For the first 20 months of my children’s lives, I worked outside of the home. I would wake up to the sound of the babies, change them, get their milk ready, feed them, get ready for work, make myself a lunch and head out the door. Every once in a while one of them would make a fuss about me leaving, which made me feel special but also broke my heart. I almost preferred it when they didn’t notice I was on my way out.
I would then spend an hour driving to work, eight hours at work (missing my babies), and an hour driving home from work. When I got home, they would usually just be waking up from a nap, and I would change them, feed them dinner, make us dinner, get their milk ready and put them to bed.
With all of those activities packed in to our short time together, I hardly had any time to play with them. I felt like a failure as a mother. I felt like I was letting them down. All of this was compounded every time they chose their father over me. On top of everything else, I couldn’t help but let the actions of a baby hurt my adult feelings.
It’s so important, not to mention nearly impossible, to separate our egos from our parenting. I couldn’t do it, but, sometimes, I would be able to catch myself being all about myself and curb the behavior. I distinctly remember one evening where my husband and I were playing with the babies in the living room, and they wanted him, and I sat on the ottoman in a huff instead of finding a way to make myself interesting to them. I lost probably ten precious minutes that way before I snapped out of it.
Even though I knew the babies loved me just as much as they loved their father, after my hard days, and my missing them, the child in the back of my own mind wanted them to show me their love. If they didn’t, that child in me threw a tantrum. Foolishness.
All children are different, and they will all show their love in their own way and in their own time. It is up to us as adults to remember that our babies love us, even if they act as if they prefer the other parent at crucial moments. They don’t know those moments are crucial. They don’t know that by wanting to play with or be fed by Daddy instead of Mommy, they are making some kind of declaration of love, or lack of love. They don’t know that because that’s not what they are doing.
There can be many causes for parental preference, the most bold-faced being routine. Babies and toddlers are just learning the intricate ways of life around them. Every minute of their day provides new lessons. With all of that information coming at them constantly, it is no wonder they cling to what they know, what they’ve come to understand. If one parent is the constant caregiver, they will go to that parent when in need, not because they think the other parent is incapable, but because it is not within their realm of understanding to mix the roles.
Now that I am the stay at home parent, I often yearn for the days when the babies would allow their father to do anything for them at all. They’re old enough now to make a big show out of his return from work, and they’re used to playing with him after he arrives, but if one of them needs a diaper change? Mommy. If one is hungry? Mommy. If they need a spoon, want help moving a chair, want to change their shirt? Mommy, mommy, mommy.
If you are working outside of the home, take heart. You’re not letting your child down, nor are you seeing them love your partner any more than they love you. As much as each day of your child’s life is a momentous occasion for you, they won’t even remember these days, much less think of you as abandoning them.
Our lives as parents are hard enough. We need to live each day knowing that our children love us with an unconditional intensity. To project our own insecurities on their toddlerhood actions will only make everyone’s life harder. Our children love us. They don’t forget us when we’re gone for the day. They don’t resent us. We shouldn’t resent ourselves, either. After all, putting food on the table is a big part of that love, a part they will understand with time.