Category Archives: Bonding with child

Tracing

As my son is going to sleep at night, he traces the lines of my face or pats my arm or touches my elbow. I love these moments. I know that they go against the ultimate goal of him sleeping, but I can’t help myself. His touch is so light and sweet, it melts me. I pretend to be asleep, but really I am so deeply in love with that boy that it is overwhelming in these moments. When the room is dark and he is touching my nose or my eyelids, there is no question about our biology or him wanting Ima more. There are no monsters in the closet or kids who say mean things. There are no teenagers being gunned down or people dying in wars. None of that exists. It is just me and him, the love between a parent and a child. I have needed that lately.

I was talking about the news with a friend earlier this week. She talked about how, a while back, she had to disconnect from the news in order to protect her sanity. Sometimes I think this is what I need to do also. I think the accessibility of information makes me a distracted parent. I might think about Trayvon Martin or Cory Montieth or whatever sad headline flashes across my screen when I should be focusing on my son.

So, when it is my night to put M to bed, the tracing reminds me to be fully present. No screens, no sounds. Just breathing and being together. Connected in a really special way.

-Betsy

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That Feeling In My Stomach (not the preggers type)

My little girl is sick today.  Nothing that won’t be cured within a few days, but the poor thing looks awful.  She went to bed seeming fine last night and woke up this morning with a nasty case of conjunctivitis and an ear infection.  It happened that fast- went to bed healthy, woke up touched by the hand of yuck.  By the time I got home from work this evening her eyes had gotten so bad (yes, she went to the doc’s this morning and is now on antibiotics) that not only were her lids puffy and swollen looking; her eyeballs red and all sorts of goopey; but she also had these racoonish, red, rash-like marks under her eyes from rubbing at them so much. Luckily that little spark plug doesn’t let much break her stride.  She was marching around the house wearing a mismatched pair of PJs; a white, scratchy Easter type of hat that is meant for her teddy bear (so it’s a size too small); and a pair of old school, strappy roller skates.  She looked like an elderly drag queen.  Still, when I took one look at her my stomach did that thing.  Parents, do you know the thing I’m talking about?  Does this happen to you?  Ever since that little peanut crept into my heart I have had this thing happen when I even think about her being hurt or sick or in discomfort, never mind when she actually is, my stomach does an uncomfortable dropping thing.  It’s weird.  It’s a visceral response to this awful feeling that as much as I want to do everything humanly possible to protect this small person I love more than almost anything else in the world, I can’t.  It makes me sick.  Tease me all you want for quoting what might seem like a cliche, but I really do get this particular one since she entered my life: “Making a decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”* Hell yeah.  It’s like having your heart when it’s head over heels in love walk outside your body and into a six lane stretch of rush hour traffic on the beltway and your brain is on the side lines screaming, “Be careful!  Watch out!  Be careful!!!”

Sometimes I worried before my daughter was born that I wouldn’t feel this deep attachment to her because of our lack of biological, genetic or gestational connection. Yet when I have that feeling in my stomach- as uncomfortable a reminder as it is- I also take a tiny bit of solace in knowing that she is so much a part of me that I feel her in my body.  And that makes me realize the power of our bond goes much deeper than any trace of biology.

– Charlotte

*quote by Elizabeth Stone

Parent Win

When we first launched the blog in mid-July I wrote my initial post about my experience of being rejected repeatedly by our two-year-old daughter who strongly preferred her other mother, my dear spouse who carried and birthed her.  I had moments of feeling like I could ride through that experience with humor and grace, but more often I felt like a child myself- sullen and frustrated by these relentless acts of rejection from a toddler who I wanted to be close to, especially as a full-time working mom.  I had been dealing with that unpleasant situation since the prior September and I was emotionally exhausted from it.

I run a peer-led support and discussion group for queer, non-gestational parents and it was around this time in July that I went to one of those groups and shared how I was at my wits end with this situation… how long would I have endure this?  Of course no one could say for sure, but some amongst the group had even older children and they were still dealing with this issue, while others assured me that it would pass… it was just a phase.  Somehow both ends of the spectrum were both validating and slightly maddening (1: ok, I’m not alone… oh crap! you mean this could go on for another year or more?!  2: whew! a phase, be patient… you don’t get it! it doesn’t feel like a phase… it’s been nearly a year! A YEAR!).  But regardless of the well-intentioned, kind thoughts that people offered, no one could actually change this situation for me.  It felt like one of many experiences as a parent where something involving your child is in many ways out of your control… or was it?  What did I know, I was a rookie at this parenthood thing.

Two seasoned moms of multiple children, several of which are elementary school aged, and another mom who has fostered a long list of children over the years listened and asked if I wanted some suggestions.  Why the heck not? I was up for trying anything at that point.  One of the sage mamas insisted, “you have got to be diligent about rotating who does bedtime with your daughter or just you should do until it gets better.”  The other seasoned mom nodded in agreement.  Absolutely.  The mom who had fostered children in the past agreed: yes, you need to make intentional acts of bonding literally a “to do” over the next few months.  Make it a priority.  None of them were saying this would necessarily erase all traces of this rejection business, or even would shift the dial at all, but it was worth a try.  They stressed how important bedtime rituals were- that it was a time when children are both looking for nurturing and when trust is built.  I hadn’t been wholly absent with the bedtime routine, but we also hadn’t been intentional about splitting it or having me do more.  Probably, if I really thought about it, more of the time I was the one to clean up the dishes, sitting with my daughter and spouse for a book or two, before my spouse continued the routine and I got back to the sink.  I was purely thinking about being efficient with our time and energy since we were so overwhelmed with both working and parenting and trying to have a speck of existence beyond that.  Add to that that my spouse nursed our daughter to sleep for the first 13 months of her life, which I think is great, but it was a chance for the two of them to have a very regular bonding ritual, while I didn’t have anything like that.

