“I don’t want to hold Mummy’s hand!!! I want to hold Mama’s hand.” I am sick of coaxing, trying to get her to pick me first, trying to get her to pick me at all. Forget it. “Fine. You know what? Mummy is not going to join you on the walk. Go have fun with Mama.” I walk away stoically, bitter and sulking all the way across the wet, long-grassed lawn, cursing that it hasn’t been mowed sooner and that it’s rained for ten days in a row now. My spouse is calling out to my back, asking me nicely to return; they want me to join them. Please come back.
I eventually do, we go on the walk, strolling through the beautiful, wide-mouthed park that flanks the road near our home, and our daughter even holds my hand. Somehow it doesn’t have the sweet joy that holding a small, warm hand in yours usually does because in my mind she’s only holding it because I guilt-tripped her into it, not because she really wants to. At least that’s what I tell myself. Exhibit A of one of my less than finer parenting moments.
I am all too aware that spinning on my heels like that is exactly what not to do if you want to assure your child that you love them unconditionally, even when they are treating you like a pariah and raking you through the coals with a drawn out phase that feels like the toddler version of the teenage years. But I can’t help it; I’m human and when I’m having a parenting low phase myself and have heard what feels like the 100th rejection in a day, I turn into a child myself. My feelings get hurt by this small person. The parent educator and writer Alfie Kohn eloquently wrote, “Parenthood is not for wimps.” Yeah, about that.
I am reading a book now on mindful parenting in hopes of realizing, repeatedly, that these regular slights have little to do with me and a lot to do with my daughter being two. Really, that’s all it is. I know this in my heart. I know she loves me. She actually exhibits it rather regularly. And she can be sweeter than any person I’ve ever known. Toddlers are emotions fully exposed- raw, radiant, and brash. I am trying to hold that up in the face of all this emotional riff-raff and be the rationale adult in the room. My actions and internal response is more in my control than her adolescent behavior. I need to maintain my compassion- towards my daughter, my spouse (who is a tender, nearby target that I can easily throw emotional arrows at), and perhaps most of all, towards myself. I am doing the best I can.
Talking about it helps; realizing you’re not alone and that this is exceptionally common amongst queer, non-gestational parents. So does muttering, “Mummy doesn’t like you either right now” under my breath as I pivot into another room un-heard (or at least for a split second my ego feels like it’s had a teenage triumph of the wills). In my experience running a support group for queer, non-gestational parents this is one of the most common issues that arises for folks- being second fiddle outside of, as a friend calls it, “the golden, inner circle.” It takes continual patience and reminding yourself that it’s nothing personal. Really. It’s not. This is not to say there aren’t practical things you and the gestational parent (or other caregivers) can do to help ease the third wheel phenomenon that’s orbiting your familial universe*, but I’m realizing that perhaps even more importantly, it takes inner, self work to survive this phase. In their book, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn state, “The very fact that we are a parent is continually asking us to find and express what is most nourishing, most loving, most wise and caring in ourselves, to be, as much as we can, our best selves.” In my better moments I can see with clarity that it’s a great opportunity to get over myself and practice true unconditional love. To be my best self.
Parenthood is a spiritual (and often maddening) path. I have learned some of my greatest lessons around issues such as non-attachment (yes! she’s sleeping through the night! Oh wait… or even more: I cannot fully control what happens to her…).
Tonight, my daughter did not want to give me a kiss when I arrived home from work or when she was going down for bed. She usually gives me a big, mouthy, wet one directly on the lips before she rolls over with a cushy rumple sound of her diaper. I asked her, as I always do, “Can Mummy have a hug and kiss good night? Can I give you a kiss sweet girl?” To this she sassily replied, “Mmmm… NO.” I was hurt and annoyed, I’ll admit that (no kiss?), but I took a deep breath and said, “ok, good night.” Then I walked out the door. As the door was gently shutting behind me I realized that the one thing I wish I had done differently was to let her know that I love her, because I do, even when she doesn’t want to give her Mummy a kiss.
*For suggestions on how to deal with a child’s preference for one parent or rejection of one parent, check out the following books and resources: Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser; the Berkeley Parents Network at http://parents.berkeley.edu/; and What to Expect The First Year by Heidi Murkoff, Sandee Hathaway, and Arlene Eisnberg