Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When the Grass Seems Greener

Mom Said...

Malini: “Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama.”
Me: “Can you give me one second please?”
Malini: “Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama.”
Me: “I asked for a second, I just need one second, ok honey.” 
Malini: “Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama.”
My husband: “Sweetie, is there some Daddy can help you with?”
Malini: “No, I only want Mama…Mama, Mama, Mama.”

Every parent can relate to the crazed feeling you get when your child says your name over and over again, to the point that you are screaming in your head “JUST STOP CALLING MY NAME!”  Meanwhile, you turn to your child as nicely as possible, and ask them to give you just a single minute.  This goes on until they say it so many times that the scream you are doing inside your head spills out of your mouth and you have thoroughly upset your child.  And then the guilt sets in. 

My eldest daughter probably went a good two years of wanting just me.  She loved her daddy through and through, and they had their own special relationship (which he worked ridiculously hard at getting, so kudos to him!), but when it came to giving her a bath, putting her to bed, feeding her…you name it, I had to do it.  I can remember saying to my husband “I just need 5 minutes to myself, I just need a break.  While it is sweet, you really just don’t understand how it feels to have to do everything and not get a minute to yourself.”  My husband would inevitably respond, “I don’t want to hear it, I work so hard at my relationship with Malini and she doesn’t want me for anything, You don’t understand how that feels!” 

Looking back, he was right.  I didn’t even remotely understand how he felt (and quite frankly he didn’t understand how I felt).  But still, I felt as though not getting even 2 seconds a day to yourself was a way worse position to be in.  Until the dreaded moment came:

Malini: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.”
My husband: “Can you give me one second please?”
Malini: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.”
My husband: “I asked for a second, I just need one second, ok honey.” 
Malini: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.”
Me: “Sweetie, is there some Mama can help you with?”
Malini: “No, I only want Daddy…Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.”

The internal conversation in my head that followed this exchange went a little something like this:

“Wow, when did the tables turn?  When did daddy become the ‘go-to’ parent?  The IT man of the house.  I do everything for this child, I work so hard at being a good mom.  I work at being creative, keeping her busy doing amazingly fun things, and now I am just kicked to the curb. She could care less about me.”

At the moment, I was crushed.  I made a vow not to show my emotion because I was never going to be that mom that pulls the “I get no appreciation around here, and I do so much for this family” card.  And I didn’t say a word, not to my husband and not to my daughter.

Until one night at bedtime when my husband was putting her  to bed (she of course only wanted Daddy to put her to bed), and the following conversation ensued:

My husband: “Go say good night to Mommy and give her a kiss.”
Malini: “No, I don’t want to.”
Me: “Wait, WHAT?!?!”
My husband: “Sweetie, that isn’t nice, give Mommy a kiss and say goodnight.”
Malini: “No, I just don’t feel like it tonight.” (as she proceeds to the bedroom)
My husband (as overheard by me outside of the bedroom): “You know, when you’re not nice to Mommy, it makes her really sad.”
Malini: “I just didn’t want to give her a kiss or say goodnight, I wanted you to lay with me.”
My husband: “I am laying with you, but you should say good night to Mommy and give her a kiss.”
Malini: “But I just don’t want to.”
Malini (as a result of getting a look from my husband that said go talk to your mother): “Mama goodnight, I wanna give you a kiss.”
Me: “No, go to bed.”
Malini: “But Mama, I’m sorry, I do want to give you a kiss.”
Me: “Malini, that really hurt my feelings, I do so much for you and work so hard at being a good mom and you couldn’t even give me a kiss goodnight. GO TO BED.”

Malini went right to bed, definitely upset that night, and woke first thing in the morning by giving me a kiss.  Yes, not one of my most stellar parenting moments.  I actually sent my child to bed with no kiss and a ridiculous guilty feeling that carried over to the morning.  The worst of it was that I did what I vowed never to do. I pulled the “I do so much for you” card on a 3 year old.  Parent of the year. 

In my defense, when this little episode occurred, I was in the middle of making homemade mini-pumpkin pies (adorable, but tedious) for her school Thanksgiving dinner the following day, after spending a long day with my teething infant daughter.    I was exhausted to say the least, and just lost it. 

My husband came out of the bedroom after Malini fell asleep and told me not to be so hard on her.  And I found myself saying “You don’t understand.  I do so much for her, and all of a sudden, she hates me.  She actually hates me.  You don’t understand how awful it felt to overhear your conversation with her.  I do everything for that little girl, and now she just doesn’t want me anymore.  I carried her for 9 months and this how I get paid back.  I mean, I can’t imagine how she will be to me in her teen years, she is just going to be awful to me and I am going to have to just sit in our bedroom alone, crying, by myself.”  Not overdramatic at all.

