Monday, September 13, 2010

Mama's Girl

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?


Amberism said...

I do, and have done, nothing. My kids (because they all to compete, I suspect) vary wildly in their favorite parent. Sometimes that decision is clearly just so they can control the current situation and has nothing to do with who is the favorite. We also have the grandparent element, too. My Mom is defintely in the mix, and is the top dog in Claire's mind.

Callum used to get very possessive of my grandmother (his great-grandmother). Before my Mom moved here, my Grandma was the biggest 'other' adult in his life, and he was not going to share her with Claire. Period. End of story.

That said, I am Anna's all. Steve will be holding her and she will be screaming like death is upon her so we assume she's hungry. I take her and crisis averted. The other kids never did this, Steve was just as good as Mama when they were sick/hurt/sad and especially when they were little because they could snuggle into his chest and he was WARM. Not Anna. Only me. And I agree with you, it's tough because man, sometimes I just want to pee.

again, I offer no advice, I just talk about myself ;)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if part of her paradigm is operating on activities in a one-on-one, rather than as groups. It might be helpful for you to discuss how she is in childcare, as well... she has only one adult there too? Do they encourage peers helping one another? Is it always adult female percieved as helping the children? What about when she is with grandparents? Would Gwen seeing Chris help you with things change her perspective? What about you inviting third parties into play times? What about preparing her ahead of time for changes in routine? (Travelling home :"When we have dinner tonight, I'll be very busy cooking, so Dada is going to help you with your bib." While cooking: "Gwen, it's time to choose a bib, so Dada can help you get it on!") Just some things to ponder.


adequatemom said...

J, those are all *fantastic* suggestions. Thank you as always for your insight. I had never considered how the single-(female)-caregiver dynamic might be affecting Gwen's perspective.

Amber, I think "I offer no advice, I just talk about myself" is just awesome blogosphere etiquette and should perhaps be my blog tagline. Everyone's experience is so different that really, all you can do is share your own and see if someone else can take anything from it. Your description of Anna's behaviour with Steve/you is *exactly* how Gwen was at that stage, and man it sucked. At this stage there's a part of me that *likes* being preferred (except when it's about interrupting me) and so I don't mess with it much - but man, I can only imagine how Chris feels.

Thanks for your input!

Surprised Suburban Wife said...

Oh wow, we are going through EXACTLY the same thing with Megan. We had chalked it up to her anxiety about the upcoming baby sister, but reading this has actually helped me to realize it's probably just a phase that two year olds go through. I could (and should!) write miles about all the examples I have that are just like yours...but instead I'll thank you for capturing what we're going through so succinctly and perfectly:)

Good luck!

Karen MEG said...

I, like Amber, don't do anything either. And my kids have cycled from favouring one parent, to the other, and back... like the wind, actually. Although when they're hurt, hungry, sad.... they'll come to me. And ironically I'm not the one who's the most sympathetic a lot of the time. I suppose, though, that there is only one Mama as far as they're concerned.

When they were both very young, as in babies and toddlers, they did naturally come to me all the time, and before they started showing their Dad a bit more love, he did feel hurt. He used to tell me about it, but he understood the natural dynamic, and that they eventually would come around.

And they have, with a vengeance. Sometimes it's like "I want DADDY to help me brush my teeth and put me to bed... NOW!!!!" and he wonders what he ever complained about :).

Great blog. Very insightful ... you must be a student or something ;)!


Related Posts with Thumbnails