Lit­tle an­gels when away from home

Do all chil­dren be­have at other peo­ple’s houses?

Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - NEWS - Mi­randa Mur­phy is a mother of three and a jour­nal­ist at The Aus­tralian. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @mur­phymi­randa

IF YOU had to choose, would you rather your child was gen­er­ally bet­ter be­haved at home or at other peo­ple’s houses?

I’ve been asking var­i­ous par­ents this de­cep­tively vex­ing question re­cently and the an­swer’s been al­most unan­i­mous: at other peo­ple’s houses. My in­for­mal poll was sparked by the phe­nom­e­non of kids act­ing dif­fer­ently at home and away.

An ex­am­ple: on ar­riv­ing to pick up your off­spring from a play­date, you thank the host and add the manda­tory hope that your kid was no trou­ble.

“Oh, no, she was an AN­GEL!” the other par­ent ex­claims.

“I didn’t hear a peep out of them all af­ter­noon! And she ate all her chicken curry for din­ner and helped tidy up af­ter­wards. What lovely man­ners – lucky you.”

What? You stand agog – is this your child the other par­ent is talk­ing about?

The very same squirt who re­fuses to eat any food more ex­otic than fried rice, wipes their mouth on the table­cloth and needs sat­nav to find the kitchen sink?

“Er, thanks – good to hear,” you stam­mer, while your con­fused brain screams, why doesn’t this hap­pen at our house?

On the way home, you con­grat­u­late your model child on their ex­em­plary be­hav­iour, shortly be­fore nor­mal ser­vice is re­sumed and they be­gin kick­ing your car seat.

Of course, other times it’s gone the other way, and you’ve ar­rived for play­date pick-up to find a fraz­zled host adult look­ing in need of a lit­tle lie-down. You feel ter­ri­ble about it all but this out­come can lack the el­e­ment of sur­prise.

Other ex­am­ples of para­dox­i­cal con­duct in­clude:

* Teenagers be­ing mono- syl­labic with their own par­ents but charm­ing to their friends’ fam­i­lies;

* Ba­bies scream­ing in their mother’s arms but calm­ing down when they’re held by their mother-in-law;

* Tod­dlers who get up mul­ti­ple times in the night at their houses but sleep an un­in­ter­rupted 12 hours at some­one else’s.

The log­i­cal an­swer to my question is: bet­ter be­haved at home – af­ter all, they’re there for the most time.

But our com­pli­cated psy­ches get in the way and we still all re­ply “away”. And be­fore you get smart and an­swer “both”, that box does not ex­ist on the sur­vey form.

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