After that night, I finally got it.  I finally understood how my husband felt all those years, working so hard to have a relationship with my daughter and her snubbing him at every chance she got.  But for whatever reason, I truly felt like my husband didn’t understand how bad my feelings were hurt.  But of course he did.  And he actually finally understood how it felt to be on the other side and have to do every blessed thing and not get a second to sit down.  We both had that “a-ha! moment”.

Needless to say, Malini has returned to repeatedly saying “Mama, Mama, Mama”, in unison with my 9-month old crying “Mama, Mama, Mama” and holding her hands out to me.  I find myself wanting to scream “STOP CALLING MY NAME”, and saying to my husband again “I just need a second to myself.”  And so the cycle repeats itself, but now with 2 kids. 

I have vowed not to take for granted their constant calling of my name or their need for me to do everything for them because eventually the tables will turn again and they will want nothing to do with me and will want Daddy for everything.  And more than that, I have forced myself to take a moment and enjoy their sweet little cries of “Mama” because one day the use of the word “Mama” may turn into “Mom” (which it already has begun), and I may never get to hear them calling me “Mama” again. 

So in the end, the grass always appears to be greener on the other side, but I find it prudent for me to enjoy whichever side I happen to be on for the moment.  Enjoy the screaming of my name while I have it or enjoy the 5 seconds I get on the couch when they want nothing to do with me.  Your kids will need you when they need you, and don’t need you when they don’t need, something you truly can’t control.

Dad Said...

Having daughters is really pretty terrific, but they can be rough on Dads in the beginning.  When my first daughter got to the age of being aware of Mom and Dad and could express herself a bit, she wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.   If Mom was in the room, she really had no use for me. 

I consider myself an active Dad.  I spend a great deal of time with my daughters when I can and make a point of being around for all the big things.  (The little things are big to me too.) To say that this was disheartening is an understatement.  I had this grand idea of my “daddy’s little girl” that seemed to be more fantasy than any reality that I was seeing.

This continued for some time.  By the time she was talking she would insist that I leave the room at bedtime to be alone with Mom.  “Daddy, you go out there. I will lay with Mommy”.   While I knew academically that she was just 2 and was in a normal developmental phase, it still stung.   It was starting to wear on my wife. She began to feel as if she had a child permanently attached to her with no end in sight.  She longed for a small reprieve from the barrage of requests from our daughter.  

When Mom was not around, I was King Daddy.  None better.  We had a blast together and enjoyed each others’ company.   As a parent, you know it’s not the right thing to compete with your spouse for your child’s attention and favor, but to be honest, we do a little.  Not intentionally always, but we do.  I had a friend tell me that shortly after his daughter turned 2, a switch flipped and she became a Daddy’s Girl through and through.  I didn’t believe a word of it. 
Sure enough, it did happen; quite suddenly, in fact.   All of a sudden, my daughter wanted me.  Exclusively.  “Daddy give me a bath.  Daddy put me to bed.  Daddy feed me, etc.”   Suddenly the grass began to brown a little bit.  Initially I loved the attention; however, not as much when I could not find a moment’s peace to use the bathroom or eat.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was an amazing time of bonding for my daughter and me.  All that time I had put in was paying off in spades.  I was just very tired. 

The pendulum had swung.  My wife was getting her reprieve and I had my “Daddy’s little girl”.  Good times, right?  You would think so.   My wife started to say things like:

 “My daughter doesn’t like me anymore.” 
“She hates me.”
“She likes you better.”

Admittedly many of the same things that I used to say.  That said, I now had a young 2-year-old attached to me and a borderline depressed wife.  Brown grass.  Everywhere.  I never noticed how great the lawn looked over on the other side.  Much greener than I remember it.  I began to wish for the pendulum to swing a bit more in the middle. 

Eventually it did, of course.  We now have an infant in addition to our almost 4 year old.  For obvious reasons, the infant is largely attached to my wife (literally).  When the pendulum swung back, I began to hear things like:

“Just give me a second!”
“Ask your Father to do it with you”
“These girls are stuck to me!” 

The woman, who just a couple weeks prior was complaining that her daughter hated her, was now complaining that she didn’t.  Fun times.

In recent weeks, we seem to have found more of a balance and we are in a great groove.  For now.  It’s hard to not take these swings personally, but we need to constantly remind ourselves that our kids will continue to need different things from each of us at different times in their life.  That is truly what we are here for.  They are little people with moods, needs, opinions and irrational behavior.  It takes a while to realize that the beauty of the grass was always there.  With a little patience and understanding, you’ll see it.  

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