So we followed these wise mamas’ advice and started rotating which of us led bedtime. Neither my spouse nor I felt comfortable with me purely doing this ritual, because as two working parents we both already have so much less time than we want with our daughter during the work week.  I started saying no to evening invitations to hang out with friends to make sure I was available for this time with my daughter.  The first month or so had it’s ups and downs and we eventually followed another piece of advice that ended up being critical: my spouse had to leave when I was doing bedtime.  My daughter would get too distraught and would sob and insist on my spouse doing it and it wasn’t working for any of us.  But if my spouse wasn’t around… if she literally wasn’t an option for bedtime, my daughter usually was ok with me taking the lead.  As time went on my daughter got the jist of this new plan.  She now asks, “is it Mama’s night to put me to bed? Is tomorrow Mummy’s night to put me to bed?”  I truly believe that she’s not asking this because she has a preference, she just likes to know what’s happening.  Three months later, I can report that we’re in a much better place with my daughter fairly equally preferring each of us.  She protests here and there, but most of the time, she’s fine with either one of us doing the daily things that just months ago she would have insisted on her Mama (my spouse) doing.  And in some small way, that feels like a parent win.  I’ll take it.*

– Charlotte

* Let me say that I also totally acknowledge that this could change again… if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 2.5 years of parenthood, it’s that you can’t get attached to anything staying consistent (for better or for worse).  Also, I think it’s super important to acknowledge (while I’m doing my acknowledgments here) that many non-gestational parents try every trick in the book- including doing bedtime regularly with their child- and they still have this painful issue to deal with… it’s not foolproof and I can bet those are awesome parents.  Just saying.

Mr. Mom

It’s Saturday morning and I am trying to let my spouse sleep in for once.  She has been a perennial poor sleeper since our daughter entered our lives- waking to any small noise and having somewhat fitful rest even with our daughter mostly sleeping through the night.  I jump up before my spouse can rouse from her now deep, early morning sleep and skitter to my daughter’s room when she calls out for us on the monitor.  “Mummy’s here honey.”  Of course she asks- or more demands- for Mama, as she nearly always does, but I lure her into my arms with promises of making pancakes.  This gets her attention- PANCAKES? – hell yeah Mummy!  We are a house of stereotypical, natural foodie parents and sweets are not something we indulge her in that often, especially not for the introductory meal of the day.  Who cares if it comes from a tree? Maple syrup tastes GOOD (have you looked at the grams of sugar? think more than Coca-Cola).

We lumber into our small, galley kitchen and grab some metal, mixing bowls from the cabinets along with the pouch of pancake mix.  I set the bowl on a long, wooden bench we have in our kitchen so that it’s at my daughter’s height and she can help with the dumping of ingredients and stirring.  She’s giddy with excitement at our forthcoming meal- both because of the actual food it will produce and because she gets to help make it.  She’s practicing perfecting her jump to show her enthusiasm and is ridiculously adorable with her long, straight bed head hair falling in her face as she hollers, “JUMP!” and springs up and down in front of the mixing bowl and bench, her toddler body and chunky feet landing with a heavy thud.  I go and shut the door to our bedroom; better not wake the Mama.

We’re having a gay ‘ole time and it’s not even 8 am.  I’ve just brought out the measuring cups and I let my daughter dip them into the pancake mix bag and pull them out, overflowing with powder.  She dumps it into the bowl, somewhere in the vicinity of the right amount we need to make our cakes.  She goes for a second dip and I say, “oh what the hell” to myself about doubling the recipe, because it’s making her so happy just to be able to help with the cooking process.  As she’s bringing out the measuring cup, she gets a mischievous look on her face and in that instance I panic and know what she’s about to do before I can stop her. DUMP.  The powder is all over the floor, on my feet, on her feet, and making fluffy lines of white in the cracks in the hardwood floor.  She laughs and then does another impulsive move and scoops her chubby hands into the hill of powder on the floor and is now dancing in the stuff.  Suddenly, it feels like one cup has quadrupled into four somehow and the small area is covered.  Then my spouse walks in.

Welcome to my life as a parent. I have often wondered if Het Dads feel this way- not the supreme nurturer in their child’s life, but the entertainer.  The Court Jester if you will.  Mr. Mom, or in my case, Mrs. Dad as it were. My spouse looks at me with tired annoyance.  No babies lost, right?  We were having fun.  Oh, right, but that’s what we do, we have fun.

My spouse doesn’t end up getting upset; she rolls with it, maybe because she’s too tired to deal with my shenanigans or maybe because she also sees that it’s no biggie.   But it leaves me feeling like a bit of a mess of a parent (more figuratively than literally).  But then maybe parenting is messy for every parent, regardless of your position or relation to your child, and I’m just more upfront and self-deprecating than some.  I wear it on my sleeve, whereas others act as if they have it all under control (haha).  Yep, I’m the funny guy in the house.  And my kid likes it about me.  Hell, it could be worse.

We sweep up the pancake mix with my daughter’s miniature broom and dust pan- ok, I’m lying a bit- she holds it for a moment, whacks some powder up into the air, spreading it even further, and then I sweep up the mess with the big broom.  Le sigh.*  But we have a tasty, if not snobbishly healthy, meal to start another random weekend in the blips of our life as a family.  My daughter is laughing and saying, “MMMMMMMMMM!!!!” as she saturates her square of carbs in the syrup until it’s the color of molasses and my spouse can’t help but crack a grin with her raw enthusiasm for life.

– Charlotte

* I cannot take credit for this brilliant phrase that sums up so many situations in my life as a parent- my friend Sarah Reid is the word-smithing genius behind it!

The (Un-) Zen of Non-Gestational Parenthood

“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.

~ Charlotte

*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