Another week, another complete lack of posts. Bah. I'm working on it. The thing is, I am burning through my schoolwork faster than I thought, which is exciting and motivating, and I don't want to lose the momentum. So that's where my "free" (as in, not at work and not actively parenting) time is going.
I've been thinking about parental favouritism lately. I remember reading Linda's heart-wrenching posts about her son Riley, who would show his preference for his father in definitive and sometimes violent ways. Linda, naturally, was an emotional wreck in these instances. She also talked about how it wasn't any easier on her husband, who sometimes wanted a damn break, or was busy doing other things when Riley demanded his attention/interaction, shunning his entirely available mother. I remember feeling so sad for Linda, and being sure that the phase would pass - which, of course, it did.
When Gwen was an infant, a stage I remember with all the angst and blurriness of a trauma survivor, she was all about Mama. I was often the only one who could calm her screaming, and I remember how exhausting that was. I remember how hard it was on Chris to feel rejected all the time, and I remember telling him that it wasn't personal, that the bond would improve with time and that for now, we just had to do whatever we had to do to get some silence, some sleep.
We're going through the same thing again, now. Gwen often wants nothing to do with Chris, and will harshly tell him, "No, Dada, you GO AWAY!" When I am cooking dinner and ask her to go get her bib, she brings it back to me - walking right past her dad - and wants me to help her put it on. I tell her that Dada can help her, and she wails as if I've just taken away a toy: "No, MAMA help me!" Meanwhile I'm trying to stir dinner and slice veggies and pour her milk and whatever else, and Chris is sitting RIGHT THERE waiting to help her.
There are other incidents, too, not nearly so unpleasant (from my perspective). Gwen has just learned the phrase, "Want to play with me?" and she asks it every day. If I can possibly say yes, I do, and I let her set the activity and the pace of the play. Lots of times, "play with me," just means sitting down at her level, watching what she is doing and commenting on it. Or she will hand me one of what she is playing with - a block, for example, or a puzzle piece - and announce that it's "Mama's turn". These are very pleasant interludes, as you can imagine. It's fascinating to watch her imagination work and to feel included, even welcomed, in her world.
But then I started to notice that she doesn't extend that invitation to Chris nearly as often. When I gently encouraged her to do so, there was a bit of resistance - she did capitulate, but I don't think it was her first choice. And it started me wondering - how much responsibility do I, as the currently favoured parent, have to try and alter the dynamic?
I know part of this is habit, too. I think it's a phase at this age (though, given my own OCD tendencies, there may be more long-term effects as well) to thrive on pattern and routine. Gwen is definitely showing signs of struggle around transitions, and can be incredibly emotional and volatile at those times, breaking into tears and tantrums quite easily. Last week over dinner, the three of us discussed Gwen's post-dinner bathing, and we agreed that Gwen and Mama would have a shower together. When Gwen was in the bathroom getting ready for her shower and Chris came in, Gwen responded very emotionally: "NO, Dada, YOU GO AWAY! Only MAMA!" While I'm sure Chris was very hurt by this, I attribute this outburst to the fact that Gwen interpreted his presence there as a change in the plan: we agreed one thing, and now we were (seemingly) doing another. Given her narrow understanding of the world and her limited communication, I can understand her outburst.
So if I've helped her with her bib the past three nights, and now I suggest that Dada helps her, I am altering her routine and she is thrown off by that. If I'm the one who usually greets her in the mornings and one day Chris goes in, he's not likely to get a warm welcome. If she views something as a pattern or routine, she does not easily adjust to changes within that. As I said - part of that is a developmental stage, part of it may be her personality. And again, I come back to: how much responsibility do we as parents have to alter that, to help her cope better with changes?