This morning when I heard my daughter stirring, I entered her room and gave her a big smile. I cheerfully said, “Good morning!” Rather than smiling and reaching for me, as she always has, she looked over my shoulder. Behind me, her father was starting to get ready for the day. “Dada!,” she exclaimed gleefully, adding “Mama, no!” as I moved in to pick her up. No matter how much pleading and cajoling I resorted to, she was not going to let me get her out of bed. Only one person mattered in that moment. Dada.
My heart fell, like it always does in these moments. Moments that have become more frequent.
Once considered the golden standard at my house, I have lost my status. I am no longer the favorite parent. How did this happen? How can she reject me? I fed her from my own body! I’m the one who stayed home with her for the first two years of her life! I am the one who read her silly stories, played her favorite music, and cleaned up after her messes!
But of course, kids are NOT rational.
So it’s silly for me to try and figure it out. At the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s about where my daughter is emotionally and developmentally. And ultimately, it’s about how awesome of a dad my husband is to our little girl. My daughter is the center of his universe, and she knows it. How could she not want to spend all her time with him? He plays her favorite games with her, makes her the best mac & cheese, and even lets her watch Elmo and Cloud Babies episodes on his phone while they are snuggled under blankets together. She loves him because he loves her.
I try not to let it hurt me.
And sometimes I succeed. This is a phase, and it will not always be like this. She will return to loving me as much as her father. Not all moments are tough. I work to relish the moments that she and I have together, just the two of us. We go on little outings together, which are my own little way of showing her that I love her as much as Dada. I still read her silly stories, play her favorite music, and I even make a pretty mean mac & cheese myself!
Realizing I’m not alone.
As soon as I started to notice a shift in my daughter’s affection, I did what any mama would do: I turned to friends for consolation and commiseration. I learned that this phenomenon is not uncommon, and heard many similar stories to my own. Everyone had their own techniques for managing the situation. A few of my favorites included setting aside special one on one time with their kiddos and developing special routines around daily activities together, which I’ve worked to incorporate into my life with my daughter.
The silver lining?
Although moments of rejection by my daughter make me feel sad, I am grateful that she no longer sees me as the one who can exclusively fulfill her needs. For the first six months of her life, I was the only one who could put her to bed, and was the most effective at soothing her during moments of fussiness. She also went through an extended period where the only way she would nap was lying by my side. I often forget, but those days were exhausting and trying. Now my husband is in as deep now as I was then, which is exhausting for him, but the whole experience has given us a deeper understanding and empathy for one another. And the best part? I’m no longer responsible for bedtime, because no one can read stories quite like Dada!