Mom of 2 girls here, reporting on the truth of what it is to parent.
This comes as a result of a pulse check conversation with my oldest daughter. She is 8.
Yes, I randomly inventory our parenting skills and people skills with her, and I get her honest candid, unpunished feedback. I want to know how WE look in HER eyes.
How do we make her feel about life, herself, and the world in general.
She is a very bright, kind, sweet kid, who genuinely believes people are good. Sometime to a fault she is believing in goodness of others. She will give you the shirt off her back if she saw a need. She feel passionate about helping and feeding the homeless, she is amazing as a big sister, and is often the sweetest friend most kids have the pleasure to play with.
This week I had the pleasure of spending a few days of one on one moments, her little sister is 1 and drives us crazy on the go all day long. It was a nice change of pace to sit in the calm with my oldest and enjoy her calming presence. She was always a calm, super chill, easy going kid even as a baby. So during one of these one on one car rides, I asked feeling pretty certain of what her response would be, “You do know we love you, right?”
The question, was followed by a hesitant pause on her end, “I know You love me mom,” …”But sometimes daddy doesn’t really show it, i KNOW he loves me, but he doesn’t show it”. It hit me like a giant punch in the gut. I wanted to pull over and wrap her in my arms, I wanted to scream out in pain, HOW did this beautiful child somehow feel less loved by either of us, where could we have gone wrong and how could we fix it?
I have been married to her dad for nearly 11 years. In these 11 plus years, we have been together, I have know him to be affectionate and loving, but I have also seen where he comes from and the lack of affection often received from his dad. Had this somehow been a learned behavior? It has been something we have struggled with him forever it feels like, but he has always managed to “break the cycle” and push toward being more affectionate. This not evident more than when we had our 1st baby, and he was head over heels, he loved cuddling and holding and loving our baby. He became this whole other person with her than with anyone else. My mom has always commented how wonderful he is as a Father and how affectionate he is.
However in the land of parenting things are not always perfect, and shifts happen sometimes without realizing it. I believe we have come to new uncharted territory. Our 8 soon to be 9 year old daughter has grown by leaps and bounds, no she is not developing early, but she is surely not the tiny tot he used to carry around everywhere and play with. We have her all alone for almost 8 full years, before baby #2 graced our presence, and in that time parenting was easy, simple, one kid, well behaved, easy going, not much to question there. We had developed a routine and pattern that worked for all of us, she was the center and we all worked around together, her with both of us, her with either of us, and her independently. This past year however, it has become expecting a lot more of her because she is older, and the baby needed attention and assistance.
All of a sudden all our love and devotion, became simply parenting and demanding expectations. Believe me I cried when I found out we were pregnant the 2nd time, we had miscarried a year prior, and it was a miracle we got pregnant ever again. We told her for her 7th birthday, for which we were not present due to a out of the country adult only wedding. Then I cried because I felt we were shifting her whole world and she was so good she didn’t deserve that. I worried we would really have to learn to balance both kids, and find time for them each to feel loved and appreciated. I cried because I worried if this baby was difficult it would really take up a lot of my time, and I had always been her happy place and comfort. Baby #2 came, she was difficult, she cried a lot, she demanded more attention, and we couldn’t really find a good groove, dad and I both sleep deprived and just exhausted, left out oldest kind of floating around without true direction. Baby blues hit for me, and Dad had to step up and he did, but his approach is never as soft or tender as mine, not by a mile. He tends to give commands, and give out directions, not much affection nor tenderness required.
So here we are, mid car ride, with her telling me, ” I know HE loves me, but he does not always show it,” I composed myself enough to follow it up. “How can he show it better?, What can we both do to ensure you FEEL we love you, because WE LOVE YOU more than you could ever possibly know”. Again a pause. With each of these in our interaction, I thought to myself how Impressed I was that the quiet, typically shy kid who does not share when things are not right, was speaking so eloquently on something I still grapple with communicating at 33 years old. and then it came out, “well sometimes I go to hug him, and he does not really hug me back” she was right he was a terrible hugger, I didn’t care because I forced him to do it anyway with me, but she didn’t know HOW to encourage a hug from the man. “He can also do some more one on one things with me, like watch movies and stuff, I like that, he does it sometimes, i’d like more time like that”.
