You've probably heard it umpteen times:
"When you're not around, they behave much better!"
"This child is a true angel when you're not there!"
"They are so much calmer without you!"
Why oh why, when we leave our kid with friends, grandparents or other relatives, do they often tell us what deep down we'd rather not hear? I mean, sure on the one hand we're relieved to hear that those who were doing us the favour of watching our kids, didn't end up having to deal with a gigantic tantrum. But on the other hand, we'd be a lot happier not having to deal with insinuations that our children are out of control when they're with us -- but perfect when they're with them.
"When my parents tell me my son behaved impeccably with them, they are implying that I am to blame for his 'bad behaviour'. I can't stand it," says Susanna.
Anna adds: "My sister in law is convinced that it's thanks to her amazing mothering capabilities that my children behave wonderfully when they're staying with her. And I must confess, when she tells me that, I do start to question myself."
Often, even teachers will give a very different report on children's behaviour to that which parents are used to at home.
So where does this childhood 'schizophrenia' come from? And (obviously a lot of us are asking ourselves this) are the parents to blame?
Absolutely not, says pychologist Marta Falaguasta. Such behaviour manifests itself simply because a child does not feel free to be his true self with certain people.
"When a child is born, he uses his basic learning - or imprinting - to get to know his mother, who in turn responds to his primary needs, starting with nutrition - both through feeding and affection," Falaguasta tells me. "Subsequently, he will seek to create a relationship with his father who, together with the mother, will help him grow and become autonomous. Before that happens (and humans take much longer than other mammals to gain independence) the child will have a huge need for both parental figures."
In most cases, therefore, it is the parents that provide the initial care for the child. And they are the first that the child can trust completely and with whom he feels ready to take his first steps in the world. It is thanks to his relationship with them, that he can start out on the path to growth. Children trust their parents completely, and therefore feel free with them to express themselves in a multitude of ways.
But this trust is not replicated in their relationships with other adults, Falaguasta explains. "This does not happen with strangers or with other people with whom the kids interract. The child does not have the same level of intimacy with them that he has with his parents, even if they are members of his family. He does not feel free to express himself in so far as he does not feel secure - even if these are people that he knows quite well.
"He sees his parents all the time; they are the ones with whom he shares important moments during the day, like mealtimes and when it's time to go to sleep. He therefore feels much more free to express with them his emotions, his frustrations, his joys or his fears. He feels at ease, because he knows that they know him well and understand him."
On the other hand, when he is confronted with other people, the child changes his behaviour -- usually for the better, says Falaguasta -- for one very specific reason: "Because a child will tend to repress certain emotions, particularly the strongest one: like anger and frustration. They are emotions that they most likely would prefer to express only when their parents are around."
So. Next time grandparents, aunties or other people insinuate that our kids are much calmer and better behaved with them, remember this. What they are actually telling us, is that our children simply don't feel close enough to them to just be themselves.
How about that.