in happy social settings. Perhaps the only time that child is able to be just a child is then and, whilst it’s hard and exhausting, it’s all the time Problem Child’s mum gets when she’s not handling that child’s crisis. Because they’re not a Problem Child, they’re a hurting child.
Sometimes children are not used to group settings. If a mother has had an illness, or has been housebound by depression, Problem Child will just simply not be used to intereacting with other children. Will have no experience of why belly-flopping a baby is wrong. Will have no experience of sharing or not running full force into others. Problem Child needs those groups to learn, needs those groups to understand, otherwise they will forever be the Problem Child. Because they’re not a Problem Child, they’re a lonely child.
All children do it to some extent. Miss Rose is perfectly capable of throwing a toy car at another child in the middle of a tantrum. Z is no stranger to lashing a hand out when another child gets too close to his preferred toy. They’re good kids, but sometimes they behave badly. When it happens I am quick to apologise, hastily scold them, and feel mortally ashamed that it was my child who did it. For the mother of the Problem Child this is not a rarity to be dreaded. It is a daily, hourly, occurance to be expected. But that doesn’t mean she gets used to it and isn’t bothered anymore. It means she has to grit her teeth and handle that embarassment and concern time and time again.
Mothers need these group settings, playgroups, soft play centres, parks. It’s an opportunity to have adult conversation with other mothers. It’s a chance to have your child and happy and occupied whilst you aren’t on constant performance duty. But the mother of the Problem Child probably needs it more than any of us. The mother of the Problem Child needs a chance to be around people who understand and can offer nods of understanding and reassuring smiles. A place where she can just be her for five minutes, and not constantly be trying to stop the behaviour that gets her child labelled a problem in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, it sucks when someone smacks your child, shoves your child, or steals from your child. It is easy to be angry with both the child and their mother. I have felt the inner fury as Miss Rose has been pushed from bouncy castles, the horror as she taken a foot to the face, and pain as she has come to me sobbing and pointing at the Problem Child. But I have been the mother to apologise and that sucks too.
The Problem Child is still just a child and you don’t know why they’re playing up. All you know is they’re hard work and their mother is tired. They’re exhausting and their mother might only just be holding it together.
Take some time and just remind yourself that being a mother is bloody hard work at the best of times. One day something could happen that turns your child into the Problem Child, and then what you’ll need is understanding, comfort and support. You’ll need friends who don’t go all Freud on you and blame you for being a bad parent. You’ll need somewhere you can go just occasionally to drink coffee and just be You.
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Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!