I kid you not, I had just said to him in the past week, I think you need to up your daddy daughter dates with her, and he said I do that already, and I replied I think you need more, and here was the confirmation from the mouth of our little 8 year old babe. She was yearning for attention from Dad, I hang with her every night, even when I am exhausted I don’t have the heart to turn her away, so we chat, or watch an episode of Friends together, or do dishes and chat, or crossword puzzle together. Whatever it is we literally do it together. She has been my tiny companion for 8 years, and frankly when baby #2 came, I felt resentful of the baby because it cost me my time with my oldest. You do not quit a person overnight, let alone your child.
So this car ride, had taken on a whole new meaning for me, have we simply been Parenting her, and not really Loving her? Each kid has a Love tank – you ever read on the 5 Love Languages? I suggest you do for the sake of every relationship in your life. Kevin Lehman Excellent read. Had we simply been tending to her physical needs, shelter, clothing, food, and not worrying or tending to her emotional and mental needs, by showing her love and affection? Did we somehow forget to ensure we were in the moment, and just make it merely on muscle memory? Frankly for myself I know when I have emotionally checked out, or froze in place, and over the past several months there had been so many other external factors, that I did have some sort of emotional stunting, I just hadn’t realized it affected her so deeply. Now that I awoke from my emotional freeze, It was time to communicate and ensure hubby was awake also. You ever just get into a basic routine, to the point where you don’t even acknowledge what’s going on, you are going through the motions, end of story.
How were we going to get past this Parenting > Loving moment? How can we balance the two and ensure equal parts of Parenting and Loving. How can we ensure she feels loved, and how can we prevent this from happening again. She asked me to share with her dad her requests, and thanked me in advance for talking to him. I did it took me 2 days to get it out to him, trying to find the finesse to say she doesn’t always feel Loved, but you are an excellent father. He really is, he loves these girls unlike anything else, his face literally changes when he sees them. He however had fallen victim to learned behaviors, and now he was further confronted with the challenge of a growing GIRL who he needed to love, but he needed to feel appropriate about it. In a world where so many evil things happen to innocent girls, his love had been compromised and conflicted by what his proper behavior towards her should be. I understood it all in that very moment.
You see in that car ride, I had the wisdom (thank GOD) to discuss with my daughter, this very challenge, that she was growing, and she needed to be dressed appropriately for her growing body. I had to express to her we do not mind her being home and comfortable, that is what HOME is for, however when It came to interacting with daddy, she had to modify some small things, to ensure he was comfortable with her. We are at a cross roads, and it is a challenge for ALL of us. She is headed to pre-teen years, and Dad is new to this territory, I am to be the mediator for this land of awkwardness, but though it all, It reminded me of my own experience with my own dad when we hit those preteen, teenage years.
My dad had 4 daughters, yup thats right 4, and at the height of teenage years, he had 4 teenage daughter ranging 6 years between the oldest and youngest. I recall this certain awkward period where we went from being able to sit on his lap and cuddle with him anytime, to all of sudden not doing any of that. He didn’t want to stop, but he did not want to force us into things if they felt awkward, vice versa, we stopped because all at once we felt big, but we still yearned for his snuggles and love. During this time, my MOM became this Emotional “stupidity/awkwardness” guide. She helped us all bridge the gap until we found our new “normal” of love and affection without anyone feeling oddly about it. We love our dad, and I am 33 and I still can curl up next to my dad and feel safe and warm and loved like I did when I was 5. He is just as welcoming of the love and affection and it is a bond much different than that with my mom, whom I adore.
This is where we are in our household. The moment between redefining LOVE and maintaining and upholding Parenting. The journey is bound to be bumpy, but it is surely beautiful, in 8 more years, we will be here with our 2nd kid too, God help us, these kids are so incredibly different, I hope we get ahead of the curve and always help them feel Loved, Safe and cared for. Parenting is many things, but ensuring the safety and well being of our children begins with Loving them…
Until the next chapter. Best wishes to you mama and papas out there, it can be daunting sometimes, and heart-wrenching when you hear something you were not expecting, but I tell you what, these pulse checks are definitely becoming more frequent now, I want to make sure she is loved and does not feel a need to fill that void with anything or anyone else but her dad, sister and me.